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Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: The Man in the High Castle – Season 1

Based on: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Amazon Studios, Scott Free, Headline Pictures and Electric Shepherd Productions.
Showrunner: 
Frank Spotnitz
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on short story), Frank Spotnitz (written for television)
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank
Distributor: Amazon Video
Genre: Drama, Military and War, Historical, Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on these works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Sony Pictures Televisions produced Electric Dreams in 2017, based on the works of Dick

In 2015, Amazon Prime released an adaptation of the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle. The series depicts an alternate history 1962, in which the Axis powers were victorious in World War II. The United States is divided up into the Greater Nazi Reich (most territories east of the Rocky Mountains), the neutral zone (the Rocky Mountains), and the Japanese Pacific States (territories west of the Rocky Mountains). This Amazon Original series has been nominated for three 2017 Emmy Awards.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Fights/brawls including a martial arts fight, man hit on back of the head, woman smacked; intense violence/gore, including seppuku (suicide), hanging of a corpse, bloody eyes, gunfight/shootings with blood, execution-style shooting to the back of the head, use of attack dogs, ambush with machine guns; torture/beating of a man, man being pushed off of building; intense images including the ashes of disabled and mentally ill people, family with children gassed (off-screen), corpses seen individually and in mass graves, man commits suicide by gun to head up chin (off-screen, gun shot heard).

Language/Crude Humor: 14 uses of religious profanity (Jesus, God); 27 mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); 12 scatological terms; two anatomical terms; 11 derogatory terms, including b***h, b*****d and p***k; 23 racial slanders against Asian and Jewish people; Africans are referred to as ‘subhumans’; Albino man called ‘too white’ and a freak; +30 F-word; the Nazi salute is said multiple times throughout series; death threats given throughout series.

Sexual Content: Boyfriend and girlfriend hug and kiss; also talk about having kids. Sex implied after couple kisses. Man strips down to his underwear, then naked, genitalia not seen, but circumcision questioned (side buttocks). A topless prostitute is briefly seen. Sexual harassment/favors, including male interviewing unzipping of pants. Woman seen in negligee.

Drug/Alcohol use: Lead characters drink at a bar. Smoking. LSD administered as truth serum. Adult gives teenager wine. Woman abuses unnamed medication.

Spiritual Content: Various Shinto practices, including meditation.

Other Negative Themes: Talk of torture, including “cracking” genitalia and plucking fingernails; talk of “blowing” someone’s brains out; Nazi imagery, including the Hitler salute and the Swastika; talk of nuclear war; Bible burning discussed; genocide and totalitarian regimes; euthanasia discussed; various Nazi ideologies; shipping of contraband, including swallowing and excreting item; forgery; treason.

Spirituality: Various Shinto practices, including meditation.

Positive Content: A discussion on World War II, Allied vs. Axis, and other historical events.

SEASON RECAP

EPISODES 1-2

Episode 1, The New World, begins with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) watching an old propaganda film set in 1962, New York, Greater Nazi Reich. Joe meets up with a Resistance leader and is given the task of delivering a package to Canon City, in the Rocky Mountains. On the West Coast, Juliana Crain (Juliana Crain) practices Aikido in San Francisco, under Japanese control.

She meets with her sister Trudy and boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans). Frank’s best friend Ed (DJ Qualls) is also introduced.

Trudy then gives Juliana a mysterious package before being killed by Japanese soldiers. The package is of a film reel, depicting the Allies winning WWII. Frank calls the footage fake, possibly made by the Man in the High Castle. Juliana wants to deliver the film to Canon City, much to the derision of Frank. Japanese Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) discuses the shaky alliance of the Pacific States and the Greater Nazi Reich.

In Riker’s Island Prison, Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) tortures a Resistance leader, confirming his knowledge of Joe’s contraband delivery to Canon City. Tagomi meets with Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard), a disillusioned Nazi official. Joe also discovers his package is another film reel. Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) investigates Trudy and Juliana; he also imprisons Frank. Juliana meets up with Joe, though she is ignorant of his connection to the Resistance. The ending reveals Joe is actually a Nazi spy under Smith, attempting to undermine the Resistance.

In Episode 2, Sunrise, the Kenpeitai beat and imprison Frank. Joe shows romantic interest in Juliana and she takes a job as a waitress in Canon City. John Smith eats breakfast with his family, and discusses how selfish desire leads to moral decay. Joe and Smith update each via phone, with the superior notifying Joe of a female Resistance member.

Kido threatens Frank with the death of his sister, niece, and nephew unless Frank gives information on Juliana. Imprisoned Resistance member Randall attempts to encourage Frank to not give in. Juliana also meets the Line-Faced Man reading a Bible. German and Japanese officials meet and discuss suspects in search of the High Castle reels. But, tensions between the two nations arise.

Resistance terrorists ambush John Smith and Erich Raeder, leaving the latter in critical condition. Ed goes to look into why Frank hasn’t appeared for work. Joe watches the film reel at an abandoned theater, and the content shocks him. Juliana eventually meets up with Line-Faced Man, who attacks her; Joe rescues her. Inspector Kido finds another smuggler with Trudy’s reels. He then releases Frank from the firing squad. But, Frank’s family is not saved in time.

EPISODES 3-4

In Episode 3, The Illustrated Woman, Juliana and Joe take refuge in his apartment after the killing of the Line-Faced Man. Joe determines the man was most likely a Nazi agent and the Reich will send others to look for him. Frank returns home, tormented by the words of Kido, and meets up with Ed.

John Smith tells Joe to leave town, but Joe is reluctant. Juliana calls up Frank; Frank makes up a cover story after hearing the wire-tap. Joe encounters the Marshall, a sadistic bounty hunter searching for the Line-Faced Man. The Marshall connects his last whereabouts with Juliana. In San Francisco, the Crown Prince and Princess perform a Shinto Ritual. Frank informs his brother-in-law of the death of his family.

The Nazi Embassy tries to persuade the Crown Prince to not give a public address; the Prince refuses. John Smith searches for the informant who caused the ambush from a captured Resistance leader. Juliana and Joe find a list of Resistance leaders including the diner boss. Upon heading back to Canon City, the Marshall attacks and pursues Juliana.

In Episode 4, Revelations, Juliana hides from the Marshall, but Joe rescues her. The Shoe Shine Boy deviates the Marshall and tells the two of the location of Lem. Armed with a real gun, Frank plans to assassinate the Crown Prince, with Ed trying to dissuade him.

Juliana meets with Lem (Rick Worthy), but Lem just wants the film. He also distrusts Joe. Lem agrees to take the two to the Man in the High Castle. Joe updates Smith, saying he will meet the Man in the High Castle. Smith says the Man must be killed, even if it costs Joe his life. Marshall threatens Lem. Lem then retrieves the film reels from Joe and Juliana.

Frank buys illegal antique bullets. Juliana discovers Joe is “lying,” with Joe fronting as a Resistance member. The Resistance leader Smith imprisoned commits suicide. Juliana draws out the Marshall, but Joe confronts him, stating he is a Nazi spy and needs Juliana alive. Juliana fakes her death to the Marshall, with a burning car with a corpse in it.

At the Crown Prince’s address, Rudolph attempts to slip a Japanese Science Minister a microfilm, but fails. Ed updates Juliana about Frank’s assissination attempt. Frank prepares to assassinate the Crown Prince, but someone else shoots first, leaving the scene in disarray. Juliana also heads back to San Francisco on a bus.

EPISODES 5-6

In Episode 5, The New Normal, as gunshots ring out, a Japanese bystander sees Frank with a gun; authorities chase him down. The Crown Prince is rushed to the hospital, as all foreigners’ visas are detained, including Rudolph. He swallows the microfilm to hide it. Despite increased security, Juliana makes it back to Frank’s place in San Francisco.

The Crown Prince is in critical condition, as Tagomi talks with the Crown Princess. Juliana meets with her parents and Joe Blake returns to New York. Tagomi wants Rudolph to flee, but Rudolph wants to complete his delivery to the Japanese Science Minister. Major Klemm reviews Joe on his mission, with Smith joining in. Yoshida interrogates Juliana, with Kido joining in. Both questioning parities are suspicious.

Resistance member Karen tells Juliana to get a job at the Japanese Authority Building to infiltrate it. Frank meets Mark Sampson at the funereal of his family. Rudolph regains the microfilm. Despite Tagomi’s warnings, Rudolph slips the Science Minister the microfilm, as a German official spots him. Smith invites Joe for a family get-together, as Joe eyes a confidential folder. As Juliana leaves a lecherous job interviewer, she bumps into Tagomi.

In Episode 6, Three Monkeys, Joe goes to visit Smith’s family for a VA party. Throughout the episode, Joe seeks the confidential Grasshopper file. Juliana and Frank attempt to reconcile, though the relationship is rocky. She also attends her first day working at the Japanese Authority building.

Juliana speaks with Tagomi. Joe discusses his background with Thomas, Smith’s son. Kido still investigates the Crown Prince shooting. Smith goes to pick up his mother-in-law from the airport with Joe. There, he runs into an old friend, Rudolph. Kido confronts Tagomi, suspecting some collaboration based on Rudolph’s international visa. Kido also tracks the bullets to the antique store Frank bought them from. The antique dealer (Brennan Brown) also confronts Frank.

