Dune (2021) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analyzed: The French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve, known for his impeccable career trajectory with a unique and personal filmmaking style of well-defined visually aesthetic storytelling, took the world by storm with his tense and hard-hitting thrillers – Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario.
In recent years, he has revitalized the science fiction genre with his critically acclaimed films like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, becoming one of the challenging filmmakers of cerebral arthouse blockbusters of the 21st century. And the long-awaited and pandemic-delayed Warner Bros movie Dune starring an ensemble cast adds another formidable cinematic achievement to the oeuvre of Villeneuve’s science fiction films.
Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 magnum opus Dune, a futuristic geopolitical allegory that won the Hugo Award along with Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal, Dune: Part One is the first instalment of a largely faithful reimagining of an epic saga. Villeneuve and his co-writers John Spaihts and Eric Roth have adapted this complex and intricate narrative which was long-thought-to-be-unfilmable.
Many considered the adaptation of this massive and multilayered narrative, which incorporates philosophy, socioecology, politics, espionage, and sci-fi world-building, as an abortive mission or a failure or inefficacious. The Chilean cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky abandoned a project which was in development for three years in the 1970s and David Lynch’s 1984 version was a disaster that Lynch himself famously disowned.
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Villeneuve’s Dune is a technically stupendous visual spectacle with the utter opulence of Herbert’s world-building and character formation with human emotions at play. Dune is set over 8000 years in the future amidst a feudal interstellar in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs and it follows the story of young Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto and the royal heir of House Atreides.
Part One compiles the deep-rooted politics and powerplay of the Emperor of the Known Universe. He orders the imperial family of House Atreides to accept the stewardship of the desert planet of Arrakis. And it also details Paul Atreides wrestling with responsibilities as the inheritor of the throne, the awakening of his power as the son of a Bene Gesserit and the utter devastation and tragedy wrought upon his family when they assume control of Arrakis.
This write-up strives to explore Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One, the first part of a planned two-part adaptation of Herbert’s novel. It sheds light on the crucial aspects of the film that needs explicating in detail. The cliffhanger ending, address the thematic concerns, also what to expect in a potential sequel that producers confirmed recently. I would suggest you steer clear of this article if you haven’t watched the movie.
DUNE (2021): PART ONE SYNOPSIS & SUMMARY:
ARRAKIS, THE FREMEN, AND BRUTALITY OF HOUSE HARKONNEN
Dune starts by giving us a glimpse of the brutal power politics of planet Arrakis, also known as the eponymous Dune. The sparsely populated and uninhabitable desert wasteland of the Empire; and the most valuable planet in the Dune universe. Because it is the only source of melange or “spice”, the greatest treasure in the universe, which is a highly coveted and sacred hallucinogen, that preserves life and bring enormous health benefits, without which interstellar travel is impossible for the navigators of the Spacing Guild.
The native tribes of Arrakis known as the Fremen have adapted to survive the incredibly harsh conditions and treacherous climatic conditions of the arid planet and they share the deep Arrakeen desert with the giant sandworms known to the Fremen as Shai-Hulud. The long exposure to the spice has given the Fremen their characteristic blue eyes and the Fremen attacks make the spice harvesting extremely hazardous.
The film opens majestically with the images of the sun-scorched desert landscapes with spice floating in the air while one of the Fremen, Chani (Zendaya) provides a situating the history of the Dune-verse saying, “My planet Arrakis is so beautiful when the sun is low. Rolling over the sands, you can see the spice in the air. At nightfall, the spice harvesters land. The outsider’s race against time to avoid the heat of the day. They ravage our lands in front of our eyes. Their cruelty to my people is all I’ve known.” The outsiders referred to here are the Harkonnens of the heavily industrialised Giedi Prime, a rich family in the intergalactic feudal system. They control the spice production in Arrakis. They have also governed the planet with an iron fist, violently suppressing the Fremen.
