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Dune part 2


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Paul Asay

Movie Review

The desert—any desert—can kill you. The heat. The cold. The aridity. The storms. Drop someone in the middle of a desert, and they probably won’t survive three days.

And if the desert in question has giant sandworms? Well, let’s just say I’d not be making any long-term plans.

But Paul Atreides calls just such a desert home now. He’ll need to learn to survive, and quick.

It wasn’t always so for the young duke. As documented in 2021’s Dune (now retitled Dune: Part One), Paul was once heir apparent to the great galactic house of Atreides. His home planet of Caladan was a lush and watery world. But when the Emperor asked Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides, to take over the Arrakis and its all-important spice mines, Leto shipped his family, his household and his private army to the desert planet.

But the move was a ruse. The Emperor planned to betray Leto, and he encouraged House Harkonnen—the Atreides’ centuries-old rival—to retake Arrakis with imperial help and extinguish every last vestige of the troublesome House Atreides forever.

Indeed, the Emperor and the vile Baron Harkonnen nearly succeeded in doing just that, killing Leto and countless others. But Paul and his mother, Jessica, escaped and fell in with a band of Fremen, the desert people indigenous to Arrakis.

But as we learn quickly at the outset of Dune: Part Two, Paul and Jessica’s safety isn’t guaranteed. Granted, Stilgar, the leader of this small band, is convinced that Paul and Jessica can help in the fight against the invaders from House Harkonnen. More than that, he suspects that Paul just might be the messiah prophesied by generations of Fremen. But to the rest of the Fremen, Paul and Jessica are simply outsiders—barely worth the water they hold in their bodies. Better to let the desert claim them both and be done with it.

Paul’s not ready to be cast out so quickly, though. He believes he can help these people. And he believes that they can help him, too—help him claim vengeance on Baron Harkonnen, the Emperor and all those who betrayed his father.

And Jessica? Her sights are set even higher. Jessica wants to convince the Fremen that her son is indeed their long-awaited messiah. Why? Because she hopes—no, she knows—that Paul’s the fulfillment of another set of prophecies and plans. He is the Kwisatz Haderach and, as such, he’s destined to usher in a new galactic age.

Positive Elements

Dune: Part Two is filled with plots and schemes, politics and betrayals. While some might argue that Arrakeen spice is what makes the galaxy go ‘round, cynicism may be its more powerful engine. But within this Machiavellian mix, we can still find some instincts worth applauding.

We begin with Paul and his genuine love for Chani, his Fremen friend and, ultimately, lover. The two care deeply for each other: Chani teaches Paul some tricks of the Fremen way, and each saves the other’s life at least once. Chani supports Paul during some difficult trials. And when Paul tells Chani that he’ll love her as long as he draws breath, we know that he means it.

Their shared struggle against House Harkonnen also feels like a righteous cause. Not only are the Fremen fighting for their freedom and right to self-determination, but they’re battling against what would seem to be a truly evil, sadistic house.

There’s an undeniable attraction to the Fremen way of life as well—finding beauty in this desolate land and honor in their hardscrabble existence.

Spiritual Elements

In God Emperor of Dune, the fourth book in Frank Herbert’s original Dune saga, the spiritual leader Muad’Dib is quoted as saying, “The problem of leadership is inevitably: Who will play God?”

That is the question Paul, aka Muad’Dib himself, faces.

We learned in Dune: Part One that two separate messianic prophecies potentially rest on Paul’s shoulders.

By the first movie’s end, a few Fremen already suspect Paul of being the Lisan al Gaib, or “The Voice from the Outer World,” whom the faithful believe will lead them to paradise. But that prophecy was very much a human creation—one crafted by the shadowy order of the Bene Gesserit, of which Paul’s mother, Jessica, is a member.

For ages, the Bene Gesserit (whom some call “witches,” and whose most powerful members are called “reverend mothers”) have done their best to pull the strings of galactic intrigue—often doing so by creating myths on receptive planets. The order found Arrakis a particularly receptive environment for Bene Gesserit missionaries, Jessica tells us in Part Two, because “nothing can live there without faith.” That’s particularly true in the south—an environment so hostile to life that many believe it to be uninhabited. But the Fremen live there by the millions, and most of them are “fundamentalists” (as they’re sometimes derisively referred to by the generally more secular northern-dwelling Fremen).

