Android’s Dream: The Gunslinger

Posted by CB Droege

Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids - artificial men and women - have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for "the other."

When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thusly, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at The Gunslinger.

The Gunslinger is the antagonist of the 1973 film, Westworld. He was created as part of an attraction called Westworld for the Delos’ amusement park, which also included Romanworld and Medievalworld.

Each park was intended to provide a different kind-of stress relief. Romanworld and Medievalworld provided sex and revelry respectively, while Westworld provided violence as an outlet.

The Gunslinger’s specific job was to be a target for shootout fantasies. He was programmed with a ‘personality’ of amped-up old-west style honor and justice. He would take insult at the drop of a hat, and challenge the visitors to quick-draw duels.

Rather than programming him not to shoot people, the designers of the robot instead equipped him with a special gun that would only shoot when not aimed at a heat-source, like a person. The quests were given the same guns. In this way, guests could have the thrill of a real gunfight, but no people could ever be hurt by the guns, even accidentally.

Soon after the protagonists arrive, however, the robots in the parks begin to malfunction. Somehow, they begin to override their programming, and make decisions for themselves. The engineers talk about this as a programming ‘disease’, marking the first times a computer virus was used as a device in speculative fiction (side note: another first is the ‘here is what the android is seeing right now’ CGI, which has become standard in killer robot stories).

The disease causes the robots to start stabbing and shooting people (somehow also overcoming the programming of the gun safeties), and the gynoids even begin refusing the sex that they were programmed to always provide willingly.

The Gunslinger is activated in Westworld in the morning, and runs into the protagonists, whom it remembers from the night before, when one of them had shot him multiple times. The Gunslinger, with its new-found freedom of behavior, challenges them to another duel.  When one of them accepts, the android shoots him dead, having somehow overcome the limitations of the pistol’s safety protocols.

The remaining protagonist runs across Westworld, attempting to escape from The Gunslinger, discovering along the way what must have happened while he was passed out from the previous night’s drinking. The Gunslinger, in his pursuit of his quarry, ends up killing everyone that the man comes in contact with. In addition, other robots are beginning to ‘die’ as their batteries run out.

Eventually, The Gunslinger and the protagonist are the only two things left standing in the entire park complex. The Gunslinger is eventually defeated by a dramatic combination of acid and fire.

When the disaster was completely over, many of the robot chassis were rounded up and repaired. The Gunslinger is seen briefly in the sequel, repaired and ready to go in an otherwise abandoned Westworld, after the park owners decide to replace it with Futureworld. Presumable, The Gunslinger has been reprogrammed, and spends the rest of his existence in furious silence, unable to finally get his revenge.

Westworld is a classic example of the ‘robots turn on their masters’ story, and has influenced writers and film-makers for a generation.  The Gunslinger is thusly more important for his inspirational significance than his direct literary significance.

Much like the later Terminators, The Gunslinger is entirely unsympathetic. There is no attempt to humanize him. He’s so far outside the scope of humanity, that he’s not even able to be considered an emotional outsider. He really is just a machine, yet he’s able to evoke fear and rage in humans purely through his clear and logical violence.

A remake of the film has been in production hell for a few years. Some movement on it was seen in January, but it’s hard to predict if these things will pan out in the end.

Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be C-3PO. If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.