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The images of Chani and the other Fremen warriors shooting at and blowing up the Harkonnens’ spice harvesters serve as a prologue to the main narrative. The House of Harkonnen who formed a fascistic installation with their ornithopters is suddenly removed from power by the Imperial decree. Chani ends her dramatic monologue with a question, “Who will our next oppressors be?”
PLANET CALADAN AND PAUL ATREIDES
It is the year 10191 AG. The exposition also introduces us to the ocean planet of Caladan, which is a stark contrast to Arrakis with its greenery and vegetation and overcast atmosphere. It focuses on the homeworld of Atreides ruled by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac), his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son and heir apparent Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Under the order of Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV of the Known Universe, he assigns the fiefdom of Arrakis to House Atreides. Paul is shown having prophetic dreams about Arrakis, Chani and the Fremen and feels the need to acquire more knowledge about the ways of the Fremen.
Paul has been training all his life under the tutelage of Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), while Lady Jessica trains him in Bene Gesserit disciplines. Leto is apprehensive about the political danger that comes with taking control of Arrakis but is hopeful to tap the true power of Arrakis by allying with the Fremen. When Paul addresses his doubts and uncertainties about being the future ruler, Leto assures him by saying, “A great man doesn’t seek to lead. He’s called to it and he answers.”
LADY JESSICA, BENE GESSERIT, ‘THE VOICE’, AND PAUL’S TEST:
The Bene Gesserit sisterhood is a secretive matriarchal order who has achieved its superhuman abilities through years of physical and mental conditioning and also through the help of melange. The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) serves as the truthsayer to the Emperor and steer the politics of the Imperium. As the mentor of Lady Jessica, Reverend Mother demanded Jessica to produce an Atreides daughter as part of the Bene Gesserit’s Breeding Program that’s running for ninety generations. They were manipulating the bloodlines to produce the fabled Kwisatz Haderach, a super-being who can bridge time and space and past and future, but Jessica produced a male heir because of her deep love of Duke Leto.
Jessica trains Paul in perfecting the ‘the Voice’ which Bene Gesserit uses for interrogation and manipulation to achieve complete control over the receiver. Because of the recurring troubled visions of the future Paul witnesses, the Reverend Mother Gaius subjects Paul to a deadly test that assesses impulse control called gom jabbar, which is comprised of a nerve-induction box that causes severe pain to Paul’s hand inserted therein and a poison-tipped needle poised at his neck, ready to kill him the instant he recoils from the pain. Paul becomes triumphant in the test but is dubious whether he is the prophesied one and dismissively says, “I hope you live.”
ARRIVAL OF HOUSE OF ATREIDES AT ARRAKIS AND THE CRUEL MACHINATIONS OF THE BARON:
The House of Atreides arrives on planet Arrakis and is welcomed grandiosely by the Mentat Thufir Hawat while the indigenous people of Arrakeen chant Lisan al-Gaib. Jessica explains Lisan al-Gaib as “Voice from the Outer World”, a messiah whom the Fremen have been waiting for centuries. When the aircraft passes the Shield Wall, they enter the sandy hellhole infested with humongous sandworms, capable of making 400 meters in length and the Fremen cross the desert using the sand-walk, a dance-like motion with an irregular rhythm. A hunter-seeker attacks Paul, from which he escapes successfully.
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At the House Harkonnen, the grotesque and evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), the archenemy of Atreides and the former steward of Arrakis plots against Leto and the destruction of House Atreides. The Reverend Mother asks to spare Jessica and Paul and allow them the dignity of exile as they are under the protection of Bene Gesserit. Leto becomes aware of the dangers involved in harvesting the spice.
Duncan returns after living four weeks with the Fremen to report back to Leto and informs that Arrakis is filled with underground caverns and millions of people live in communities called sietches. Stilgar (Javier Bardem), the leader of one of the sietches is fidgety about the Outworlders and their intention considering their past cruelty at the hands of Harkonnens. Leto promises Stilgar that they will not hunt or compromise their sietches even if they travel to the desert.