Juliana discovers a surveillance room in the Japanese Authority Building. Frank joins Mark for an undercover Jewish prayer service. Smith reveals to Joe he knew Rudolph lied, with his mother-in-law pickup being a cover story to intercept the traitor. He turns Rudolph in to the Nazi police. In a cliffhanger, Smith catches Joe reading the confidential Grasshopper folder.

EPISODES 7-8

In Episode 7, Truth, Smith finds Joe in his office, viewing the Grasshopper folder. Smith knew his subordinate lied, and calls on Klemm to confiscate Joe. Frank explains to Ed his initial plan to assassinate the Crown Prince, but the presence of a child discourages him.

Joe tells Smith the full truth. Smith then gives him a new mission: Find Juliana and the film, under penalty of death. Juliana’s father finds her at the Japanese Authority Building; he explains why he works surveillance. Betty, a Japanese buyer, invites Robert, the antique dealer, to dinner with her husband. However, the Japanese couple looks down on him.

Joe meets up with Rita, a single mother whom he has a relationship with. Juliana sees Trudy in a crowded Japanese street market. Kido tells Tagomi of Juliana’s Resistance connection, but Tagomi keeps her on the job. Joe asks Juliana about the film, under wiretap; Smith then sends Joe to the Pacific. Frank and Robert talk forging antique items. Tagomi looks into Trudy’s file; he then sends Juliana to her. Trudy’s corpse lies in a huge killing field. A shocked Juliana walks the Japanese street mart, with Joe trailing behind.

In Episode 8, End of the World, Lem gets a call from a contact to go to San Francisco. Juliana finally tells her parents Trudy is dead, though her mother does not believe her. Frank creates a forged holster, as Ed warns him of the Kenpeitai. Frank tells him he is leaving. Joe meets Juliana again, and inquires about the film.

Robert takes the forged holster, despite momentary hesitation. Lem and Karen attempt to meet a film contact, but the Yakuza kills the contact and takes the film. A doctor diagnoses Smith’s son with Landouzy-Dejerine disease, but Smith is in denial. The doctors offer euthanasia as an option. High-level Nazi official Heydrich (Ray Proscia) comes to remove Rudolph from Smith’s custody. Karen and Lem meet Joe with Juliana, despite suspicions. Smith meets with Rudolph again, but argue about ideals.

Robert manages to sell the forgery to the Kasouras and Frank gains the money. Lem and Karen plan to regain the film from the Yakuza with Joe’s help and Smith’s transferred funds. Frank wants to leave quickly for the bus, but Juliana wants to tell her parents goodbye. Her father informs her the Yakuza deal is a trap and Juliana goes to warn Joe at the Bamboo Palace. The Kenpeitai raid the Bamboo Palace, but mysterious black car occupants abduct them. Kido runs out the back, missing them.

EPISODES 9-10

In Episode 9, Kindness, The Yakuza guard pushes Juliana and Frank into a makeshift jail. Frank decides to skip the bus to wait for Juliana. Thomas stumbles down the stairs, implying the progression of his disease. Joe questions Juliana about her and Frank’s destination. The Yakuza guard then takes Juliana, but leaves Joe. At the docks, she meets with Okamura, a Yakuza leader. Lem and Karen are also present. The Resistance completes the transaction to free Juliana, but leave Joe. Juliana wants to free Joe too, so she promises to gain Okamura’s requested payment.

Smith visits a recovering Erich at the Reich Rehabilitation Hospital. As a trusted contact, Smith hands him a note to give to Hitler, just in case something happens. Ed intercepts Juliana, and she reunites with Frank. She convinces Frank to use his money to free Joe, though he wants to deliver it personally. Rudolph meets with Heydrich, who wants Rudolph to assassinate Hitler (Wolf Muser).

Frank meets with Okamura, and frees Joe with the money. However, Joe starts a gunfight with the Yakuza for the film. Ed gives Juliana and Frank some yen and they part ways. Smith pushes Captain Connelly over the edge of the Reich building, and calls it a suicide. A Japanese general visits Tagomi concerning uranium deposits; Tagomi is then informed of the weaponization of the Heisenburg Device (Atomic Bomb), which he intended for peace. Okamura tells Kido he knows the true identity of the Crown Prince shooter. Heydrich visits Smith’s home, and suspiciously invites him to go hunting, as Juliana and Frank plan to meet Joe at a school. However, to their shock, a Nazi Joe executes captive Frank in the High Castle film.

In Episode 10, A Way Out, Juliana and Frank are still in awe of the film reel. Joe enters, but Frank fights to keep the film away from him; Frank fails. Smith prepares for the hunting excursion with Heydrich. Juliana and Frank meet with Lem and Karen, for a way out of town. The Resistance can provide an escape, but only if they get the film back and kill Joe. Kido finds and kills the true sniper of the Crown Prince, a Nazi instigator. Kido covers this up to prevent war between the Nazi and the Japanese states.

Smith meets with Heydrich and his guard in the Catskill Mountains. Karen gives the game plan to Juliana: Infiltrate the Reich Embassy with a fake passport and get to Joe. In Germany, Rudolph meets with his family; then, an aged Hitler himself. At the gun factory, the boss sees Ed attempting to destroy Frank’s gun; the Kenpeitai capture him. Heydrich loses face, and pressures Smith under gunpoint to an alliance. Joe escapes the Reich Embassy with Juliana, but realizes their destination is a Resistance trap. Juliana has a change of heart, and lets him depart on the boat.

Rudolph does not kill Hitler in order to prevent war with Japan. Instead, Rudolph commits suicide. Heydrich’s guard is shot, and Smith apprehends Heydrich. Kido apprehends Ed, with Frank struggling to let the Kenpeitai know he is the assassin. Finally, Tagomi goes into meditation, and slips into an alternate 1960s San Francisco, presumably our world where the Allies win.

REVIEW

Season 1 quelled my concerns from Episode 1. The series went past the initial intrigue of the “What If?” scenario and really made me care for the characters.  Visually, it is stunning. They did a great job using Vancouver and British Columbia as the set for many locations. The music set the tone for several scenes, especially those of tension and cliffhangers.

One important note involves the format of Amazon streaming. I loved the X-Ray notes, which appear when you move the mouse on the screen. They provide so much background information that the series almost becomes a mini history lesson. It is not obtrusive, like Pop-Up Video from the 90s. But, it is there when you want it. For example, when Rudolph returns to Germany, a production note discusses Volkshalle and Germania, Hitler’s prosed revitalization of Berlin realized in this alternate universe. Other production notes of interest include Japanese culture and 60’s American culture.

I appreciate that High Castle does not stray away from the source material, at least not to my knowledge, in Season 1. I familiarized myself with the book, although I didn’t read it. The basic premise stays the same. This is unlike the adaption of Electric Dreams, which drastically changes the original source material of Philip K. Dick.

Surprisingly, one of my favorite characters is a minor character: Robert the antique dealer. Up until he was introduced, the High Castle didn’t really have much comic relief. I thought maybe Ed (DJ Qualls) would provide this role, given his past comedic roles. When Robert was first introduced, I thought Betty and Paul were taking advantage of his interest, and setting him up for Kido. I was relieved the writers didn’t kill them off. As dark as this world is, Robert provides some humor to give relief from the overall miserable state. I also really liked the fortitude and nobility of Trade Minister Tagomi, as he helped to bring hope to this dark world.

John Smith still ranks as one of my favorite characters. Season 1 gives him more depth, giving sympathy to the SS Officer. Rufus Sewell remains threatening, but his family provides him a more relatable side. The debilitating disease of his son makes Smith vulnerable and sympathetic, despite the brutal actions he committed and commits. His hesitation to kill or imprison his old-friend Rudolph also reflect this.

Episode 6 highlights what’s best in this season. Smith invites Joe over for a VA party and he (along with us) sees the seemingly wholesome Smith family. We hear Rudolph’s disillusionment with the Nazi regime after the extermination camps, despite the victory of the Nazis in WWII. Smith clearly vocalizes his conscience vs. his duty. The episode ends with a perfect cliffhanger: Smith finding Joe shifting through his confidential files.

MAIN CRITICISMS OF HIGH CASTLE

My main criticism of High Castle is visible plot armor given to certain characters. The death of Frank’s family establishes the danger from the dystopian government. But, Season 1 does not seem like it follows through with this. There are points where Joe, Juliana, and other characters should have been killed.

No more is this realized than in Episode 7. Where Episode 6 is my favorite, leaving me questioning what will happen, the following deflates this completely. According to Smith’s duty, Joe should have been killed, as he collaborated with the Resistance and is shifting through confidential files. But, Joe isn’t killed. Klemm even states during the subsequent interrogation they should have already put a bullet in Joe’s head. I couldn’t agree more.

Rudolph’s suicide helps break this, but it is a little too late for me. I don’t expect a bloodbath, but a few more unexpected deaths may have aided the gravity of the series. I must note, my friend who has already seen the rest of the series says this plot armor for characters is removed.

Another main criticism is the love triangle between Joe, Juliana, and Frank. Though typical fare for any series, it makes all three of them look dumb. Frank holds out for Juliana, despite her diminishing affections for him. Joe almost gets himself killed for treason due to his affection for Juliana. Protecting Joe really distracts Juliana from her initial (and better) goal: Why was her sister killed and what is the purpose of the High Castle films? I don’t mind characters making bad decisions, but it would be nice if these characters grew from their mistakes.