As noted in Adam Holz’s review of Dune: Part One, the Fremen can superficially resemble Muslims, but we don’t know much about their faith beyond their belief in the prophecies surrounding the Lisan al Gaib. As Paul’s victories against the Harkonnen increase, and as he further wraps himself in every aspect of the Fremen way of life, more and more people come to believe that Paul is, indeed, their prophesied savior. Paul sadly tells someone, “[The Fremen] used to be friends. Now they’re followers.”

Paul knows full well that the Bene Gesserit are responsible for these prophecies, and he’s upset with his mother for her own role in spreading rumors of his quasi-divinity. (“It’s no prophecy,” he tells her. “It’s a story you keep telling.”) Early in the movie, he even does his best to even undercut those prophecies. For most of the movie, he pushes away the mantel of messiah—an expression of humility that, for some, paradoxically proves that he is the messiah. “I don’t care what you believe!” one Fremen leader tells Paul. “I believe!”

Meanwhile, the Bene Gesserit have their own quasi-prophecy of sorts—that of the previously mentioned Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit who would be able to look into the order’s distant past and foretell the future. But rather than turning to a divine being to produce such a thing, the Bene Gesserit took matters into their own hands and embarked on a breeding program—a program that would run for 10,000 years. Paul, Jessica believes, is the Kwisatz Haderach (even if other members of the order believe this—at least at first—to be heresy). And again, he seems to fulfill the Haderach checklist. But others of the order say that there are other contenders, too.

Another note about the Bene Gesserit here: They feel like a religious order (though they don’t seem to worship anything but power). Their ability to control people through their voices smacks of powerful magic, and the order is saturated with rituals and mysticism—designed, perhaps, to awe those they come in contact with. And while their rituals differ from place to place (we’re told), an important ritual on Arrakis is the imbibing of the Water of Life. It’s poisonous stuff, but aspirants to become the planet’s Reverend Mother must quaff the liquid, which gives them the memories of every Reverend Mother that came before. Jessica undergoes the ceremony, turning her unborn baby into an embryonic Reverend Mother who speaks to both Jessica and Paul when she has something to say.

[Spoiler Warning] While Paul does his best to avoid any messianic entanglements, he eventually realizes that he must drink the Water of Life himself—even though it’s supposed to be certain death for any man who’d attempt it. Indeed, he nearly dies, but is (for all intents) brought back to life by a tear from his girlfriend Chani (another Fremen prophecy fulfilled). Paul still doesn’t believe in his divinity, but he purposefully embraces the mantel of Lisan al Gaib—presenting himself as an all-knowing godking and purposefully inspiring both awe and fear in his followers.

We hear that water—particularly the water gathered from fallen Fremen—is sacred, and the people have built cisterns filled with that water that a Fremen would never touch, even if dying from thirst.

Jessica, after becoming Reverend Mother on Arrakis, has presumably sacred words tattooed on her face. We hear rumblings of an upcoming “jihad.” A Fremen leader warns Paul to be aware of djinn. “They are demons,” he says—adding that he’s joking, then adding that he’s not.

Sexual Content

As mentioned, Paul and Chani ultimately begin a romantic relationship: They kiss at times, and we see them in bed together a couple of times—once while they’re in deeply intimate contact. (We don’t see or hear anything critical, outside bared shoulders; the vibe is more romantic than tawdry. But it’s obvious where the moment is heading.) Paul proclaims his lifelong love to her a couple of times—and he seems to mean it.

But in this galaxy, sex and marriage are often political tools. A Bene Gesserit seduces a member of House Harkonnen in order to get pregnant with the guy’s baby—as directed by her own Reverend Mother. We hear how Jessica was also ordered to only bear a girl to her lover, Baron Leto Atreides—but she bucked her orders and bore him Paul instead. The betrothal of the Emperor’s daughter is treated as something of a political chess piece, with not even the pretense of her “suitor” asking for her hand out of love.

A guy goes shirtless. Some women wear slightly revealing outfits.

Violent Content

House Harkonnen seems built on sadism. All of its highest-ranking members display it. Baron Harkonnen—the grotesquely obese leader of the house—kills two women behind closed doors in a fit of pique. (We hear the screams from the outside.) Beast Rabban, nephew of the Baron, displayed rabid cruelty to the Fremen when the Baron gave him control of Arrakis; and when things go poorly, we see him repeatedly smash the head of one of his helpmates into a display counter. The Baron’s younger nephew, Feyd-Rautha, is less bestial but no less bloodthirsty, slicing throats with no provocation and employing even crueler methods to bring the Fremen to heel.

