The second part of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation, efficiently titled Dune: Part Two, contains a single line that is as much about fans of Frank Herbert’s book as it is about its protagonist, Paul Atreides. It’s delivered by Chani, Paul’s concubine in Herbert’s novel and equal/skeptic in Villeneuve’s meticulously crafted reimagining. “You want to control people?” Chani says, rhetorically. “Tell them a messiah will come. They’ll wait. For centuries.”

Dune acolytes didn’t have to wait for centuries, but the anticipation for a well-executed, faithful adaptation of Herbert’s 1965 book is the stuff of legend. Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky tried and failed to make the film in the 1970s. David Lynch made one in the ’80s that’s a camp classic but struggles to stay coherent. Sprawling and intricate, Dune’s pages carry an all-but-unfilmable weight. Unfilmable to anyone but Villeneuve.

Except, in Villeneueve’s eyes, Paul isn’t a messiah. That’s the trick. Dune: Part Two fulfills the prophecy of what Dune can be rather than what it was. For years, the Dune novel has been treated, by directors, and many readers, as a hero’s journey—the quest of a young man in a strange land who saves the people of the resource-rich planet Arrakis, the Fremen, from foreign rule while working out some Freudian issues along the way. Swap in Luke for Paul and Darth Vader for Baron Harkonnen and it’s Star Wars all the way down (though Dune did it first). No tension, just a blink of internal struggle, and then Paul—the messiah, the Lisan al Gaib—rides to the rescue on the back of a sandworm.

Dune: Part Two, picking up where 2021’s Dune left off, buffs out the white-savior sheen of that telling of the story. Instead it presents Paul (Timothée Chalamet) as a guy aware that his hero status is just the result of decades of myth-building by his mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and the Bene Gesserit (basically, space witches). They’ve been promising the Fremen a savior for years, and when Paul arrives and Stilgar (Javier Bardem) starts yammering on about prophecies fulfilled, Lisan al Gaib whispers to his mom, “Look how your Bene Gesserit propaganda has taken root.”

Jessica’s role, like the one of Chani (Zendaya), has far more dimensions in Dune (the movies) than it did in Dune (the book). Villeneuve told me this deepening of womens’ perspectives would happen back before he even released the first installment. He wanted equality between the genders, and for Harkonnen to not be a caricature, like Ursula on a way-worse power trip. “The book is probably a masterpiece,” he said when I spoke to him in 2021, “but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.” Its heteronormative patriarchal shortcomings provided space for him to explore. Chani now fills the role of warrior who refuses to bow to her boyfriend and doesn’t buy the messiah bullshit. Paul, as my colleague Jason Kehe so succinctly put it when connecting the dots between Dune and Burning Man celebrants, goes “into the desert, becomes a messiah, and ends up a goddamn monster.”

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.


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