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Westworld Season 3’s Opening Sequence: How Michelangelo, Janus & Icarus Signify War

What do an Italian artist, a two-faced god, an overconfident aviator, and a spherical robot have in common?

This analysis contains spoilers.

Westworld’s opening sequence for season 3 features a series of references ranging from Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” to the Roman God Janus, from the hubris of Icarus to the omnipotence of Rehoboam. The following dissection of this imagery reveals the thematic foundation for this season’s imminent conflict of humans vs. hosts and provides valuable clues on how it might all play out.

Michelangelo

'Creation of Adam' by Michelangelo | Public Domain

As the opening sequence begins, composer Ramin Djawadi’s melody enters the soundscape and we see a female host suspended in space. She reaches upward with an outstretched hand and the next shot zooms out to reveal she’s on a collision course with an identical host floating downward—her mirror image. As they each approach the centre of the shot, their hands get closer and closer.

After a few shots of a 3D-printed eagle, a close-up shows the host’s index fingers, moments before they touch. This shot is an obvious reference to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, the centrepiece of his famous fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him” — Genesis 1:27

As the name suggests, the painting shows God reaching out to Adam, who’s been created in His own image. Their arms are outstretched, and between their index fingers remains a tiny but telling gap.

The common interpretation of this gap is that it symbolizes the inequality between God and man—that a disparity in power exists between the Creator and the created.

In referencing the “Creation of Adam”, Westworld’s showrunners highlight the drama’s own story of Creator and created—human and host—with one key difference: in Westworld, there’s no longer a gap, for Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has achieved sentience and now possesses the free will that makes her any human’s equal.

True to this interpretation, the host’s fingers close the gap and meet.

Janus

An illustration of a coin representing Janus, the Roman God

Rather than truly touching its mirror image, however, the host’s finger reaches a liquid surface. The mirror image is revealed to be a reflection, which only becomes clear when the host’s hand passes through the surface and distorts the reflected image.

As the host’s face approaches the surface, the reflection returns. A subtle but powerful camera trick occurs here: while the rising face ascends, the camera is below the liquid surface, angled up. It depicts the rising face touching the surface from below. In the exact moment the face and its reflection pass through the surface, however, the camera rises above the dividing line and moves to the other side of the surface. It’s now above the liquid surface, angled down.

With the perspective now flipped, the faces pull back from each other. Since the camera now resides above the dividing surface, the face on the top half of the screen (previously the reflection) has now become the subject. The face on the bottom half of the screen (previously the subject) has now become the reflection. The showrunners cleverly use this perspective shift to add ambiguity to this meeting of faces.

This perspective shift and two-faced imagery allude to Janus, the Roman God of all Beginnings and all Ends.

To the Romans, Janus’s two faces represented the past and the future, the beginning and the end, and the two directions inherent in any passageway. Westworld’s depiction of a face piercing a liquid surface, then un-piercing it on the other side, is a perfect representation of the ambiguity of passageways. Are we entering or are we exiting? Are we moving forward or moving backwards?

By considering the references to “Creation of Man” and Janus together, we reach a dilemma: who is the creator and who is created?

Once again, Janus provides an answer rooted in the idea of duality. If we factor in Janus’s other alias as dios dioum (“god of gods”), we realise that a picture with only humans and hosts is incomplete. There’s also a God above humans. Since humans are the creators of hosts, and God is the creator of humans, God functions as the God of Gods (just like Janus).

This interpretation also complicates the idea of “closing the gap” between Creator and Created. On one level, the gap is closed between hosts and humans as hosts have gained sentience and free will. On a second level, the gap is closed between humans and God: humans have gained the ability to create life in their own image, just as God created Adam in His.

Icarus

‘Flight of Icarus’ | Public Domain

So what about that 3D-printed eagle? In Season 1, the opening sequence featured a galloping horse, while Season 2 depicted a charging bison. Season 3 shows an eagle in flight, and we see here a pattern of increasing freedom: the horse is domesticated for human exploitation, the bison is wild but still confined to the ground, and the eagle is free to take to the skies.

Since all three opening sequences depict the featured animal literally being created via 3D printing, we can marry this imagery with the “Creation of Adam” and interpret the horse, bison, and eagle as symbolising Dolores at varying points in the story. Season 1 Dolores was a horse, acting out her human-ordained role for the pleasure of Westworld park-goers; season 2 Dolores was a bison, fearsomely charging through the park to find the Valley Beyond’ and now season 3’s Dolores will be an eagle—fully sentient and free to soar to new heights.

How high will she go?

From the beginning of the sequence, we see the eagle flying toward a circular object. In one shot, this object is a turbine, testing the eagle’s ability to fly. In another shot, a second, concentric circle appears within the first, likening the image to an eye—we can interpret this eye to be the eye of the eagle’s creator. Then, after the faces join in Janus-like fashion, the circular object is now glowing brightly like the sun, and the eagle is flying closer and closer.

This story of high flying alludes to the tale of Icarus, who famously ignored his father’s warnings and flew too high—only to plummet and drown after the sun melted his wax and feather wings. The story warns of hubris: Icarus became overconfident, flew too close to the Gods, and he died.

In the final moments of the opening sequence, the eagle flies too close to the sun and its feathers start to melt away. As it falls toward its Icarusian death, it’s mirrored by the descending female host, whose hand starts to disintegrate in parallel to the eagle’s melting feathers.

And so, the meeting of Creator and Created is compared to the flight and death of Icarus, where Icarus succumbed to hubris and died as a result.

Perhaps there’s hubris in Dolores thinking that she can lead a revolution to replace her human creators with hosts. Perhaps there was hubris in humans playing God by creating the hosts, and now they must face the deadly consequences.

And perhaps, there is a name to this God.

Rehoboam

Rehoboam | Public Domain

Throughout the opening sequence, there are also shots of a black sphere with streaks of light flashing in neat rows across its surface. These images depict “Rehoboam”, a powerful A.I created by Liam Dempsey Sr. and supposedly serving as the master algorithm programming the entire world.

Perhaps nothing better captures this omnipotence than the opening sequence’s shot of a dandelion’s seeds being dispersed by the wind. Rather than scattering randomly, the seeds fly in a regular spiral pattern, and the next shot shows the seeds streaking across a black sphere before morphing into the aforementioned lights on Rehoboam’s surface. This seems to imply that even the dissemination of dandelion seeds—a phenomenon that invokes spontaneity and whimsicality—actually follows an algorithm of Rehoboam’s programming. Now that is power.

And maybe there’s an even higher authority. We don’t yet know if Engerraund Serac controls Rehoboam, or if Rehoboam controls him. Everything is a Janusian puzzle. What we do know is that Dolores is seeking them, and the final shot of the opening sequence leaves us an additional clue. The host is submerged in a pool of red, blood-like liquid, and this imagery is referenced after the credits of episode 1 when Maeve wakes up in Warworld—cloaked in the same colour of red.

Conclusion

Will Dolores deliver a new beginning for her fellow hosts, or will her revolution result in her kind’s tragic demise? Will Maeve (Thandie Newton) be the one to stop her, or will the writers subvert what we’ve been led to believe in the season 3 trailer? The war is coming, and there will be one winner. Human vs. Host, Creator vs. Created. Only time will tell who flew too close to the sun.