Spiritual Application

One of the X-Ray notes that really caught my attention discussed the issue of ‘Positive Christianity.’ This note appears about halfway through Episode 2, Sunrise. According to the note, ‘Positive Christianity’ attempted to reconcile Christianity and Nazism. German philosopher Alfred Rosenberg greatly supported the movement, desiring the “extermination of foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany.”

Rosenburg wanted to replace the Bible and the Christian cross with Mein Kampf and the swastika. In addition, this movement sought to deny the Semitic origins of Jesus Christ and the Scripture. In contrast to the title, Rosenburg deemed Catholicism and Protestant sects of Christianity as ‘negative Christianity,’ according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Although Hitler claimed to be a ‘Christian’ in speeches and Mein Krampf, it was a means to an end: He desired to maintain the political support of Christian churches in Germany, according to historians.

In the radicalized world of High Castle, the Greater Nazi Reich fully embraces ‘Positive Christianity’ and the Bible is banned in the Reich. One major thought that can be pulled from this fictional depiction: The removal of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. Although not as extreme as ‘Positive Christianity,’ this important connection is often times forgotten in modern American churches.

Romans 11:11-24 says we (Gentiles) are wild branches grafted into the natural branches (Israel) of the olive tree. We share in their promises and inheritance of salvation. Unfortunately, Gentile believers tend to dismiss Israel, as Paul predicts the Gentile question in Romans 11:1 which says, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?” Again, although not as extreme as ‘Positive Christianity,’ this dismissal manifests today even in replacement theology, which states the Church completely replaced Israel.

However, God is not finished with Israel. Romans 11:26 says “all Israel will be saved,” in order to fulfill His covenant with His people. This promise to restore Israel is a testimony to the faithfulness of God, and a testimony to His ability to fulfill His promises in our lives as followers of Jesus.

Categories
Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: The Man in the High Castle – Season 1, Episode 1

Based on: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Amazon Studios, Scott Free, Headline Pictures and Electric Shepherd Productions
Director: 
David Semel
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on short story), Frank Spotnitz (written for television)
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank
Distributor: Amazon Video
Genre: Drama, Military and War, Historical, Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on these works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Sony Pictures Televisions produced Electric Dreams in 2017, based on the works of Dick.

In 2015, Amazon Prime released an adaptation of the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle. The series depicts an alternate history 1962, in which the Axis powers were victorious in World War II. The United States is divided up into the Greater Nazi Reich (most territories east of the Rocky Mountains), the neutral zone (the Rocky Mountains), and the Japanese Pacific States (territories west of the Rocky Mountains). This Amazon Original series has been nominated for three 2017 Emmy Awards.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Fights/brawls including martial arts fight; intense violence/gore, including gunfight with blood, execution-style shooting to the back of the head, use of attack dogs; torture of a man, including hanging him up and beating him until he is bloody and dead; intense images including the ashes of disabled and mentally ill people.

Language/Crude Humor: Two uses of religious profanity (Jesus); four mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); three scatological terms; one anatomical term; one derogatory term, including b-word and seven racial slanders against Asians; one F-word; character jokes around about sex.

Sexual Content: Boyfriend and girlfriend hug and kiss; also talk about having kids.

Drug/Alcohol use: Lead characters drink at a bar.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: Talk of torture, including “cracking” genitalia and plucking fingernails; talk of “blowing” someone’s brains out; Nazi imagery, including the Nazi salute and the Swastika; talk of nuclear war; genocide and totalitarian regimes.

Positive Content: A discussion on World War II, Allied vs. Axis, and other historical events.

EPISODE RECAP

Episode 1, The New World, starts with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) in the theater while watching an old propaganda film. Someone then secretly gives him a card. The location is New York City, 1962, but America doesn’t exist. In this alternate timeline, the Greater Nazi Reich is in control.

Joe heads to a factory and meets the manager, Warren. Warren leads an underground resistance group. Fervent, Joe wants to help the Resistance, but his youth discourages Warren. The Resistance leader also warns Joe of possible torture if captured, but gives the passionate young man the job regardless. Joe is tasked with delivering a package from New York City to Canon City, in the neutral Rocky Mountains States. As Joe prepares to leave, Nazi soldiers raid the factory for the Resistance members. They kill the majority of factory workers and capture Warren. But, Joe manages to drive away.

On the West coast, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) practices Aikido in San Francisco. The Japanese control the States west of the Rocky Mountains, which are now called the Japanese Pacific States. As Juliana buys medicine from a Japanese shop, she has a very fortuitous conversation with her sister Trudy. Juliana meets her boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) later in a bar. Frank notes the Jewish heritage of his grandfather and his fear of being found out. His best friend, Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls), enters as a news report shows Hitler is still alive. But, Ed points out the possibility of Parkinson’s disease due to the Führer’s shaking hand. He believes Hitler won’t live much longer and his successor will destroy the West Coast with the H-Bomb.

A GLIMPSE OF A BETTER WORLD

Juliana leaves the bar and runs into her sister Trudy again, who gives her a package. Japanese soldiers then chase Trudy and shoot her off-screen. Juliana manages to escape and opens up the package, which contains a newsreel. The reel testifies to the Allies’ victory in World War II, showing Roosevelt and Churchill. She watches this reel over and over again.

Frank enters, and Juliana explains the content of the footage. He calls the footage fake, probably made by the Man in the High Castle. This mysterious anti-fascist figure creates films that make it look like the Allies won. Fearful, Frank insists the footage be destroyed, as it is treason. However, Joanne insists on delivering the package to Canon City, substituting for her sister. Frank derides her decision, instead wanting to report the footage to police.

At the Nazi Embassy in the Japanese Pacific States, Ambassador Hugo Reiss and SS Officer Kurt Scausch meet with the Embassy to Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi and his Kotomichi. The alliance between the Japanese and the Nazis is on shaky ground. The Japanese know of Hitler’s declining health and question if peace will continue with his successor.

At Riker’s Island Prison in New York, Obergruppenführer John Smith supervises the torture of Warren. Warren is bloody and bruised; John Smith knows of the Resistance truck and its destination. On the road, Joe’s truck has a blowout. A Nazi police officer helps him and confirms his transit papers. Both discuss their respective military background (Joe about his father and the police officer himself in the military). The police officer even says, “I can’t even remember what we were fighting for.” At that moment, ash slowly rains down on the entire scene. Joe asks about it and the police officer says it is from the hospital burning the terminally ill and crippled, as they put a “drag on the state.”

THE COMING STORM

Juliana finds Randall, another resistance member at a bus station. She boards the bus towards Canon City. At an airport, a secret meeting is held between Tagomi and Rudolph Wegener. Though denied in public, Wegener states both of the potential Führer’s successors think the petition of the Americas was a mistake. Wegener informs Tagomi the Nazis will take the Pacific states back by nuclear force once Hitler dies.

Juliana continues to travel from San Francisco to Canon City. Her belongings are stolen, but she manages to keep the newsreel on her person. Joe also crosses Nazi state lines into the neutral zone. Joe discovers a hidden compartment under the truck; the compartment contains a package, and the package is another newsreel. Back in Riker’s Island Prison, Smith continues to oversee the torture of Warren. He rebukes a guard for ceasing to flog the Resistance leader, and the guard resumes his torture. Smith plans to dump Warren’s dead body for Resistance leaders to assume the Nazi’s are ignorant of the truck’s destination.

In San Francisco, Inspector Kido is investigating Trudy and by connection Juliana. He goes to Frank’s apartment with armed guards. The inspector grows suspicious of Frank, but leaves. Kido also warns Frank the penalties for perjury are severe.

Warren’s dead body is dropped off on the street. Inspector Kido captures and beats Frank. Randall is cornered by the Japanese soldiers. Tagomi confers with the Oracle. Juliana meets up with Joe, but she does not know the Resistance sent him. The episode ends with Joe talking with Smith on a phone, revealing he is a Nazi spy trying to expose the Resistance.

REVIEW

Whenever I watch the first episode of anything, I always ask myself the same question: Does this episode make me want to see more? In the case of High Castle, it does. The production quality and acting both exceeded my expectations for Amazon Video. On a weird note, I really appreciate the opening. Not only does the haunting rendition of “Edelwiess” set the tone, but the graphic map visually shows the nature of this world. The viewer can easily grasp what occurred from the start.

This first episode contains superb acting. I am always fond of a strong female lead done right, and it seems like Alexa Davalos will be able to deliver. Rufus Sewell is threatening as the SS officer John Smith. Even the fearful reaction of the torture guard conveys his character. It was also fun seeing DJ Qualls, as he was popular back when I was younger. The most striking scene involves the “Nazi” police officer, his forgetting of why America fought in the War and the subsequent rain of human ash. Some may call it heavy-handed, but I cannot deny the effectiveness of the message. The ending plot twist with Joe Blake serves as a curious cliffhanger to draw me into the next episode.

I am not familiar with the source material for High Castle. But, the trope is a classic: What would the world be like if the Axis Powers won World War II? As a film teacher, one of my students wrote a screenplay regarding the same question and we actually produced a short. As a child, the 90’s series Sliders helped break me into the genre of multiple universes. I am fond of it. I strongly believe part of the intrigue from all of these stories comes from contemplating the divergences (at least at the start). The audience can safely spot the differences and wonder how they came to be. In the case of High Castle, horror replaces wonder, considering the brutality of the Nazi regime.