Armed with the still-suits and with the assistance of the imperial judge Dr Liet-Kynes, they venture into the desert in ornithopters and come across a sandworm that was approaching an active spice harvester with a stranded crew. With Leto’s leadership and timely advice, the crew was rescued but Paul got exposed to the spice-filled air causing him to hear “Kwisatz Haderach awakes” and see premonitions.
BETRAYAL OF DUKE LETO AND FALL OF ATREIDES:
Shortly afterwards, House Harkonnen ambushes Duke Leto and his household on Arrakis. The Suk doctor Wellington Yueh, Leto’s physician, betrays him. He disables protective shields of Arrakeen to allow Harkonnen forces and the Sardaukar troops of the Padishah Emperor to overwhelm the Atreides forces.
Yueh incapacitates Leto and replaces one of Leto’s teeth with a poison gas capsule, hoping Leto can kill the Baron during their encounter so that Yueh can release his captured wife Wanna. But Baron murders Yueh in cold blood and, subsequently, Leto releases the poison gas. The poisonous gas kills members of the Baron’s court and himself, but the Baron survives.
While the troops of House Harkonnen wipe out House Atreides, Harkonnens capture Jessica and Paul. They use their voice to overpower the troops. They land in the desert and spend the night in a tent where Paul experiences visions of a ‘holy war’ spreading across the universe in his name.
DUNE (2011): PART ONE MOVIE ENDING AND CLIFFHANGER EXPLAINED
Duncan and Dr Kynes rescue Paul and Jessica from the desert in an ornithopter and realise the Emperor’s hand in the fall of Atreides. Harkonnen and Sardaukar attack them in an ecological testing station where they took refuge. Duncan sacrifices himself for saving Paul and Jessica and bravely fights the soldiers till his last breath. Dr Kynes attracts a sandworm that devours her and her killers – Sardaukar forces.
The Baron, who is recovering from the poison, commands his brutish nephew Rabban to take control over Arrakis slowly sell the spice reserves. Meanwhile, Paul and Jessica escape in an ornithopter and land in the deep desert. They wear the still-suits and sand-walk through the desert to reach the Fremen, but a massive sandworm attacks them. Sandworm looks at Paul intensely without harming him.
Paul and Jessica meet the Fremen troops that include Stilgar, Jamis, and Chani, the girl who recurringly appears in Paul’s vision. Disagreements arise between Stilgar and Jamis as Jamis wants to eliminate the outworlders. Stilgar realises the value of Paul’s life, but he deems Jessica to be untrained and too old to learn. In a turn of events, Paul disarms Jamis while Jessica overpowers Stilgar in the Weirding Way, resulting in a standoff.
Jamis invokes the Amtal Rule challenging Stilgar’s leadership because Jessica bested him. He also announces the Tahaddi challenge which calls for a fight to the death. Jamis fighting for the position of the new chieftain while Paul fighting as Jessica’s champion for the position of Jessica in the tribe.
Chani offers the crysknife, the sacred weapon made from the tooth of Shai-Hulud to Paul to die in great honour holding it. She also adds that she doesn’t believe he is the Lisan al-Gaib, their prophesied messiah from off-world. In the fight between Paul and Jamis, Paul gains upper hand soon enough and immobilizes Jamis, urging him to yield. Paul had to slay his opponent in this fight to the death but is reluctant to do so as he hasn’t killed anyone.
Paul, at last, kills Jamis and Fremen accepts him as some among them. He chooses to stay with the Fremen when Jessica asks Stilgar for a means to get off-world. He chooses the path which leads to the desert to bring peace to Arrakis where he witnesses the Fremen riding a sandworm through the desert showing their desert power. Chani ends the narrative in an open-ended note declaring, “This is just the beginning.”
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF PAUL’S PROPHETIC DREAMS AND VISIONS?
Strange visions and dreams of the future plague the mind of Paul Atreides throughout the ambitious space odyssey. Paul is an aberration in the Bene Gesserit breeding program that aims to bring about “the one”, Kwisatz Haderach. His dreams and visions are glimpses of the future, carefully engineered through the breeding bloodline with a predilection for prescience. Paul’s first visions are ones of an unknown Fremen woman. Later revealed as Chani, a native of Stilgar sietch.
