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Dune Review, Part One

Despite the cynical ways of the Bene Gesserit sect, a deeper providence guides the story in Dune.

The sequel to Dune was originally scheduled to come out on November 3rd. However, it has since been rescheduled to come out on March 15th of 2024. Still, since I was preparing to do this article anyway, I thought now would be as good a time as any to do a review of the first movie in this most recent remake, and perhaps, later compare it to the original 1984 film in anticipation of the sequel. These movies are based on the novel, written by Frank Herbert in 1965. It is widely regarded as a sci-fi classic.

The book opens with Paul Atreides taking the Gom Jabbar test, but we’ll have to circle back to that because the remake’s opening is a little different. It begins by explaining the political nature of the situation before zeroing in on the protagonist. Without going into exhaustive detail — because the book lays the situation out through a plethora of characters and circumstances, most of which don’t’ seem to tie together at all until very end of the book — the basic idea is that the Emperor Shaddam has ordered the House of Atreides to oversee the spice production on the planet called Arrakis, but actually, he plans to murder the family because House Atreides has become too powerful and is too well respected. The family has no choice in this. They must go. Duke Leto of House Atreides is determined to make the best of the situation, but right from the beginning, there is a sense of doom hanging over the family’s head. Everybody suspects a trap, but they are powerless to stop it.

The rub of the matter is that it’s unclear exactly from what direction this trap is going to come. Duke Leto and the others believe that the Harkonnen’s are going to try to take the planet back, but unfortunately, the Emperor is also in on the scheme, and this fact ultimately, is what leads to the family’s undoing.

This is one point the remake does a good job simplifying. The book also explains this problem, but the facts are so far spread out and presented by so many characters that it took me multiple readings to understand that the Emperor is really the main puppet master behind this plot. Another reason for the confusion is that since Vladimir Harkonnen is such a disgusting creature, its very easy to mischaracterize him as the main villian rather than just another pawn. But because the movie has a limited run time, it compresses these details, making the situation easier to follow.

Religion is a Weapon

One character who does understand the full scope of things is the Reverend Mother. She is one of the heads of the Bene Gesserits. These evil broads are basically a religious sect who wield their religion as a weapon. They plant themselves as concubines for the various rulers throughout the galaxy, as well as send other mothers to various planets to spread their beliefs. However, it’s not because they have a genuine conviction for their religion, but rather, they spread their books and prophecies in order to establish “predestined” rulers in various worlds.

The reason the author chose to explain the intentions of this Bene Gesserit order is to show how the groundwork for Paul’s reemergence as the head of house Atreides had been laid out long before the Emperor’s betrayal. Another hobby of the Bene Gesserit is their dabbling in Eugenics. They basically choose prime subjects for breeding and prohibit men from being born in their order because men do not usually survive the training. They also want to create a special male, the Kwisatz Haderach, who will be able to see into the regions of time they cannot. Of course, they also hope they can use this special male for their own political purposes, something Paul deals with at the end of the book.

However, Jessica, Paul’s mother, decided to go ahead and have a male child against the Bene Gesserits’ orders because she knows Duke Leto wants a male heir. She — unlike most of the concubines spread throughout the galaxy — loves Duke Leto and is more loyal to him than to her religious order. And because she has given birth to a son, she secretly hopes he will be the Kwisatcz Haderach. So, she teaches Paul the Bene Gesserit ways which is what leads to the Gom Jabbar test at the beginning of the book.

The idea behind the test is simple. Basically, the candidate puts their hand in a box which causes extreme pain. If the candidate removes the hand, they will be stuck with a poisonous needle and die. This raises a number of questions as to what would’ve happened if Paul had failed the test. How would this Reverend Mother explain the death of an heir to a great house? Surely, this would’ve raised questions about the usefulness of this religious sect if these evil women are in the habit of preventing males from being born and raised to take over a planetary dynasty. But fortunately, Paul passes this test despite the Reverend Mother forcing him to hold his hand in the box longer than usual. This doesn’t prove he is the Kwisatcz Haderach, but it keeps the crazy old woman from killing him and puts her in the awkward situation of having to make sure Jessica and Paul have the chance to survive the future assault on Arrakis. She later asks Vladimir Harkonnen, who is planning an attack on the Arrakis alongside the Emperor, to leave Paul and Jessica in exile, knowing that a mother has already been planted on Arrakis, priming the Freman, the native population of Arrakis, to be willing to accept the two of them provided they can survive a lengthy trek across the dessert. Vladimir Harkonnen agrees, but he secretly plans to have them killed in the dessert by some henchmen — who he will in turn probably kill himself — so he can blame the planet’s hostile environment for their demise.

One thing I will say in favor of the plot is that while it shows the cynical nature of the book’s religion, it also goes out of its way to hint that there is more at work than the Bene Gesserits’ schemes. There is a providential hand moving throughout the story. Paul is having dreams and visions that go beyond anything the old women could’ve anticipated. And these visions are intensified by the spice itself, something nobody anticipated; but at the same time, these strange affects of the spice are a long-held secret of the Spacing Guild, which oversees space travel for the entire galaxy.

We’ll cover what happens once the Atreides family lands on Arrakis next time.     

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Dune Review, Part One