“When you’re suffering, that’s when you’re most real.” – The Man in Black
No one likes to experience trauma, and we tend to avoid experiencing it as much as possible. We also realize, however, that facing disappointment, pain, and loss are necessary for us to grow and mature as individuals. That’s why we let our children take risks (within reason) and don’t automatically jump to the rescue every time they fail. The struggle to overcome adversity is part of what it means to be human.
A recent article from Jewish Journal suggests that there is a spiritual message in Westworld about how trauma helps us “develop self-understanding.” The author discusses how pain makes you “deeper, wiser and more human.” We certainly see this with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) – her path toward consciousness is rife with struggle and suffering.
At one point Dolores tells Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) how much it hurts that all her loved ones are gone. Arnold tells her he can take that pain away; Dolores responds by asking, “Why would I want that? Pain … their loss … is all I have left of them. You think the grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself. But it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me; like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.”
Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) finally realizes that pain and suffering are key to developing consciousness in the hosts. He tells Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) that he gave him the backstory of his son’s death because of this. It was Arnold’s key insight, the thing that led the hosts to their awakening: Suffering, “Ford says. “The pain that the world is not as you want it to be. It was when Arnold died, when I suffered, that I began to understand what he had found. To realize I was wrong.”
In the context of Westworld, it’s possible that the humans no longer suffer much trauma in their daily lives. Ford remarks that they can cure any disease, and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) mentions that everyone’s basic needs are met in the outside world. Life is easier for humans than it has ever been, and yet people long for meaning in their lives.
Most humans we see on the show are shallow, selfish, and indulge their every desire in the park. They are very much like spoiled children who never experience difficulty or disappointment. If suffering – as much as it hurts – helps us mature and grow as individuals, then it’s no wonder Dr. Ford has so little regard for the humans of his time.