As a history buff and long time Prime subscriber, I’ve been wanting to watch Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” for quite some time now. With two seasons in the books and a third one coming, I have finally jumped in with both feet. For a while I wasn’t sure if the best move was to read the Philip K. Dick novel by the same name first, or save that for later. Based on a long history of tv and movie versions failing to live up to standards set by the written word, I have opted to go straight to the streaming. I have been disappointed by enough Stephen King movies and tv shows to have learned my lesson. Have you seen the piece of trash that “Under the Dome” became? Uh-huh. So in the interest of getting enjoyment from both forms of media, I’ll save the book for another time.
If you have not heard, the story is based on an alternate 1960’s world in which the Allied powers have lost World War II. The United States is divided up and ruled by the Nazis and the nation of Japan. The Greater Nazi Reich controls most of the country from Colorado to the east coast. The Japanese own the western part of the U.S., now known as the Japanese Pacific States. In between lies a neutral zone which has thus far managed to keep the tenuous alliance between Germany and Japan in place. The first episode titled The New World, sets the scene perfectly. It provides just enough information about how the world got into this mess to suck me in completely.
The single event that changed everything so drastically, was the Nazi party winning the race to develop an atomic bomb. They of course, did not hesitate to use this weapon. We learn early on in the show that at the very least, Washington D.C. was leveled by such an attack. Adolf Hitler remains in power in 1962, although in failing health. One of the major areas of tension hinges on what will happen, if and when Hitler dies. It is widely believed that no matter who takes over (Himmler, Göring, or Goebbels), the new policy would be extremely toxic to relations with Japan. The fear of future atomic attacks on the west coast looms large.
At the same time, we have a dwindling band of resistance fighters desperately trying to end the regime. The leader of this group appears to be the man in the high castle. We don’t know who he is or where he is located. However, he seems to be making and/or using films depicting scenes of victory over the Axis forces. Are these movies a view of the future? Are they a look at what could’ve been for them…a.k.a. what happened with our real world? Well, this is what I am trying to find out. I have not watched enough yet to answer these questions, and wouldn’t spoil it for you if I had.
Thus far, I have noted many fascinating aspects of the series. Most of the people living in the former United States have seemingly accepted their plight. They carry on with daily tasks, living quietly in pastoral scenes which easily could’ve been pulled from an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” In the midst of this, there are reminders of what the Third Reich was all about. At one point, an American police officer (complete with Nazi armband) calmly explains that what we are seeing drifting down on a country road are human ashes. We come to realize that no-one in this regime will suffer with disease or mental illness. All such individuals are put to death as a matter of law. It’s a pretty grim world.
The technology in use is also very interesting to me. Most of what is seen is typical of the time period as we know it. However, there is evidence that the Nazis have achieved superior advancements in certain key areas. The best example of this are the rocket propelled planes they travel in from coast to coast. These wonders of science are not shared by both major powers, though. As one of the Japanese leaders mentions, “we travel by ocean liner and they arrive in rocket ships.”
The show is far from perfect. There are some things I am left to wonder about. There has not been a great deal mentioned regarding the state of the world outside the U.S. We are taking about world domination by two relatively small nations. It seems unlikely they would have enough manpower to hold it all together. Surely England has been colonized as well. And what of the massive territory that would need to be secured and patrolled in order to keep Russia in check? After all, the Nazi overextension into this land was a major reason for their demise in the world that we know. How did they mange this? Perhaps the atomic bomb threat can explain everything. I remain skeptical, but it’s enough to keep me watching.
Another area of concern for me, are the all-important films that people are living and dying over. It is really unclear what is so crucial about these movies. On the surface, they would appear to be nothing more than motivational films showing a better world. How could they possibly be of any concern to the Nazi and Japanese leadership? Why would they assign such a high priority to eradicating this “threat”? The assumption of course, is that answers to these questions will come as the story progresses. And so, on I will stream.
I have a strong feeling that my decision to forgo reading the book initially was a sound one. I almost certainly would be left feeling disappointed with the adaptation. Luckily, I have not read it and there has been more than enough to keep me satisfied with the production. The costumes and scenery alone make for compelling viewing. Right now, I look forward to continuing on with another episode each night. My recommendation to you, is for exactly that. Definitely watch this series, but don’t binge watch it. Take your time. Enjoy the aesthetics of it and let yourself…think. Think about the way things were, the way things are, and the way things could’ve been.
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios