One of the most common “What-If’s” in human history is the basis for both Philip K Dick’s science fiction novel, The Man in the High Castle, and the Amazon Prime’s show, based off of the novel sharing a name. That “What-If”, if you were wondering, is: What would our world, (or in this case, America c. 1960) look like if the Allies lost World War II?
I should note first, that I have yet to read the novel *dodges audience-thrown tomatoes*. In my defense, I had never heard of the novel until I learned of the television series, and because I saw it, I wanted to read its source material (which is good), so I picked up a copy of the Philip K. Dick novel (and a few others of his).
So what is Dick’s vision of a post-World War II America where the Allies have lost to the Axis powers (in this case, just Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany)? The Axis Powers have divided the United States in rough thirds. Nazi Germany occupies/imperializes the states from the Atlantic to just before the Rocky Mountains. They have named their newly conquered land the Greater Nazi Reich. From the Pacific, to just west of the Rockies, rule the Japanese on the land dubbed the Japanese Pacific States. There is a gap between the Reich and the Pacific States called the Neutral Zone.
The cultural changes were as fascinating to me as the premise. Over the course of ten episodes, viewers see how life has changed for people in all three provinces of the former United States. As you might expect, in the East, major landmarks have either been defaced with Nazi propaganda, or outright removed. I was not sure if I caught this, but I believe the Germans detonated a nuclear bomb over Washington DC (based off the dialogue between two Nazi officers), though I don’t remember seeing any footage of Washington DC in the show (no landmarks or their ilk). It’s still a 1960’s America, so it still has that very rose-tinted look at how Americana has been altered by a Nazi occupation. One Nazi leader’s son is a part of the Hitler youth (replacing boy-scouts). In the west, we see how Japanese culture has clashed and been imposed onto those living in the western states. Our main character frequents a Dojo, for both spiritual and athletic entertainment.
Life in the neutral zone, which we see little of outside of Canon City, is comparable to a “Wild-West” in that both maintain a sense of general lawlessness. If this is true to the source, then it again shows how another stereotypically American theme has survived, despite the fascist occupation.
So what’s the draw? Because as interesting as it would be to view an occupied America, we need a story to hold us out for ten episodes. The draws, in this case, what really brings in the science to the science fiction, are these films made by the ominous: “man in the high castle” that appear to show an America that won the war. Some of the scenes that we see of these films include the raising of the American Flag at Iwo Jima, the atom bomb and aftermath on Hiroshima, etc. In Amazon’s adaptation, these films are used to stir rebellion, and are a popular topic of debate and concern for both ruling bodies. Hitler himself even obsesses over the movies. [I have seen others point out that in PKD’s novel, it is not a movie/s but a novel/stories from this parallel universe. It was also noted that less emphasis was placed on the rebellion. The show seems to glamourize the rebellion with shootouts, torture and resilient rebels.
Dick, however, may have been commenting on how close America was (internment camps, segregation, racism) to committing the atrocities that seem buzz-words to World War II –a closeness that we see little of in the adaptation. I can’t comment specifically on differences between the text and its show yet, but I may have to come back later and either edit, or write an afterword.
Interestingly enough, the level of action, gore, and sex was surprisingly minimal. I wasn’t expecting a Game of Thrones, nor did I want one, but it seems many shows now feel the need to push the boundaries with the amount of sex they show. There were a few scenes sexual in nature, but they were not gratuitous to me. The gore and action were also scarce enough, like a pinch of salt on a thick steak, that I grew tired of neither.
The ending was both un-expected, and intriguing.
Overall, I found the series to be refreshing. The best part about the series though, I’m sure I’ll affirm later, is that it tuned me in to reading its source material, Dick’s novel.
I’ll give it eight and a half smuggled movies out of ten, with the promise that I will come back, should they produce a second season.
PC: Pixabay user Unsplash