Grave New World: The Man in the High Castle

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Photo credit: Abhisek Dash
Pho­to cred­it: Abhisek Dash

It’s no sur­prise that the adver­tise­ment cam­paign done in late 2015 for a then upcom­ing Ama­zon Stu­dios’ series was con­sid­ered a provo­ca­tion and had to be end­ed pre­ma­ture­ly due to gen­er­al out­rage. Posters of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty with its right arm changed to a Hitler salute were hung in New York sub­way trains above seats changed to spot Nazi-inspired insignia. One may or may not con­sid­er that taste­less, but it does the trick by pulling view­ers into the uncan­ny world of The Man in the High Cas­tle

The year is 1962. But not ‘our’ 1962: Nazi Ger­many and Impe­r­i­al Japan are the most pow­er­ful coun­tries in the world fif­teen years after the Axis Pow­ers won World War II and shaped a world to their lik­ing. The for­mer Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca has been split up into the Japan­ese Pacif­ic States in the West and an East that is part of the Greater Ger­man Reich.

This is the dystopi­an set-up of Ama­zon Stu­dios’ recent series adap­ta­tion of Philip K. Dick’s nov­el The Man in the High Cas­tle (1963). Ini­tial­ly, the show focus­es on Juliana Crain (Alexa Dava­l­os) and her boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), who live in Japan­ese-con­trolled San Fran­cis­co under rough con­di­tions and vac­il­late some­where between res­ig­na­tion and adap­tion. But then Juliana gets unin­ten­tion­al­ly involved with the Resis­tance and finds a mys­te­ri­ous film reel show­ing con­fus­ing pic­tures from … some­where else. The volatile film seems to be as impor­tant to the Resis­tance as it is to the gov­ern­ment, and Juliana takes on her uncer­tain mission.


As the sto­ry pro­gress­es, it becomes obvi­ous that The Man in the High Cas­tle is told from sev­er­al perspectives:

  • the 27-year-old Amer­i­can, Joe Blake (Luke Klein­tank), who wants his coun­try back
  • the New York fam­i­ly father and SS-Ober­grup­pen­führer John Smith (Rufus Sewell), who not only pas­sion­ate­ly believes in and prais­es what he calls a “bet­ter world” but is also will­ing to do every­thing to crush those who “seek to drag us all backward”
  • the well-mean­ing Trade Min­is­ter of the Pacif­ic States of Amer­i­ca, Nobo­suke Tago­mi (Cary-Hiroyu­ki Tagawa) and the doubt-filled Nazi offi­cial, Rudolph Wegen­er (Carsten Nor­gaard), who are both try­ing to pre­serve a frag­ile peace between the so-called allies, Japan and Ger­many, which actu­al­ly are in a state of cold war.


This mul­ti-per­spec­tive pre­sen­ta­tion is one of the strengths of The Man in the High Cas­tle and makes it a remark­ably deep sto­ry of good ver­sus evil, but with­out lim­it­ing itself to a con­flict between round good char­ac­ters and flat evil ones. Also, the implied sit­u­a­tion that there are Amer­i­cans – many forcibly, but some more than eager­ly – tak­ing their place in the new regime is provoca­tive, but not out of place.

His­to­ry buffs may also be thrilled by the many pieces of infor­ma­tion casu­al­ly thrown in that indi­cate sev­er­al points of his­tor­i­cal diver­gence from ‘our’ real­i­ty. Also plot-wise the show offers a row of sub­tle hints that may be eas­i­ly missed. This way the plot and the over­all eerie atmos­phere cre­ate a world rich in detail in which view­ers wouldn’t want to live in but are com­pelled to watch. The mys­te­ri­ous pieces of infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed cre­ate a sense of urgency to fig­ure out what’s going on and how every­thing will to fit togeth­er in the end.

Speak­ing of ends: The first sea­son ends with an open one, and a sec­ond sea­son has been con­firmed for release in late 2016. Until then, take a look into this Grave New World …


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