For how long High Castle will maintain this intrigue is another question. Part of the initial strength of Sliders’ alternate universe trope was following the characters (and the viewer) as they visited a new world every week. We explored the divergence of each world and moved onto the next one. Of course, comparing Sliders to High Castle is a stretch. Nevertheless, after the world building and novelty of the shocking divergence ends, I hope the story and characters of High Castle will continue to capture my attention. Considering the praise from both reviewers and friends, this hope may be fulfilled.

Spiritual Application

Back in my college days, I had the chance to interview a Holocaust survivor for my college newspaper. It was part of a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Genocide. The then 79-year-old man described how he saw the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. He was born in Germany and his father owned a café. In November 1938, during the events of Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), his family’s café was ransacked.

The Holocaust survivor described how the young Nazi party burned almost every synagogue and arrested every man from 18 to 65 and sent them to concentration camps. Even his father was sent to a concentration camp, but a higher official managed to get him out. The survivor’s family managed to write letters to relatives in America and arranged an escape in 1941. They took a train to Lisbon, a boat to Casablanca, and boarded a ship to America.

It was a sobering interview. But, there was one question I asked…the answer to which I did not put in the school newspaper. It was a personal question forwarded by my pastor who himself had a background in Messianic Judaism. He wanted me to ask the Holocaust survivor about the Church in Germany during the events leading up to genocide. The survivor simply responded the Church could have prevented much of what happened, but it did nothing.

The fiction of High Castle is a reflection of real history from our world. It is almost impossible to not bring up the quote often assigned to Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” There were some German Christians that did stand up to the Nazi regime; for example, the Nazi Party killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer for dissenting. But, the majority were silent. Likewise, the modern Church must speak against the evils of its day and stand up for truth, even if it isn’t popular. Bonhoeffer truly lived out (and died in) the words of Jesus from Matthew 10:28, where he states, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The old saying remains true: If we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it.

Categories
Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: Electric Dreams – Season 1

Based on: Various short stories by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Sony Pictures Television, Lynn Horsford
Director:
Jeffery Reiner (Real Life), Peter Horton (Autofac), Francesca Gregorini (Human Is), Marc Munden (Crazy Diamond), (Julian Jarrold) The Hood Maker, Alan Taylor (Safe and Sound), Michael Dinner (The Father Thing), David Farr (Impossible Planet), Tom Harper (The Commuter), Dee Rees (Kill All Others)
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on various short stories), Ronald D. Moore (written for television)
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anna Paquin, Juno Temple, Janelle Monáe, Bryan Cranston, Essie Davis, Steve Buscemi, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden, Annalise Basso, Maura Tierney, Jack Gore, Greg Kinnear, Jack Reynor, Benedict Wong, Timothy Spall, Tuppence Middleton, Mel Rodriguez, Vera Farmiga

Distributor: Channel 4, Amazon Video
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on these works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Amazon Prime also released an adaptation of The Man in the High Castle in 2015, which attracted much positive feedback.

In 2017, Sony Pictures Television produced (along with Richard D. Moore, Michael Dinner, and Bryan Cranston as executive producers) Electric Dreams, a science fiction anthology television series based on the works of Philip K. Dick. Amazon Video bought the U.S. rights to the series.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Various fights, including a man fighting/hitting/tackling a woman; gunfight, with people killed; torture shown and discussed on humans, including antagonist talks about cutting off fingers, making the victim eat said fingers and experiments on humans; riots, including a man set on fire and tear gas; scary/violent images, including flayed skin of multiple humans, human corpse hanging from billboard, nuclear bomb, woman deteriorating/hyper-aging, human-alien pods burned, alien bug parasite crawls under skin/forehead, woman cuts herself across temple, allowing blood to flow, alien absorbs “essence’ from man, including decapitation on androids, android tasered, military warfare against aliens, character vomits, and pig-human hybrid.

Language/Crude Humor: +35 religious profanity (Jesus, Christ, God); +10 mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); +30 scatological terms; four derogatory terms, including b***h; +70 f**k; characters talk about sex (see Sexual Content).

Sexual Content: Men and women passionately kiss and have sex, including oral sex on woman. Two women passionately kiss and have sex (lesbianism). BDSM-type orgy shown. Nudity, including bare side breast of women shown (no nipple), skinny-dipping and bare back/buttocks of a man and women. Man and women in underwear and form-fitting clothes. Man looks at porn of alien humanoid female. Men and women talk about being sex positions, masturbation, molestation, androids as sex dolls, and rape. Underage boys talk about sexting. Orgasms heard several times through series.

Drug/Alcohol use: Alcohol and smoking, singing about drug use.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: Virtual reality dependence; hedonism; government/corporation conspiracies, including false flag attacks; suicide bombing; human extinction; extraterrestrial life; prejudice; peer pressure.

Positive Content: A discussion on fantasy vs. reality, propaganda, the nature of truth.

SEASON RECAP

EPISODES 1-2

Episode 1, Real Life, starts with Sarah (Anna Paquin), a cop dealing with survivor’s guilt in a future cityscape. Her wife offers a solution: A virtual reality device that goes beyond simple simulation and makes the viewer actually believe they are another person.

Sarah accepts this offer and starts the experience. She becomes George Miller (Terrence Howard), the CEO of Avacom Data Systems and creator of virtual reality in his world. George searches for the killer of his wife, Colin, who is actually the same criminal she is searching for as Sarah. Then, the dynamic and blurring of which world is real increases and intensifies. Characters in both worlds insist they are authentic, backed by memories and bizarre consistencies.

George finally comes to the conclusion his world is true, as real life is prone to trials and tribulations. In other words, the future world of Sarah seemed to perfect. The episode ends with the revelation the future world was real, and Sarah is stuck in a comatose state/virtual world.

Episode 2, Autofac, starts with Emily (Juno Temple) viewing a nuclear warhead destroying a nearby city. Emily wakes up to a post-apocalyptic landscape, where she and a ragtag group plow through a destroyed city. These survivors live a bleak existence under the AI-directed megacorporation Autofac, which pollutes the world and threatens their lives with deadly force.

The survivors capture a drone, which triggers Autofac to send out the robotic representative “Alice” (Janelle Monáe). Emily convinces Alice to help her and her group infiltrate and destroy the Autofac factory. Alice flies Emily and her group to the Autofac factory (with cinematography reminiscent of the introduction of the Tydell Corporation from Blade Runner).

However, Emily discovers something shocking: There are robotic replacements of her being manufactured. We then discover Emily and the rest of the survivors were sentient androids all along, themselves part of the automation. Then, Emily reveals her self-awareness of her robotic identity occurred years ago; she prepped to take down Autofac with an internal virus and managed to shut it down. This episode ends with Emily happily returning to her community.

EPISODES 3-4

Episode 3, Human Is, starts on a future Earth/Terra of 2520. High-ranking colonel Silas (Bryan Cranston) is accepting an award for his exploits, but a military peer praises his wife Vera (Essie Davis), herself a military official. Silas is then revealed to be emotionally abusive, distancing Vera.

With Terra’s breathable atmosphere depleting, the humans desperately need hydron to clean it. Silas leads a military group to steal some from the planet Rexor IV. The original inhabitants, the Rexorians, fight and destroy this military invasion. But, the hydron shipment is successful.

Vera mourns the loss of her husband, but soon discovers he and another solider are still alive. However, Silas now strangely acts more loving to his wife. The other soldier is revealed to be a Rexorian, who are shape-shifters. Silas is tried by the State court concerning his true identity. The alleged Silas offers to plea guilty to free Vera from any culpability. This plea doesn’t fit the believed disposition of Rexorians, and Silas is freed. The episode ends with Vera fully acknowledging Silas is not Silas, asking to know his real name.

Episode 4, Crazy Diamond, starts with a disheveled Ed (Steve Buscemi) waking up in a boat after a nightmarish encounter with the redheaded Jill (Sidse Babett Knudsen). He returns home, only to find Jill talking to his wife Sally.

Flashback seven days earlier, and Ed is having marital problems with Sally. He works at the Spirit Mill, a factory that manufactures “quantum consciousness” into synthetic bodies. During one of the tours, Ed meets the redheaded Jill (the name for the female synthetics). Jill needs Ed’s help stealing a quantum consciousness, in order to prevent her terminal system from failing.

Eventually, the episode returns to the beginning, with Jill and Sally “talking” about life insurance. Ed tries to get Jill out of his life, but she threatens him with blackmail. Ed and Jill confront the black market buyers, which she immediately kills. She also kills the director of the Mill.

When Ed returns, his beachside house starts to collapse into the sea. The episode ends with Jill and Sally obtaining the boat and kicking Ed off it. He washes up ashore, sadly holding his Syd Barret LP.

EPISODES 5-6

Episode 5, The Hoodmakers, starts with a riot moving through a dystopian future city. Honor (Holliday Grainger) is a Teep, a telepathic mutant human; she reads the intentions of the crowds for the police, before being interrupted by a nearby Molotov cocktail.

