I have always been a fan of Philip K. Dick’s writing and the movie adaptations of his works. I first heard of PKD by watching Blade Runner, one all time favorite science fiction movies. And, of course, many movies followed that were really great as well; Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, etc.
Seeing these great movies got me into his writing, where I enjoyed the books just as much, if not more. At the time that I first watched Blade Runner and Total Recall, I had not yet learned about libertarianism or ‘converted’. But, once I started to become and identify as a libertarian, I realized that those PKD based movies have libertarian principles in the background. It isn’t an outright libertarian sci-fi, but the themes are most certainly there, as well as PKD’s metaphysical and psychological themes.
Anyways, I am an Amazon Prime member. Every year we have a ‘pilot season’, where pilots for original Amazon shows are available to watch and review. Amazon obviously looks at which pilots got the most views and best ratings and then goes ahead with producing a season. So, as I was checking out the new Amazon pilot offerings, I saw something familiar, The Man in the High Castle. Amazon did a pilot for a PKD book and Ridley Scott produced it? Yes please!
So I watched it, enjoyed it immensely, and thought it was seriously one of the best produced pilot shows I have ever seen. Now the bad part, after getting all hyped up over a pilot you gotta wait the better part of a year for the release of the rest of the season. Fast forward to November 20th and it was released. I have been watching it since, getting 1-3 episodes in on a day I have time. I finally finished up the season this past weekend, and man was I impressed.
Man in the High Castle is an alternate history science fiction, set in 1962. In this alternate timeline, the Axis Powers, Germany and Japan, are triumphant in WW2 and occupy the US. Japan controls west of the Rocky Mountains and Germany east., with the Rockies being a neutral zone. The power struggle between the two Axis Powers results in an alternate Cold War between them. ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ is circulated and portrays an alternate history, one which we are more familiar with, where the Allies win the war. In the book it is a book, but in the Amazon series it is a collection of newsreels showing Allie wins, etc. I do not want to get too much into the details, as to spoil the series and/or book, but I would definitely recommend watching this series on Amazon Prime and reading the book as well.
What I enjoy about PKD’s books, and eventual movie or tv adaptations, is that most of them are of a dystopian future but delve into some deep themes. The Man in the High Castle is no exception. It is a dystopian future, but at the same time it feels normal-ish. Supposed freedom loving Americans have accepted their fascist overlords and even become a part of the government which hands down the rules and punishment.
One of the characters, Frank, has a good job and has survived, even with his Jewish roots. When his girlfriend, Juliana, gets involved with the resistance and the film reels ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’, he wants no part in it and wants to not rock the boat, to continue living ‘normally’ even with its limitations. But, once he sees the dark and brutal side of the fascist government, he then decides to take action. It seems that most Americans depicted in the series were like Frank, thankful that they were alive and eventually assimilate and live how the government deems they should live.
The series also shows you how ‘normal’ people can do horrible things. John Smith is a high ranking SS Nazi officer, but who is not German but American. You see him at his home with his family being a great father and husband, humanizing a monster. He does terrible things of course, but it shows how someone that is a normal ‘patriotic’ person can be made into a monster, just doing their job.
I believe this is a timely series as well. In the post 9/11 world we live in, giving away more and more of our freedoms. And of course with the Paris attack fresh on our minds, makes you wonder how far will we truly allow our government to go? How many of our freedoms will we allow them to completely trample? Is this depiction of an alternate history actually feasible in the US?
I want to say that the American person has a different mindset towards freedom, but that theory keeps getting trampled. Day after day, year after year, we continue to allow for more of our freedoms and liberties to be eroded away. Just a few years ago, Connecticut enacted a law where people who own guns with magazine capacities of over 10 had to register their guns. People lined up to register their guns. So will the same happen if the government takes another step and tells them to turn them in or have them confiscated?
Probably my favorite scene in the whole movie is where Joe has a flat and a Nazi police officer stops to help him. The officer is nice and very accommodating. He gives him an egg salad sandwich and helps with changing his tire. He, of course, has to ask for his papers, just doing his job. But we find out that the police officer was a veteran of the war, an American, meaning he fought Nazi’s. But here he is, assimilating and becoming part of the machine that he once opposed, enforcing their fascist laws. During the dialogue, the officers is asked about his tattoo and about being a veteran and he says, ‘We lost the war didn’t we? Now I can’t even remember what we were fighting for.’ Shortly after that exchange, Joe notices something falling from the sky. The officer tells him it’s the hospital and that on Tuesdays they burn cripples, the terminally ill, drags on the state. Ashes of incinerated ‘drags on the state’ fall like snow and the officer just acts as if it’s okay and normal.
There are a lot of other exchanges, scenes, and such that I can go over but I don’t want to spoil too much and suggest that you watch the series. If you do not have Amazon Prime, you can enjoy the pilot for free at the link below as well as sign up for a free 1 month trial to the service. It is truly a beautiful shot, produced, and acted series that delves into some serious libertarian themes. Also, check out the book and other PKD books and movie adaptations.