The third series of “The man in the high castle” has finally been released on Amazon Prime. And disappointing it is too.
This treatment of Philip K. Dick’s seminal novel began well enough, with frequent recognisable connections to the book.
But as it has progressed, and departed further from the original, the worse it has got, until it has descended into typical schlock TV thriller territory.
Mistakenly marketed as simply, yet another, ‘alternate history’ programme, the production misses the full scope of Dick’s multi-facetted paranoid vision of reality.
Instead, the producers have surrendered to the comforting narrative of US patriotism, and the defence of western democracy.
The novel was predicated on the idea that the Axis powers, Germany and Japan, won World War Two, and actually occupied the United States.
The erstwhile citizens of the USA are forced into lives of accommodation with this ignominious situation, collaborating for survival in this atmosphere of racial inversion, as second-class people.
Nowhere in the book, however, is there any sign of resistance to the Fascist imperium (although there is a hint of internal division within the German regime itself).
But in the television series, the existence of a violent ‘resistance’ is a major theme. It is as if their national psyche cannot bear the thought of subservience to an alien power.
The collective myth of resistance is an important trope for the self-respect of the US internal gestalt, for the generation of hope.
Initially conceived before President Trump’s election, it would be difficult to read current US political divisions into the production.
Superficially, one could equate the resistance with progressive opposition to his government. But equally it could relate to his own stance of ‘Make American Great Again’.
The producers’ decision rather reflects a deeper commitment to American Exceptionalism, according to which the USA is necessarily democratic at its core, and could never succumb to Nazism.
The series here substitutes a unilinear philosophy of history, in place of Dick’s confusion of myriad possibilities.
The plot-driver in his novel, is a book-within-a-book, which depicts the war as having been won by the Allies. This possibility intrigues and gives hope to the defeated US population.
Moreover the idea is suggested that this might be the ‘real’ history, the outcome revealed by the Chinese divination technique, the I Ching.
But this alternative future is nevertheless not ours; because although the Allies won, Pearl Harbour never occurred, and the British Empire still existed.
Fuelled by addiction to amphetamines, leading to acute mental illness, this switching of perspectives was key to Dick’s literary style.
The ends of his novels frequently accelerated, as a tumbling set of different explanations were successively proposed and subsequently ditched.
Converted to the Episcopalian Church, his faith was really Gnosticism, the belief in a deeper level of reality beneath the everyday which could be intuited at moments of heightened awareness.
A mid-twentieth century mystic, Dick’s vision encourages us to sit light to our understanding of reality, and be open to the revelation of mystery.