Since the pilot episode of the Amazon original The Man in the High Castle, the overall tone of darkness and grief washes over the screen. Cinematographer Gonzalo Amat's job on this set is to create this period drama to look as dystopian, grey, and as unhappy as possible.
He does an incredible job. The series opens in 1962 in the United States. That was a time of political and cultural change in America. Kennedy was president, rock and roll was emerging and the Civil Rights Movement for equal rights was gaining steam.
However, in The Man in the High Castle, none of that ever happened. The United States, along with their Allies, lost World War II. The Nazis succeeded and are as evil as ever. They occupy the eastern coast of the U.S. as well as a portion of the midwest and south. They're headquartered in New York City. As expected, it's full of swastikas, racism, and scary people in uniforms trying to control everyone. They're still exterminating those who are different from the perfect Aryan race they desire. You know, typical Nazi stuff.
After the war, there seems to have been a compromise between the Nazis and the Japanese. They control the western half of the country which is now called the Japanese Pacific States with San Francisco as its capital. Things seem a bit better there. At least people aren't being regularly exterminated for disabilities. People live and work freely, even happily, but they are still living in a strict police state highly controlled by the Japanese government.
For those who can't pick between the lesser of two evils, a neutral zone exists in the middle of the country through the rocky mountains. It's lawless but neither side as control of the area. Some prefer to take their chances those this area is quite bleak as well.
Both halves of the country have turned into an unrecognizable world. Yet the resistance movement is strong. The series opens with Juliana, a woman who lives happily with her boyfriend in San Francisco. Her world changes in an instant when her sister hands her a forbidden film. The film contains videos and newsreels of what would've happened if the U.S. had won the war.
Julianna is struck by how happy and carefree America became after they won WWII. It's with this she discovers a strong resistance movement made up of unhappy Americans living with the consequences of the war. These Americans are ready and willing to fight back. Juliana quickly joins them. This starts the series and the resistance drives the plot.
And where do the movies come from? The man in the high castle of course.
Amat's job as the cinematography of the series is to work closely with the director and producer to create this visual landscape of alternate history. As ironic as it sounds, lighting is the most effective way to show how dark the world has become. Lights are used to backlight scenes instead of brightening them up. Shadows are created and the color scheme of most the sets in gray, dark green, or black. Bursts of color are rare and only appear as propaganda (from either side) or in flashbacks of happier times.
It isn't an easy task to create a world that never existed. Amat was drawn to this project for that very reason. He liked the challenge of telling a story of an alternate world overpowered by a totalitarian regime. He loves history and took as much as he could and applied into this world.
The infrastructure also plays a role. The Nazi Reich is full of buildings with sharp edges and a blanc design to show their rigid rule. The San Franciscan skyline and the coastal city is full of more color but still reeks of oppression. All of this was achieved by clever set design and skillful use of color and color lights.
Amat's love of the show and his dedication to art has helped make The Man in the High Castle a success. Any lover of history will surely enjoy this unique show portraying a timeline we're all thankful never occurred.
Did you notice the lighting while watching The Man in the High Castle? Or will you check out the series now? Amazon Prime is streaming all three season now. The series will return for a fourth and final season.