Chani’s presence in the dreams suggests their meeting and bond formation in the future bond. Paul also dreams of Duncan’s death and it becomes a reality when he falls in battle sacrificing himself for Paul and Lady Jessica. Paul also has visions of a hand holding a bloody crysknife, a burning corpse, burning palm trees. When the Harkonnens recapture the planet from Atreides, the fir destroys the sacred palm trees.
The bloody crysknife foreshadows Paul’s destiny entwined with the weapon. His visions also capture a tender moment between Paul and Chani, who then stabs him with a crysknife, and his mother holding a baby which allows him to deduce that his mother is pregnant. The visions of a galactic war disturb him. He spearheads the war wearing battle armour and leads men into battle, and oversees an act of genocide with Chani on some planet. He distressfully shouts while seeing the vision, “Fanatical legions worshipping at the shrine of my father’s skull. A war in my name!”
DUNE (2021): PART ONE MOVIE THEMES EXPLAINED:
COLONIAL INVASION AND INDIGENOUS SURVIVAL
Dune is a politically relevant fantasy of human occupation and subjugation that tells the story of planet Arrakis and its indigenous Fremen, being controlled for their resources for political as well as economic gains by the Emperor. The intergalactic setting is based on a feudal system in which all planets belong to the Emperor and the Great Houses utilise their strength and arms to uphold the Emperor’s power and authority and to colonise ecological and geological forces with unlimited potential.
Dune dramatizes not only the military invasion by different houses but also the attempts of uprisings and revolution of a colonised diaspora population for survival through Stilgar and Chani’s sietch who are fighting back against the formidable Sardaukar to free themselves from the oppressive and indomitable forces of power-mongering and greedy Harkonnens and the Padishah Emperor. This is an allegorical reference for the Middle East and their oil that great powers will kill over even in the face of political destabilisation.
HUMAN CONTROL OF ECOLOGY AND PSYCHIC ABILITIES
Dune offers the thematic of controlling the environment to suit the need and requirements of power-hungry houses and tweaking the cognitive and psychic abilities to advance human psychology. Dune is an epic saga about ecological warfare between the controlling House of the Imperium and the indigenous Fremen who are the natural inhabitants of the planet. To monopolize the spice, House Harkonnen uses huge machines and immense farming mechanisms, driving the Fremen away to the underground caverns.
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The Bene Gesserit order controls the imperial politics using their cognitive and psychic abilities which they utilise to see the future. They are also responsible for controlling human abilities by trying to produce a prophesied being that would be capable of shaping humanity’s future prosperity. The genetic bloodline control is responsible for the dreams and visions of Paul Atreides, envisioned as the messianic figure.
THE DETERMINISM OF FATE
The theme of fate weighs heavily in the narrative as the pathway and the potential future of Paul Atreides has already been determined through his conception through the genetic bloodline of Bene Gesserit sisterhood. Paul’s character is emblematic of an individual’s ultimate powerlessness against fate’s determinism. The prophecy of the Lisan al-Gaib and the Kwisatz Haderach becomes a reality in the predetermined future of Paul who has a heightened sense of psychic abilities because of his training by Lady Jessica and also because of the consumption of spice which opened his mind’s potential.
“A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair”. Villeneuve’s Dune is a tour de force in storytelling as he has cracked the code bringing a sweeping multilayered narrative, but leaves us yearning for the rest of the tale of Paul Atreides and his role in changing the course of the universe. The stunning aesthetic visuals of Greg Fraser combined with the music of Hans Zimmer makes it a spectacular experience that overwhelms the senses.
With the official green light for a sequel by Legendary and Warner Bros., which comes as no surprise, Dune: Part Two will delve into Paul’s rise as a powerful force and influence over the Fremen, his relationship with Chani, the reality of Paul’s visions of genocide, Jessica’s pregnancy, the escalating conflict between the Fremen and the Harkonnen, and the fate of Paul in the prosperity of Arrakis as well as Dune-verse.