The Man in the High Castle
No science fiction writer has had as many movies made from his novels and short stories as Philip K. Dick. No one else even comes close. There have been at least a dozen movies and several TV shows, and a few more are in the pipeline. Many billions have been made from them, and he got almost none of it during his lifetime, since he died shortly after the sale of rights for “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, filmed as Bladerunner.
The mind games, the fooling with “reality” he played in his stories have a lot to do with his popularity as source material, because they adapt easily to the screen. And by now he has become a marquee name, right up there with the stars and sometimes above the name of the director. But what we sometimes forget is that his stories have often been extensively changed, and usually beefed up with a lot of action scenes. This is not to take anything away from Dick as a storyteller, but his concerns were usually a lot more cerebral than what we get as a finished blockbuster. This Amazon series is an example. Which is not to say that’s a problem, as long as they don’t go overboard with it, and they don’t here.
I found this series incredibly hard to watch. Not because they botched it. No, they did a terrific job of showing what a world where Germany and Japan won WWII in 1947 would look like, after the fucking Nazis destroyed Washington with an atomic bomb, and have occupied America until the “present day,” which is 1962. Germany controls everything in the East, all the way to the Great Plains. Japan runs the Pacific States. There is a neutral zone in the Rocky Mountains.
I am able to watch WWII movies showing Kraut and Jap atrocities because I know that, in the end, the evil was defeated. But seeing what the fucking Nazis and the fucking Japs might have done to my beloved country … well, sometimes it made me almost physically ill. But I had to rise above it, because there is much to like in this ten-part series. And several things to dislike.
The first big shout-out has to go to the production design. Everything looks exactly as it might have looked had history turned out differently. In the East, the dominant colors are Nationalist Socialist red and black, and swastikas adorn everything. In the West, Japanese influence is visible everywhere. These are the unsung heroes of movies, the people who design and build everything, from the sets right down to the smallest SS lapel pin. Even a glimpse of a postage stamp is correct, showing the American flag with the swastika in the blue field.
The story … well, it’s satisfyingly complicated, but I had a lot of problems with some of the characters. There is Juliana, who starts to work with the Resistance, her boyfriend Frank, who gets reluctantly involved along with her, and the man she meets and is attracted to in the Neutral Zone, an Aryan good-looker who claims to be part of the Resistance but we quickly learn is exactly what he appears to be: A fucking Nazi spy.
Juliana, and the Resistance members she comes into contact with, have to be the most piss-poor revolutionaries I’ve ever seen. In a war like this, sentiment and personal preferences have to take a back seat to the bigger struggle, or you have no business being involved. You are going to get your comrades killed. And yet Juliana, and to a lesser extent, Frank, time and time again do things that … well, let’s just say that in France, in 1943, the real Resistance would have promptly put bullets into their heads. I wanted to do so myself, several times.
And at the end … spoiler warning … she helps the fucking Nazi spy escape to Mexico, and the two Resistance members just watch him sail away. Well, fuck her. I had been having a lot of problems with the selfish bitch, anyway, and to let him get way just because he looked deep into her eyes with his fucking Nazi baby blues and said “I’m not like that anymore!”, I lost all sympathy for her. The only good fucking Nazi is a dead fucking Nazi. I believe that down to the core of my soul.
The story itself concerns films that have been turning up, seemingly from the mysterious Man in the High Castle. These are newsreels from our world, showing the defeat of the fucking Japs and the fucking Nazis. Hitler wants them, and so does the Resistance. It’s an interesting premise. It isn’t revealing too much to say that nothing is resolved in Episode Ten. We already knew there was going to be a second season. I will watch it, but that goddam Juliana had better straighten up and learn to put the good of the rebels over her own stupid and selfish needs pretty damn soon, or I’m going to be rooting for the Kempeitai to bring her in and start pulling out her fingernails.