Honor is partnered up with Agent Ross (Richard Madden) at the precinct. The Teeps recently have been allowed to work in conjunction with police investigations. However, a new counter effort against the Teeps arises. A Hoodmaker creates hoods which can block telepathic readings. In addition, an uprising of Teeps begins to occur around the city.

Agent Ross goes to investigate a possible lead for the Hoodmaker. He finds Dr. Cutter, a scientist who ran experiments on the telepaths. Dr. Cutter then reveals Agent Ross also has a gift himself: The ability to block readings. The Teep uprising reaches Dr. Cutter’s factory, and they kill Dr. Cutter and light the factory on fire.

Honor then learns the truth about Ross and his initial deceitful intentions. She runs ahead of him, and locks the door behind her. The episode ends with Ross begging Honor to open the door, as the factory burns down around him as the disillusioned Honor looks out over the burning city.

Episode 6, Safe and Sound, starts with a mom-daughter duo moving to the big technologically advanced city. The daughter, Foster (Annalise Basso), and the mother, Irene (Maura Tierney), come from Bubbles, locations outside the futuristic cityscape known for antiquated ways and terrorism against the city.

Foster goes to school, where she quickly learns of the Dex, a high-tech wristband used for security. Going against her mother’s commands, she obtains one illegally. She then develops affection for the tech support, Ethan. However, it becomes unclear if Ethan is in her mind or truly trying to help her.

Ethan uses Foster to unravel a possible terrorist attack against her school. He then incites Foster to create a “controlled” terrorist attack so they can stop it. Foster attempts to suicide bomb the school, but is stopped.

Fast forward, and Foster speaks to the public about being free from her mother’s brain washing. Irene is arrested. But, the episode ends revealing Ethan manipulated Foster into a false flag attack to defend the integrity of the Dex manufacturers.

EPISODES 7-8

Episode 7, The Father Thing, starts with the typical American suburban family. The young son Charlie (Jack Gore) wants to join the baseball team; his father (Greg Kinnear) encourages him and helps him practice. One night on a father-son camping trip, they notice bizarre lights descending from the sky.

Soon after, Charlie sees several terrifying things, confirming his current “father” is not of this world. He runs from home and explains the situation to his friend Dylan and his brother Henry. He also finds others on the Internet experiencing similar dissimilarities with friends and family members. Charlie finds the skin of his real father in the garage trash; the imposter father finds his discovery.

Both drop the pretenses, and Charlie flees. Charlie convinces his two friends of the alien invasion and they try to trap the alien imposter. They fail, and Charlie flees to the forest where he finds multiple alien pods. Henry finally defeats the alien imposter with a car, and kills the parasite. Charlie lights the pods on fire and comforts his confused mother. The episode ends with Charlie sending out a final call to resist the alien invasion over the Internet.

Episode 8, Impossible Planet, starts with Norton (Jack Reynor) piloting a space tour of a supernova. He is part of the space tourist company Astral Dreams, along with slacker Andrews (Benedict Wong). Before they close for the night, they get a request from the 300+-year-old Irma and her assistant robot.

Irma wants to visit Earth. Andrews refuses at first, saying it does not exist. But, after she offers an exorbitant amount of money, he accepts. Norton has his reservations as well, but after a failed employment transfer, agrees. Over the course of the trip, Irma and Norton develop a relationship, with her recollecting her grandmother’s time on Earth. In addition, the assistant robot sees through the con of Andrews and Norton.

They finally come upon “Earth,” as presented by Andrews. Despite it being a toxic planet in reality, the believing Irma insists they land. They land; Irma then wants to go outside. Norton obliges with two spacesuits, including one for himself. They exit, but the suits have limited oxygen. Andrews demands they return to the ship, but Norton and Irma begin to hear birds chirping.

The air depletes completely and Irma removes her helmet. But, she is now young. They are transported to a lush environment, a stark contrast to the toxic wasteland. The episode ends with them skinny-dipping on Earth under a beautiful waterfall.

EPISODES 9-10

Episode 9, The Commuter, starts with train-statin agent Ed (Timothy Spall) as he attends to his daily tasks. Ed encounters a bizarre incident. A commuter named Linda (Tuppence Middleton) requests a ticket to Macon Heights, a town that does not exist. Upon Ed showing Linda the town does not exist, Linda disappears.

Ed returns home to find his troubled son Sam and his wife. A therapist says the son’s condition is worsening. After another bizarre encounter with Linda, Ed decides to get off on her mysterious train stop based on time. Ed then discovers the idyllic yet mysterious Macon Heights.

Upon returning home, he finds his wayward child no longer exists. Macon Heights is revealed to be a town that almost existed. In addition, many of the visitors go there to escape some negative aspect of themselves, not just Ed. Ed then remembers his son. He convinces Linda to reverse this erasure, despite the pain he will experience. The episode ends with Ed returning home, happily finding his son, depressed, but existing.

Episode 10, Kill All Others (K.A.O.), starts in 2054, where North America is unified as “MexUsCan,” Philbert (Mel Rodriguez) lives with his wife under a uniparty meganation. There is a vote, but there is only one Candidate (Vera Fermiga). One night, Philbert hears the candidate sneak something strange in her speech: Kill All Others.

Philbert freaks out, informing his wife and coworkers. But, they are dismissive of the statement. He again sees the phrase on a billboard while riding a train. He emergency stops the train, causing an accident and gaining the attention of the authorities. Upon stopping the beating of a woman, the authorities suspect Philbert of being Other.

His workplace demands Philbert wear a health monitoring watch. After trying to challenge the Candidate over the video call on live television, he is targeted. His coworkers are not allowed to talk to him and the police interrogate his wife. The police go on a manhunt for Philbert, but he climbs up one of the billboards. The episode ends with Philbert himself hanging from the K.A.O. billboard, as the meganation expands and the public remains submissive.

REVIEW

Overall, the series is a mix of dull to good episodes. The dull stuff is not super bad, but it is not standout either. The first episode really sets the tone, itself being average and inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick rather than a faithful adaptation. The soundtrack also helps set the tone, but it is not good enough for me to seek out. All the actors support the conceit of their respective stories, and the special effects range from passable to good.

A major flaw I ran into is many of the science fiction elements and themes of Electric Dreams are common. This may cause an audience to dismiss continuing with the series. This possible reaction would be ironic, as the works of Dick inspire much science fiction even to this day. Needless to say, many of the elements and themes of the Electric Dreams and its source material were novel when they first appeared.

I recommend this series for science fiction fans, namely fans of Philip K. Dick. Take time to read his short stories too, as it is interesting to see what elements the episode director altered in comparison to the original source material. I would not buy Amazon Prime just for this series; and if you do have Prime already, I would only recommend my top episodes.

Some viewers stated Electric Dreams is Amazon’s challenger to Netflix’s Black Mirror. I haven’t watched that series. So, I would like to think I went into this fresh. Although, this comparison did spark my interest in Black Mirror for future review. As an anthology series with different directors, a brief overview of the episodes in order from my least liked to my favorite would be ideal.

THE DULL-MEDIOCRE EPISODES

I like The Father Thing the least. Some episodes at least have beautiful imagery to save them, but not this one. The plot is pretty much a duller version of The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, making it very predictable. The Stranger Things vibe (including the music) only made it feel like a rip-off.

Crazy Diamond is next. The imagery and setting intrigued me with the dreamlike atmosphere. But, the femme-fatale plot did not engross me and even confused me at some points, despite the science fiction trappings.

I began to enjoy The Commuter more, warranting the higher rank. Again, the imagery pleased me. I loved the initial plot point of a mysterious traveler going to a non-existent town. It reminded me of The Man from Taured legend. But, halfway through, the nature of the town confused me in relation to the “real” world. And confusion does not help with enjoyment.

Real Life breaks the dull-mediocre barrier. As the first episode in the Amazon listing, it does what is supposed to do: Spark my interest in the series and set the tone. The acting is great, but a more unclear resolution like in the original short story would have been preferred.

Impossible Planet is better. Overall, the plot is tight with a strong start. The acting from the three leads is great. But, I am torn between liking the etherealness of the ending and disliking the relative truth of the same ending.

Human Is is on the higher end. Bryan Cranston (who also helped produce the series) really sells the episode. In reality, he plays two roles and he delivers. Some of the settings feel closed in and it is another alien-masquerading-as-human plot. But, the themes of alien prejudice, wartime politics, and even marriage help to elevate this episode.

Autofac is another enjoyable episode. I appreciated the “happy” ending after Real Life; the plot twists at that end were just the right amount. Juno Temple is enjoyable as the female heroine and Janelle Monáe carried a great mix of emotionlessness and coercion as the PR robot. Not sure how needed the sex scene was though, which could be said of several episodes.

MY TOP 3 EPISODES

Kill All Others breaks the average-good barrier. Mel Rodriguiez simply fits the role of the Everyman, making him relateable to the viewers. Vera Farmiga really hams it up as The Candidate, which is so fun to watch. Likewise, there is a nice balance of humor throughout this otherwise grim script.

The dystopian government (and its subsequent victory) is classic science fiction. I really appreciated the Chicago setting. I also appreciated the themes of propaganda, media manipulation, and cultivation theory. This episode, along with my other top three, are the only ones I am content with not following the original storyline.

