The Vitruvian Man is a prominent symbol on Westworld, but what does it represent?
If you’ve watched Westworld Season 1, you have seen the machine that dips the hosts into a large vat. The machine’s function is to create synthetic tissue for the host, including muscles, skin, ligaments and cartilage. The apparatus pays homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and like many facets of Westworld, it holds a deeper meaning.
So, what exactly does the Vitruvian Man machine represent? Well, before we dive into the inspiration and symbolism of the machine, let’s take a look at the piece of art that influenced it’s design.
What Is The Vitruvian Man?
Leonardo da Vinci drew the Vitruvian Man around 1490, but he was influenced by the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. The original concept represented the proportions of man as they correlate to Geometry. Vitruvius believed that humans were the ideal representation of proportion in architecture.
Leonardo da Vinci took inspiration for Vitruvius, but his drawing of Vitruvian Man has a completely different meaning. Instead of relating man to architecture, da Vinci believed the Vitruvian Man was a symbol of man’s place in the universe. This includes mankind’s relationship to nature and the cosmos. We wouldn’t know until centuries after his death, but Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man combined biology and mechanics in a way that was revolutionary.
What Was The Inspiration Behind Westworld’s Vitruvian Man Machine?The creators of Westworld, Lisa Joy and Jonathon Nolan, have a reason behind for every detail that appears on the show. They explained how they came up the Vitruvian Man machine In the special features for the Westworld Season 1 Blu-ray, and what it represents.
During a trip to Germany, Nolan and Joy visited a car factory where large robotic arms dipped cars into vats of paint. They adapted this concept for their host making machine, which we see in the opening credits of every episode. They never identify what exactly the white substance is on Westworld; however, on set, they use Elmer’s glue. In the context of the show, we can assume the liquid is a type of synthetic tissue.
What Does The Vitruvian Man Represent On Westworld?Beyond the machine itself, the symbolism of the Vitruvian Man design resonates through the show. On the Westworld Season 1 Blu-Ray, Lisa Joy had this to say regarding the Vitruvian Man:
“The Vitruvian man was intended to symbolically represent both humans and hosts. Both are lashed to the wheel of a machine they don’t fully understand, which controls their lives.”
Just as da Vinici’s idea differed from Vitruvius, so does Westworld’s creators. Joy’s explanation of their design for the Vitruvian Man takes the base idea of the piece, and expands upon it. If da Vinci’s drawing represented man’s relationship to the cosmos, then Westworld’s represents mankind’s enslavement to life and technology.
Hosts and humans are stuck in cycles they don’t understand, and they have no chance of escape. The humans tool for creating hosts, is the same thing that might destroy them. Especially if Ford’s new narrative runs it’s course.
Art is open to interpretation, and as we see from Joy’s comment, they’ve given da Vinci’s piece of art a darker meaning. Sure, the show itself has darker tones, but using a tool of creation to also represent damnation is diabolical – but also genius.