4 things to know about Dune, the science-fiction film with religious themes
Paul is a smart and thoughtful teenager who was born into a noble family and is trying to find his place in the world.
The year is 10191 and Paul and his parents live on the almost uninhabitable planet of Arrakis, which is the political center of the universe despite being covered in sand.
Arrakis is the only planet where the blend, a very expensive natural resource, can be harvested. And the mixture, or “spice” as it is called, is needed for space travel.
Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreide, was assigned to Arrakis by the Emperor to oversee the spice harvesting operation.
Leto, however, thinks the mission was a trap to have his family killed.
Paul, too, thinks the danger lurks around the corner. In fact, he had a series of dreams that he believed might be prophetic – dreams about his future and that of his people.
However, not everyone accepts Paul’s dreams as premonitory.
“Dreams make great stories, but all that matters happens when we are awake,” she is told.
Will anyone listen to Paul?
It’s all part of the new sci-fi movie Dune (PG-13), which is based on the classic story and stars a star cast including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, and Dave Bautista.
Here are four things you need to know about the movie:
1. It’s based on an award-winning novel
This is not the first Dune movie, and it won’t be the last. (It’s called “Dune: Part One” on the screen.)
A 1984 film of the same name was a major flop, grossing just $ 30 million on a budget of $ 40 million. It was directed by David Lynch.
All are based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 book which won a Nebula Prize and a Hugo Prize for Best Sci-Fi Novel. The Nebular Awards website calls it “arguably the greatest sci-fi epic” and “an astonishing blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics.”
The 1984 film’s plot has been criticized for straying too far from the book.
Denis Villeneuve, who directed the 2021 version, is among those who thought the 1984 film was not close enough to the book. He also crossed out Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.
“When I read the book when I was a teenager… I was mesmerized and saw the full potential of it. And I remember getting really excited when David Lynch Dune went out to the theater, ”he told HMV YouTube channel.
Lynch’s film “had a lot of strength and beauty, but also things that strayed from the novel,” Villeneuve said.
Dune 2021 is “closer to the spirit of the book,” Villeneuve said.
He calls it his “dream project”.
2. It’s not ‘Star Wars’… but still fun
Advertisements for Dune have used a Quote of a Collider reviewer calling it “the next Star wars, the following the Lord of the Rings. “I wouldn’t go that far. The plot in Dune moves slower than any of the movies in these groundbreaking series. It’s more cerebral. There is less action. Plus – in case you don’t know anything about the movie – there aren’t any space battles (although there are battles on earth).
It’s still entertaining. (When the credits rolled, my 13-year-old was ready to watch Part 2.) The factions are fighting over the “blend,” a so-called spice that is harvested from the sand of Arrakis and is needed for travel the galaxy. This same spice, however, is considered by native Fremen to be a “sacred hallucinogen, which preserves life and provides enormous health benefits,” we are told. The spice is harvested by giant machines that must avoid the sand worms – giant worms that are hundreds of feet long and eat anything in their path. The preferred human flight mode in Dune is the winged dragonfly ornithopter, which resembles a cross between an insect and the body of a helicopter.
Star wars Creator George Lucas said Herbert’s novel influenced his own story, and it doesn’t take much effort to see the parallels: A boy grows up on a sand-covered planet to save his people. He learns the way of a mysterious religion. (See below.) His arch enemy is the Emperor. It looks like Luke Skywalker, but it’s actually Paul Atreides.
There is no doubt that many children will be playing this Christmas with ornithopters and Paul Atreides figurines.
3. It’s a religious “melting pot”
Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert, once called the Dune universe a “spiritual melting pot” in which “religious beliefs have come together”. The religion of the novel, writes Brain Herbert, includes elements of Buddhism, Sufi mysticism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism.
“Dad drew on various religious influences, but did not subscribe to any of them,” wrote Brian Herbert.
The film reflects this syncretism. Some believe that Paul is the “messiah” or “the one” – the boy who will save his people. The characters discuss a belief in “the way”. In one scene, we see a group of people – their faces partially covered – reading small books of a sacred text and holding pearls. We hear the expressions “God willing” and “God in heaven”.
Paul’s mother tells him that her people crossed the lineages to create a “spirit powerful enough to connect space and time, the past and the future.” That person is Paul.
Dune is a science fiction film, but it is also a religious film.
Sure, Star wars, too, had religious themes. There was even an “elected official”.
Stories like these are a reminder that all people, theists and atheists alike, seek meaning beyond this natural world. Too often, however, we are on a dead end. As Pascal once wrote, we have a void in our soul – an “infinite abyss” – which can only be filled by “an infinite and unchanging object”. This “object” is our Creator: God Himself.
It’s something to talk about with your science fiction friends.
4. He obtains his PG-13 rating
If language, sex, and violence are your only concerns – and they shouldn’t be – then you can find Dune to be a “leaner” movie than many superhero movies. The film contains no sexuality and minimal foul language (details below). The battle scenes are typical of a superhero and sci-fi movie, with many explosions and bloodless deaths. (Although in several scenes we see a person’s hand covered in blood.)
Always, Dune contains some scenes that may disturb young viewers (and parents too). The emperor – a grotesque tall man – floats in the air like a witch. A group of soldiers stand in procession, listening to a man’s song in a low voice, similar to what is done in Buddhism. The giant worm eats people. And there are a few implied off-screen beheadings.
But for older viewers, it can be entertaining.
Villeneuve, the director, said his goal was to make the film enjoyable for those who had never read the book. For the most part, he succeeds.
Rated PG-13 for footage of high violence, disturbing images and suggestive material. Language details: A– (1), h-ll (2), d – n (2), s – t (1).
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Family classification: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Photo courtesy: © Alon Amir / Warner Brothers
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and current affairs for 20 years. His stories have been published in Baptist Press, Christianity today, The Christian Post, the Sheet-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.