Safe and Sound is my second favorite episode. I believe the school setting struck me personally because of my teaching background. Annalise Basso conveyed the social anxiety of many teenagers effortlessly. My favorite line from her character (“I’m talking to an ant.”) completely shows her bleak confusion. Unfortunately, this scene also breaks my suspension of disbelief in thinking she can be tricked so easily.

Similarly, a megacorporation going out of their way to manipulate a teenager does seem a bit “out there.” Some reviewers derided this episode, connecting it to the current political climate, which is an inappropriate stretch. Maura Tierney seemed to have fun playing a conspiracy theorist, and I liked the themes of invasion of privacy. Part of my criteria for gauging the episodes is if I want to explore the world further. Safe and Sound fits this. I can see a teen drama created in this world, even if for one season.

The Hoodmaker tops the list. It is by far the most enjoyable episode from cinematography to dialogue to pacing. Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger helped convince me of the dire stakes as Agent Ross and Honor respectively. I enjoyed the development of their friendship and learning of Agent Ross’s initial prejudice.

Like Safe and Sound, I would love to explore The Hoodmaker world more. As an avid superhero fan, I cannot help but think of the X-Men franchise and the similar mutant prejudice experienced by the Teeps. The development of a counter-evolution and creation of the Hood expands on the world building. This story could very well be expanded into a full-length movie. On that note, The Hoodmaker is visually cinematic, unlike other episodes that look like regular TV shows.

Spiritual Application

“What is truth?” is a question that arises in one way or another throughout Electric Dreams. In Real Life, Sarah fails to discern the true world from the virtual world. In Autofac, Emily learns the truth about her automated world and her robotic self. Both Human Is and The Father Thing deal with aliens posing as humans and humans trying to discover and/or reveal the truth. Jill deceives Ed as the femme-fatale in Crazy Diamond.

Honor sees the truth about (almost) everyone with her telepathy in The Hoodmakers. In Safe and Sound and Impossible Planet, Foster and Irma are both deceived respectively, with varying results. Ed desires his real universe instead of the easy alternate universe, despite the pain he would endure with his wayward son. And in Kill All Others, Philbert pays the price for seeing and acting on the truth, despite the overwhelming propaganda and peer pressure.

Of course, this is expected from a secular mindset: Truth is relative, changing with emotions or situations. For the Christian, truth is absolute. But, for believers, truth isn’t just a set of moral standards or biblical knowledge we hold onto. Truth is also a Person. Jesus said in John 14:6,I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.

One of the greatest failures to recognize this was the Pharisees and the scribes. They studied the truth of the Word of God (John 5:39) and taught this truth correctly (Matthew 23:3). Unfortunately, they failed to acknowledge the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14), Truth personified. This same issue persists even into the modern Church.

This Personhood of Truth is unique, as Truth is not simply knowledge or a philosophy. So, the next time you talk with a relativist or secular friend about Jesus, don’t just shore up on apologetics or the best counter-arguments. Your goal is that they may know God, Truth (John 17:3).

Categories
Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: Electric Dreams – Season 1, Episode 1

Based on: Exhibit Piece by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Sony Pictures Television, Lynn Horsford
Director: Jeffrey Reiner
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on short story), Ronald D. Moore (written for television)
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anna Paquin, Rachelle Lefevre
Distributor: Channel 4, Amazon Video
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on his works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Amazon Prime also released an adaptation of The Man in the High Castle in 2015, which attracted much positive feedback.

In 2017, Sony Pictures Television produced (along with Richard D. Moore, Michael Dinner, and Bryan Cranston as executive producers) Electric Dreams, a science fiction anthology television series based on the works of Philip K. Dick. Amazon Video bought the U.S. rights to the series.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Various fights, including a man fighting a woman and a man thrown out of a window; gunfight, with people killed; antagonist talks about cutting off fingers and making the victim eat it; protagonist vomits.

Language/Crude Humor: Two uses of religious profanity (Jesus, Christ); Five mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); three scatological terms; 16 F-words; character jokes around about sex.

Sexual Content: Two women passionately kiss and have sex (lesbianism); bare side breast of woman shown, no nipple; bare back of a woman is shown; a man and a woman have sex, but with no nudity.

Drug/Alcohol use: Alcohol

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: Overuse of virtual reality; hedonism.

Positive Content: A discussion on fantasy vs. reality

EPISODE RECAP

Real Life starts with a very close-up shot of our presumed main character’s eye; a high-pitched hum drones in the background. The eye belongs to Sarah, who presumably hears the mysterious humming. This distracts her from her police partner Mario as they eat in a burger joint. Mario snaps Sarah out of her daze, asking her if she was going to eat her fries. He talks about tracking down a suspect  named Colin, but Sarah says the suspects will stay in the city. Mario says she needs to take a break.

Sarah calls for the bill; a holographic version of it manifests in front of her. Sarah and Mario leave the burger joint. They walk through the nighttime cityscape, the background filled with classic futuristic sights and neon advertisements. Sarah and Mario enter a flying car, and she voice commands the vehicle to go back to the precinct.

As the flying car lifts up, Mario reassures Sarah she is not alone. He then recounts a massacre that took place at the police station. Mario tells Sarah he wants to find Colin and the other guys who did this as well.

Next, Sarah drinks some liquor as her wife, Katie, enters their apartment. After a show of futuristic skyscrapers out of the window, Katie massages Sarah, who is still tormented by the memories of the massacre. Katie pulls out a USB-like device, which can allow Sarah to live “another life.” Katie says this goes beyond a simple simulation. Instead, it will be like a dream in that Sarah will actually believe she is living the life of another person. Sarah accepts this and Katie prepares the device. She places a pad (similar to a single electrode) on Sarah’s temple. They kiss, and Sarah presses the temple pad, starting the simulation.

ENTERING ANOTHER WORLD

Sarah wakes up to a fiery scene and a man kneels down to her. In a muffled voice, he calls her new name. This man (Chris) prompts her to get up. Sarah discovers she is now a man named George. Chris leads George though a warehouse district, with fire still in the background. Chris pulls out a gun, much to the surprise of George. But, some thugs catch them and drag the two into a crude office. The leader of the thugs, Colin, sits at a desk.

Colin threatens to cut off George’s fingers, before George finally fights back. After shooting a couple of thugs, Chris says Colin is escaping. After Colin speeds off, George begins hearing the hitch-pitched hum again. George and Chris enter car, but George is confused by the “old-fashioned” steering wheel, attempting to voice command the vehicle. Chris takes over the driving and thinks George has a concussion.

Back at George’s high-end apartment, Paula, who is a friend and doctor, examines Terrence. She asks probing questions to trigger his memory. Sarah is now George Miller, CEO of Avacom Data Systems, a company worth billions of dollars. Paula leaves George, who is still confused about his surroundings. Paula leaves, yet the strange surroundings still confuse George. Chris enters the apartment, saying the police did not find Colin. George breaks down, seeing flashes of a captive woman. Chris says George needs a vacation. Chris then gives George a virtual headset, similar to the temple pad Katie gave Sarah at the beginning of the show.

George is transported back to the future, and wakes up as Sarah with her wife Katie. In the morning, Sarah and Mario again eat at the burger joint. Sarah tells him the virtual world is odd because the longer you stay in the virtual world, the more you remember memories from “living” in the virtual world. Mario gets a notification the suspects are still in Chicago. However, Sarah thinks this is too easy.

FALSE MEMORIES?

Later that night, Sarah and Mario go to where the suspects are supposedly located. Sarah recalls the location as the warehouse district where she entered the “virtual” world as George. Sarah and Mario stumble upon a criminal meeting. They find a “Colin” who is planning to nuke City Hall. Mario leaves Sarah for a moment; Sarah is then attacked. She is knocked out, which triggers her transference back to the “virtual” world as George.

George falls to his knees right before a legal meeting. In the legal meeting, George is accused of being a vigilante, running around trying to find the killers of his wife. His attorney calls this absurd, and says George is still recovering from the murder of his wife going viral. This statement triggers visions of a woman being tortured, presumably his deceased wife. George collapses in the middle of the meeting, causing him to throw up.

Paula examines George again, stating his memory centers were affected. George says he doesn’t remember his wife, only flashes of a video. Paula tells him his wife’s name is Katie and shows him a picture of her. This triggers both happy memories and visions of the torture of Katie. George also remembers his life with Katie as Sarah. Paula says this is just déjà vu and George is not “a lesbian super cop in the future in a flying car.” She says if he puts the VR headset on again, he will risk suffering permanent brain damage. George says he is convinced and Paula leaves. But, as she does this, George puts the VR headset on again and returns to the future.

REALITY BLURS FURTHER

Sarah wakes up in a hospital bed, flanked by both Mario and Katie. She asked what happened. Mario says they won. Most of the criminals are behind bars, including those responsible for the death of the 15 cops. Sarah then asks about Colin; Mario says he put him in a coma. Sarah is confused by the dreamy nature of everything.

Immediately afterward, Sarah and Katie have sex in their apartment. Katie then asks if Sarah had sex in the virtual world, to which Sarah says she didn’t. Katie is surprised. But, Sarah did say she was a man. She also says she was a widower in the virtual world and was trying everything she could to find her killer. She says she never found her wife’s killer. Katie asks if the virtual world was still real to her. Sarah then tells Katie she was also her deceased wife in George’s world. She also notes other similarities between the worlds, to which Katie derides Sarah saying “both worlds.”