It’s worth noting that Feyd participates in a gladiatorial-like game as part of his birthday celebration—in which he’s given the opportunity to dispatch three victims in a gigantic arena filled with chanting, bloodthirsty fans. One of his “victims” proves to have a little more fight, and an arena official spears the guy with a hook (like banderillas, used to bleed and weaken bulls in bullfighting) before Feyd orders him away.

But those moments of cruelty are secondary to what is, essentially, a war movie. We see plenty of people shot, stabbed, sliced and blown up. Explosions—including nuclear ones—consume many a combatant. (We’re told that there’s a storehouse of atomic weapons big enough to “destroy the entire planet.”) Two scenes feature piled-high corpses being burned.

Meanwhile, in the desert, sandworms are constant threats. And while we don’t see anyone actually head down a worm’s gullet, we certainly can assume that’s how many meet their doom. (One baby sandworm dies at someone’s hands, though, too—drowned in a small, ceremonial pool of water.) Blasts destroy various structures. A two-person fight involves bloodletting on both sides, though only one person dies.

Paul has visions of what will happen if he does take up the mantel of Fremen messiah—and it’s not pretty. He sees millions of Fremen apparently starving to death (images that we get a glimpse of, too.) We see a corpse ceremonially sucked dry of water.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear one possible use of an f-word (though it’s hard to be sure) and two definite uses of the s-word. A couple of other profanities, “h—” and “p-ss,” are also uttered.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The spice known as mélange is, essentially, a drug, albeit a useful one. It’s an integral part of space travel (Guild Navigators use it, the books tell us, to “fold space”). And for some, it allows visions of the future. You can tell a habitual user by his or her eerily blue eyes (which all of the Fremen have).

Other Negative Elements

Jessica, suffering from morning sickness, struggles not to vomit as a Fremen leader tells her to keep it (and the precious liquid it contains) inside. Later, a Harkonnen soldier vomits much more grotesquely.

Beast Rabban repeatedly refers to the Fremen as “rats.” We see and hear about plenty of betrayals and underhanded political maneuvers—some of which involve the wholesale slaughter of thousands, if not millions.

Baron Harkonnen is grotesquely obese enough that he requires an antigravitational suit to get about.


Frank Herbert’s Dune is not an easy book to bring to the big screen. One look at the 1984 version to tell you as much. In terms of its scope, Dune feels like a more cynical, more political version of Lord of the Rings—though obviously with more sand, drugs and 1,000-foot worms.

But director Denis Villeneuve is doing a very nice Peter Jackson impression.

Dune (retroactively titled Dune: Part One) was nominated for 10 Oscars and won six. In my opinion, Part Two is better—at least in terms of pure aesthetics. The scope is necessarily grand. The imagery is stunning. A sequence in the climactic battle feels on par with the march of the Oliphaunts in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (which, incidentally, took home Best Picture honors that year). And while I’m pretty sure that folks not familiar with Dune (and certainly those who haven’t seen Part One) will be metaphorically lost in the desert, this nearly three-hour movie walks us through as coherently as it can.

Good movie? For fans of sci-fi and this franchise, yes. Good for you and/or your family? Well, that’s another question.

Part Two’s stunning, soaring images come with another edge to the blade: The destruction can feel horrific—grittier and more real-feeling than your average superhero flick, for sure. And unlike Lord of the Rings, good and evil here are more ambiguous. To be sure, we know who we’re rooting for. But Paul himself knows that in pursuing what he sees as the greater good, he’s going to have to do an awful lot of bad. The movie emphasizes that sense of moral compromise at the heart of the story—and the tragic costs involved.

As if to underline the point, we see a scene early on where the Harkonnens burn the bodies of their enemies after claiming Arrakis as their own. Much later, Fremen forces do the same—a tragic echo.

And then there’s the movie’s spirituality. On one hand, it gives us a flawed prophet in Paul Atreides—a messianic figure much different from Christianity’s own real Messiah. On the other, the story may plant seeds of doubt in religion itself—suggesting that faith just might be a very human ploy to manipulate the masses. Neither necessarily undercuts our own Christian faith, of course, and the spiritual themes here can be fantastic springboards to conversation. But for those of a certain spiritual bent, these messages can be stumbling blocks, as well.

Yes, Dune: Part Two is a well-crafted film, and I don’t expect to see its equal, in terms of spectacle, for the rest of the year. But its beauty, like the planet Arrakis itself, holds other elements underneath its cinematic sands.

Things that, unless you’re wary, just might swallow you whole.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.