What If We’d Lost? (Series Review: “The Man in the High Castle”)

A gripping post WWII what-if-story set in a dystopian America after the Allied Army has lost the war to Japan and Nazi Germany. Totally addictive.

SnapShot Plot

To most people alive today the premise of the Allied victory in World War II is such a military, political, and moral given from which the entire modern world is cast, that to imagine an alternate ending is unfathomable. The Man in the High Castle is a 10-part original series on Amazon (loosely based on the 1962 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick) set in an America that looks and feels stuck in the wartime years of a decade earlier. The plot unfolds concurrently within the three segments of the country (as partitioned by the victorious Axis powers): the Japanese Pacific States west of the Rockies; the Nazi Greater Reich covering the eastern half of the country; and the Neutral Zone which is a lawless region acting as a buffer between the two. In this world, Hitler is still alive and relations between the two super powers Japan and Germany are tense. Life for Americans is not the sunny, optimistic field of dreams we’ve always taken for granted. It’s a repressive regime in which the tables are turned and we are the persecuted and oppressed subjects, living each day in a defeatist haze of submission.

The swirling action revolves around a handful of characters, at the center of which is the courageous yet naive Julianna Crain (transcendently played by Alexa Davalos) into whose possession comes a mysterious news reel which changes her life and the lives of those around her, forever. Entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, it’s one of several subversive underground films showing Allied victory in the War, from scenes of aerial battles to Winston Churchill, FDR, MacArthur and the historic surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay in which Japan formally surrenders to the Allies, bringing an end to World War II. It’s a shining moment as we see the emotion reflected in Julianna’s eyes as she dares to hope that what she’s seeing might possibly be true. Once Julianna realizes that the film is a key to uncovering a larger Resistance plot, she’s compelled to take action and thrusts herself into a deadly jigsaw puzzle, with no idea where it might lead her or if she’ll even survive the ordeal.

Among countless other players, the key characters include Julianna’s secretly Jewish boyfriend Frank Frink; the mysterious Nazi undercover agent Joe Blake; the ruthless Nazi officer, Obergruppenführer John Smith; and  Nobusuke Tagomi, the Trade Minister of the Japanese Pacific States, whose true allegiance is questionable throughout the first season. As Julianna gets more deeply involved, we begin to understand the larger stakes that hang in the balance and also to discover what (or who) is meant by the Man in the High Castle – the purported creator of the films – and why the films are so vital to so many people, from the Resistance fighters to the security forces of Germany and Japan, in fact even to Hitler himself.

 “What is that?”

“Oh, that’s the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“Yeah, Tuesdays they burn cripples, the terminally ill. Drag on the state.”

 

Parting Shot

The series creators, Frank Spotnitz and Ridley Scott have re-imagined a compelling dystopian American landscape that is astonishingly believable and heartbreaking in its ability to re-imagine another dystopian landscape of Europe during WWII. From the opening credits depicting a black and white Statue of Liberty besieged by German artillery against the tinkling Edelweiss, sung by Swedish singer, Jeanette Olsen (‘bless my homeland forever’) it’s clear from the start that this is a series the likes of which has never been attempted before in episodic television. It’s vision, message and relevance can’t be underestimated, especially in the interesting times in which we’re living.

Season One of The Man in the High Castle is presently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Season Two is scheduled to be released in December, 2016.

For those of you interested in a 1945 news reel of the actual Japanese surrender, here it is:

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzz_6dmv03I

Historical footage of Japan’s Surrender, 1945:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcnH_kF1zXc

 

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