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  • Jade Tran

Unveiling Colonial Narratives: An In-Depth Analysis of Dune

(There are spoilers included)

Viewers of the film Dune: Part Two were met with extraordinary cinematography. From the extended shots of the sand to the harsh warmth of the color grade, and the regal, yet eccentric costumes, the film immerses viewers in visual pleasure. With such extravagance, it was easy to overlook the true depth of the sci-fi storyline. Yes, the camera worked overtime to tell a riveting story, but more importantly, so did the many allusions and parallelisms to world history and society. A complex plot like this, though, invited ignorant social media warriors who honorably named this film: “White Savior Movie of the Year.” 

Many of these criticisms are posted online in the form of reaction videos, or discourse between TikTok creators. In a TikTok video from a New York Times columnist by the name of ‘@jamellebouie,’ he expresses that the Paul Atreides arc is neither a white savior story nor a savior story at all. While Dune itself is centered around a cis-white male “savior,” played by the beloved/popular Timothee Chalamet, beneath the surface, there is more to comprehend. In actuality, Paul serves as the villain in a taxing anecdote about oppression, colonialism, and imperialism. The TikTok creator continues by asserting, “The Dune series is anti-savior in general, it is against the notion of a savior, the notion of a singular Messiah,” and this new movie makes this claim foolproof. 

Frank Herbert, the author of the Dune novels, insinuates that this trope, nor the fact that Paul was seen as a hero, was not his intention. Denis Villeneuve, the director and co-producer of the films, believes that when Herbert wrote and released the books, he was disappointed that his audience even viewed him as a hero. “For [Herbert], the book was a warning about charismatic leaders, and he wanted Paul to be more perceived as a dark figure,” says Villeneuve in an interview with Inverse

From the moments when Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, discloses that he must persuade the Fremen that he is their chosen leader, and the repetitive scenes of Stilgar, Paul’s enthusiastic hypeman, shouting “Lisan Al Gaib!” (“The Voice from the Outer World”) at every achievement; it is clear that there is a manipulation tactic at play. The goal is to push the Fremen towards the acceptance of Paul as their Messiah, in exchange for their trust and revenge. This is a reminder that Paul is not to be viewed as a white savior but rather as a leader who wields the potential to exploit. There is a certain level of depth that is ignored in these movies and an impressive amount of foreshadowing throughout, begging for acknowledgment. In Dune: Part One, Chani, played by Zendaya, asks, “Who will our next oppressors be?” as the shot cuts to Paul, foreshadowing his destined reign. Oppression, struggle, corruption – these are the true tropes of the series, but evidently, many were too blinded to realize this.

This brings me to my next, haunting point: media literacy is sadly in the gutter. There is an online presence obsessed with becoming the hardcore critics of films like Dune, or of any films that have a large audience. Truly, they just come off as performative people with baseless arguments. There is a necessity for the upcoming generation to begin practicing critical analysis of the messages displayed through the media. To do so requires eliminating reliance on minimal resources and learning to form original ideas through thoughtful analysis. While in this case, it is a Hollywood movie, such hasty assumptions transcend several areas of humanity. If society is struggling to decipher the realities of a blockbuster film, how will they do it for the daunting issues that rattle the real world? 

Through the lens of Herbert’s intention and my own analysis, it is clear that Dune: Part Two is a warning to mankind about the dangers associated with leadership that appears in the form of fascism. If anything, Dune serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of a white savior and works to critique the trope’s entirety. It is rather a call-out to history; the “Western man” using indigenous communities to further an agenda. The film also alludes heavily to both Christian and Islamic beliefs to strengthen the cult narrative of the Fremen. This is not a savior story but rather an anti-hero one that perfectly aligns with our history and subsequent wrongdoings. To understand this, we have to unburden ourselves from the desert ridden with sandworms and come beyond the surface to see that Paul Atreides is just a crystal-clear reflection of our society. 

“As it was written.”


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