Sarah notes George’s world is foggy. The future world is clear and she remembers everything. But, Sarah also thinks the future world is too perfect. Sarah also says she doesn’t deserve this perfect world. Katie thinks the VR is just tapping into Sarah’s survivor’s guilt and creating a world based on that. Katie then states they will go to the medical bay tomorrow. There, they will remove any traces of the program from her memory implants. Sarah is unsure, but Katie implores her to trust her.

PERMANENT VACATION?

Later that night, Sarah gets up and reflects on everything. As she cries, she taps her temple pad once again, sending her back to George’s world.

George walks out of his company building, taking in all of his surroundings. At a Chicago diner, George meets up with Chris. Chris gives him an update: Malia says the Feds lack enough evidence to press charges. But, Colin left the country. George gets a burger and fries, and notices similarities to the future world. It registers in his mind something is not right about this world.

George returns home and sees Paula in his apartment. She hid the VR headset from George. George wants to go back to the future world, which he believes is the real world. Paula insists this is the real world and he simply wants go back to a place where his wife is still alive. George demands Paula give the VR headset back, which she obliges. She warns him the brain damage will be permanent. She also cautions the future world is a little too perfect.

Paula asks why George needed the VR headset to go back to the “real” world. George says he doesn’t know; he suggests something may be wrong with the program. He prepares to put the headset back on, but Paula says he will never come back. George then sees in flashbacks that him and Paula were lovers. Paula adds they had an affair while he was still married to Katie.

CONCLUSION

Paula also reveals Colin kidnapped Katie because he wanted the decryption software from George’s company. But George didn’t want to give it to Colin, resulting in the death of his wife. Paula makes a point about which world is real: The one where George is heartbroken over the death of his wife or the perfect “fantasy” where Katie is still alive.

Paula says at the end of the day, it is ultimately his choice. But, he will be in a permanent coma if he chooses to put on the VR headset again. Paula offers to help George cope with the pain. George whispers to himself he doesn’t deserve to live in the perfect, future world. Paula says they deserve to live in this world, with George adding as “punishment for our sins.”

George then smashes the VR headset. Immediately, Katie screams for Sarah. Sarah is revealed to be comatose on a futuristic medical bay with electrode pads attached to her head. Katie and Mario stand next to her. Katie pleads for Sarah to come back to her. But, her doctor says Sarah’s neural pathways have shut down and there’s nothing more they can do.

Mario wonders why Sarah chose to live a life of pain. Katie said she wanted “to be punished for her sins, real and imagined, surviving, being happy”. Mario states being happy is not a sin. Katie then responds that everyone is a sinner, and everyone thinks they needs to be punished for their sins, even imagined sins. Katie kisses Sarah, leaving her wife in a comatose state.

REVIEW

The opening sequence sets the mood for the first episode. It reminded me of the surreal The Outer Limits opening from the 90’s. It is a bit dated, but the graphics offset this. On that note, the episode order for Amazon Video is significantly different than the original airing order on United Kingdom’s Channel 4.

Real World isn’t really anything special. But, it serves the purpose of a first episode: It sparks my interest in the rest of the series. I really want to see if the other directors and writers have something unique to serve to the world of science fiction.

It is a classic virtual reality story. The conceit lies in figuring out which world is the real world. And thus, the audience must figure out this puzzle along with the protagonist. But, virtual reality and the subsequent seeking out the truth is not anything new. For example, Ready Player One, Lawnmower Man, and even The Matrix. One can argue when Dick first wrote such stories, the trope was not mainstream. But, now it is.

Anna Paquin and Terrance Howard do an excellent job as “dual” protagonists, as expected. The supporting cast holds up really well too. The cinematography works; nothing really stands out as spectacular. This is similar with the soundtrack. It doesn’t distract, but it isn’t so good I want to seek it out.

I liked the special effects, although I believe they could have been used better. Whenever they show something futuristic, it’s always imposed onto a scene. For example, the initial future cityscape after the diner does help establish the setting. They were definitely going for a Blade Runner vibe, rightfully. But I never felt immersed in this future. For example, I do not care for the 2015 movie Tomorrowland as a whole. But, I did feel immersed in that future world when shown. Of course, this could be due to a limited budget for Electric Dreams.

IN LIGHT OF “EXHIBIT PIECE”

Real Life is loosely based on the short story “Exhibit Piece” written by Philip K. Dick. It was first published in the August 1954 issue of Worlds of Science Fiction. I say loosely very strongly. I will not summarize the entire short here, but (as it is in the public domain) the short story text is available with a simple Google search. Also, a dramatic reading is available from SSFaudio.

I would have preferred something closer to the original source material than what was in this episode. The only thing that really resonates in both Real Life and “Exhibit Piece” is the fact the main character questions and attempts to escape his/her reality. Beyond that, the two stories are vastly different. I understand video is a different medium than a traditional text story. Nevertheless, I am a little sad the director didn’t see the potential of the original short story.

The original Twilight Zone adapted short stories really well, without destroying the integrity of the original. A closer TV adaptation could have expanded on character empathy for Miller, the main character of “Exhibit Piece”. Also, I would have loved to see a modern take on the idyllic 1950’s American world from the short. For example, maybe we could see a dreamy 1950’s to emphasize the main character questioning what is real. Instead, we get a typical story of someone abusing VR like a drug, resulting in the blurring of reality.

But, Real Life does one thing I really don’t like in comparison to the original short story. Real Life has a clear resolution that the future world is the real world. “Exhibit Piece” carries no clear distinction as to which world is real. Honestly, I prefer unclear endings in these kinds of stories, as I believe they make the audience think more about the narrative as a whole and what they would do.

Spiritual Application

Real Life adds a moral conclusion that is not present in “Exhibit Piece”. It is implied pleasure and happiness are the better aim of humanity, not suffering. In other words, hedonism. Sarah rejects the real world (or truth) by embracing the pain of existence. Katie says Sarah is punishing herself for her sins, “real or imagined.” This results in Sarah being condemned to a comatose state for an indefinite time. Mario reinforces this, stating it is not a sin to be happy. Even the lesbianism of Sarah falls under this category, as this is framed as being part of her perfect, happy life.

Of course, it isn’t a sin to be happy. But, we also experience pain, disappointment, and suffering in this world as well. But, we as believers are called to have a different reaction. 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NKJV) says “in this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The trials are meant to refine our faith. We are supposed to rejoice in these things, a stark contrast to hopeless, hedonistic reaction to pain. I confess, rejoicing in trials is not the easiest thing to do. But, there is a purpose and reward.

One theme present in both the original story and the episode is questioning reality. In fact, this is a common aspect in many of Philip K. Dick’s works. I could not help but think about this theme in light of Scripture. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Many times, we get caught up in this temporary world. This present world is the virtual world in a sense. However, we forget about the things of God and the eternal world. This invisible world is the real world. In fact, this is our real home as believers.

Categories
Horror Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy

Review: Suspiria (2018)

Distributor: Amazon Studios

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Writers: David Kajganich, with characters created by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi

Composer: Thom Yorke

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery

Suspiria (1977) might be a cult classic, adored by horror geeks and cinephiles alike, yet a perfect piece of art it is not. With out-dated (albeit quaint) special effects, and a plot that feels oddly overshadowed by its own artistic presentation, it makes sense that this would be picked for a remake. However Argento’s brash use of lighting, score, and set design are so iconic that it’s hard to imagine that such a story could even be replicated with as much vigor. So what exactly does a remake of Suspiria look like? Do we get the same bold directorial choices, just with updated graphics and a heftier story? Or are we treated to something new entirely? 

Content Guide

Suspiria is a horror film that relies on shock value and twists in the plot, in order to elicit fear from the audience. Revealing the content will, therefore, affect the cinematic experience. Be aware that the following information contains mild spoilers.

Violence/Scary Images: Extreme body horror. No exaggeration–I won’t be surprised if you will find Suspiria in a future top ten list for the most gruesome and disturbing films released in the last decade. You have been warned.

Ultraviolent, featuring cascades of blood from decapitated or half-decapitated people. In a voodoo-esque manner, a character’s body is twisted until their bones break or are otherwise thoroughly dislocated in every joint. Grotesque, disfigured naked bodies crowd a character. Characters are attacked or threatened with meat hooks–we see it pierce through the skin multiple times. Close up shot of a compound fracture in the leg. Disturbing dream sequences featuring a hostile collection of images (naked forms, screaming, allusions to suffering burns from an iron, worms, entrails, etc).

A reaper-like entity kills multiple people by causing their head to explode. A character commits suicide by stabbing themselves in the neck. There are frequent news talks about a terrorist attack. Heavy ritualistic scenes containing frenzied movements from naked dancers. Strong use of witchcraft. A character has a severe fit and foams at the mouth. A character’s stomach is sliced open and their intestines are pulled out. There is a story about death by exposure in a Nazi concentration camp.

Language/Crude Humor: The big bad c-word is said (with subtitles). The f-bomb is dropped irregularly (three times), the s-word is said, along with a*s, d*ck, p*ssy, and d*mn.

Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcoholic beverages socially. There’s frequent cigarette usage, along with smoking a pipe.

Sexual Content: Full frontal nudity of both male and female forms. Some characters, usually the men, are mocked whilst nude. There is a considerable amount of ritualistic nude dance. No sex scenes, though there are some sexually suggestive movements, and a character ponders over what it would be like to have sex with an animal. A character drops their pants and sits on the toilet to urinate. Characters frequently wear revealing outfits, sometimes with the nipples exposed.

Spiritual Content: The film revolves around a coven of witches. There is a lengthy occult ritual scene, where the altar is formed out of naked bodies. There is an original story about three witches that predate Christianity. The rituals of Catholicism are shown–rosary beads, and anointing someone’s head with oil. God is mentioned and sins are discussed.

Other Negative Content: It is unclear what this movie is trying to say about Christianity. Given that the witchcraft is an allegory for the abuses that occurred under Nazi occupation, it is questionable if it’s also linking the rituals of modern day religions to that of dangerous political ideology as well. Several characters prey upon the innocent, with one character, in particular, being cruelly manipulated emotionally.

Positive Content: With such a diverse cast, the film explores the different roles people in society undertook when oppressed in Nazi Germany. Characters are valued solely for what they can contribute, tossed aside as soon as they are no longer useful. Others don’t challenge the system. Some escape justice. The topic of grief and remembrance is touched upon, along with the tragedy of forgetting such atrocities.

Review

Back in 2009, I was provided the opportunity to visit the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. While it’s a church steeped in archaeological history, what struck me most were the artworks from around the world that adorned the walls. With a briefing that only entailed that they must depict the Virgin Mary, France, Japan, and the United States were some of the countries that agreed to participate in decorating the church. What’s fascinating is that despite having the same source material, the venerated figure is presented in vastly different ways; there is no right or wrong, but rather all are an artistic representation that also happens to subconsciously reflect the artist’s worldview.

This is what has occurred with both Suspiria films. The original movie was so defined by its stylistic choices that it was astounding to even consider that it could ever be remade. The score from Goblin, the use of Technicolor, the bold lighting choices and production design; all these elements are the result of Dario Argento’s strong directorial choices. It would seem remiss to simply replicate it, much like what Gus Van Sant did with Hitchcock’s Psycho. Honestly, what would be the point?

Yet, what is Suspiria without those elements? Thankfully Luca Guadagnino has powerfully responded by creating a film that is uniquely his own, not even trying to replace Argento’s masterpiece, but rather provide his own take on the story. Although, it’s disingenuous to say that they even share the same plot. Rather Guadagnino has adopted the concept, the setting, and tweaked a few characters, and that’s about it. Like the artworks in the Church of the Annunciation, the films share the same source material, but their presentation cannot be more different.

The Virgin Mary, as depicted by France, Japan, and the USA. Same source material, wildly different artistic approaches. Found in the Church of Annunciation, located in Nazareth, Israel.

Everyone take note–this is what a remake should look like. It carves out a space in cinema through its own merit, not reliant on nostalgia or ripping off the artistry of the original piece. It’s to such an extent that it’s hard to compare the two films. They are completely different products with separate goals, themes, strengths, and weaknesses.

It’s no secret that the plot is the weakest element in 1977’s Suspiria. In this new version, it’s the strongest. Finally, there’s some justification as to why the story is set within a dance school. In the original, it was unclear as to how or why the business existed. While Argento’s film can be excused for its lack of finer details due to its otherworldly, fairytale charm, Guadagnino’s Suspiria firmly cements his story into German history, using the events within dance school and the characters’ participation as a metaphor for the Holocaust and the divide created due to the Berlin Wall. In this way, the original film is a lighter watch, while the 2018 version is considerably heavier, especially when it weighs in at a hefty two and half hours, nearly sixty minutes longer than the first.

While nothing can really be compared to the 1977’s stylized horror, this doesn’t mean that the 2018 version is weak in its technical precision. The cinematography wholly embraces a 1970s feel, looking like it was plucked straight from that film era. The subdued color palette is perfect, along with the costuming and production design. Sudden whips and zooms from the camera take the audience off-guard, creating an uneasy undercurrent. Yet admittedly, that sense of dread was more prominent in the 1977 movie; the tension dips and wanes at times in the new film.

The story’s well-defined six-act structure (or seven, if you count the epilogue) that are denoted by title cards, may be the reason why some parts twist the stomach more than others. There are essentially two stories occurring in one. There’s the plot revolving around the new American dancer, Susie, and her sudden mysterious rise to the top of the academy, and there’s also a tale that digs into the tragic history of an old psychologist, who still grieves his wife’s disappearance from the days of the Holocaust. Thematically it’s necessary to see these narratives linked, however, audiences will naturally tend to invest more energy into one over the other, therefore making the less interesting plot feel more like an unwanted intrusion.

The film starts off slow and sloppy. While Chloë Grace Moretz has done some marvelous performances in the past, her role as an unhinged psyche patient feels inauthentic and unconvincing here. Meanwhile, Dakota Johnson certainly redeems her acting career with this film, delivering an enticingly nuanced performance worthy of a second watch. Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast as the majestically commanding Madame Blanc, though she also plays two other roles. While she does her best as all three characters, her casting is distracting and lacks justification, feeling more like a gimmick for a chance at an Oscar rather than a well-conceived directorial choice.

Thankfully the story is filled with wonderful little side characters–each rich enough to deserve their own analysis–that carry the film through its growing pains in the first act. For the audience members who are familiar with the original, it takes some time to shed preconceived notions regarding the direction of the plot and to accept that this remake is its own beast.

It’s unclear and muddy with its direction until the film produces its first death, violently demonstrating why it’s deserving of being labeled a horror. Suddenly everything starts to click into place, with the film laying bare its plans for the rest of its runtime. Mouth agape, I wish I could describe this momentous scene by offering a relevant comparison, yet it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen committed to screen. It’s horribly gruesome and disturbing, whilst fantastically edited and presented.

While this scene is already leaving its mark on the Internet, I don’t want to hype it up too much or give the wrong impression; this is not like a slasher where you go into the cinema with a full tub of popcorn, munching away while an expendable character gets offed in a quick moment of shock and bloodshed. Suspiria is different. It’s relentless. The scene goes for approximately four minutes, leaving their death to linger with the audience for an exhaustingly depressing amount of time. It’s cruel, distressing, and eventually demands empathy, torturing you for ever wishing such a fate on another human. …It’s brilliant.

The most disturbing aspect is that it only gets worse from there. The climax of the film is jaw-droppingly bonkers, filled with writhing masses of gore. It’s not a total horror-fest. For the most part, Suspiria is a slow burn of a film filled with a growing sense of mystery and unease. However, when it wants to break out and push the boundaries a bit more, it does so unabated and without remorse. If you can’t handle the first death scene… Walk out. Don’t look back.

The film has a hypnotic quality, where no matter how messed up the action becomes, the viewer seemingly can’t look away. It’s sensual. Earthy. Primal. There are worship sequences that feel ancient and dynamic, predating Christianity, as though you’re privileged to witness a rare act from an antiquated civilization, like Canaan. Horribly disturbing, but oddly fascinating, and ultimately satisfying. It’s unfair to describe the nudity in this film as sexualized and exploitative. While there are some allusions to sexuality, the nakedness in this film is more about power and debasement, confidence and vulnerability. However, if seeing the naked form is enough to cause you to stumble, then don’t watch this movie.

There is much to be said regarding the film’s metaphorical treatment of the Holocaust, though it’s not the only commentary the story provides. This movie contains many deeper meanings, yet they cannot be grasped in a single viewing. Unfortunately, like Requiem for a Dream, 2018’s Suspiria is one of those films where you don’t exactly rush back to the cinema to experience the torment all over again. The movie certainly has some thoughts surrounding the concept of rituals; whether it’s art, religion, or politics, we are all vessels that adopt the traditions of those before us.

There are some scenes that delve into Christianity, though for me, a second watch will be necessary to fully grasp how it all fits into the wider message of the film. What exactly is it saying about the religion? Then again, maybe I’m seeking for an answer that’s not there, giving the film too much credit when in reality it may not have provided enough information or appropriately conveyed the moral of the story. After all, if you fail to pay attention to a minute piece of exposition, the ending will make absolutely no sense whatsoever. In some ways, watching Dario Argento’s trilogy may be considered homework in order to glean more from the fragmented plot.

What is clear is that this is a film that doesn’t glorify God. The characters spend an inordinate amount of time worshipping another entity. However, this also doesn’t mean that Suspiria is pro-paganism. The actions of the believers are reprehensible–did I mention that it’s literally being compared to a Nazi death camp? Once again, like what happened with Hereditary, I find myself stuck. Suspiria is a wonderfully wicked piece of art that seeks to distress and disturb its viewers in order to make a point, it’s just a question as to whether that message really is worth exposing oneself to its extreme body horror.

If you’re not an appreciator of the art form itself, then it’s a hard film to justify watching. For those in the former camp, then Suspiria is a gorgeous film, from its cinematic choices, fitting score, fascinating Pina Bausch-inspired choreography, and even its daringness to repulse its audience; not handling viewers with kid gloves when the moral doesn’t ask for it. It’s a remake done right that doesn’t seek to usurp the original, leaving the 1977’s film legacy intact and untarnished.

But don’t get me wrong… It’s messed up. Seriously.

I’m glad it’s now November because after this film I definitely feel like I’m done with the horror genre for the year.

Yeesh!

Now when’s the next kids’ film featuring friendly, fluffy talking animals!?