Dune: Becoming the Teacher, Becoming the Enemy

Film Fisher Blog

Dune: Becoming the Teacher, Becoming the Enemy

“Every act of imitation is an act of becoming,” according to Joshua Gibbs. The role of a teacher can be thought of in these terms. A good teacher seeks to imitate his own teachers so that he may become like them, and in so doing become a teacher worthy of imitation by his own students. Thus, in The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis describes traditional education as a kind of propagation: “men transmitting manhood to men.”

This pedagogical principle is at play in Dune: Part One, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel. The film ends with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) facing an opponent in a duel to the death, a rite of passage marking his transition from boyhood to manhood. Part One revolves around Paul’s relationships with his teachers; fittingly, its conclusion sees Paul becoming a man by imitating three of his teachers and thereby becoming like them.

(1) Paul begins the duel by saluting his opponent, in imitation of the salute that Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) gave him before sacrificing his life in a valiant last stand against the Emperor’s elite soldiers, the Sardaukar. Duncan was an honorable fighter and a champion who gave his life to protect Paul; Paul becomes an honorable fighter and a champion who puts his life on the line to protect his mother.

(2) Paul defeats his opponent by using the fighting skills he learned from his old weapons master, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). Gurney did not only teach Paul how to fight. He also taught him the virtues of fortitude and self-control, urging him to master himself rather than being mastered by his feelings: “Mood? What’s mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises, no matter the mood. Now fight!” At the end of the film, Paul does not wish to fight his opponent and he certainly does not wish to kill him – but he does so anyway because the situation demands it.

(3) Before the duel, Paul contemplates the signet ring he inherited from his father, the honorable Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). Before his death, Leto told Paul of his goal to form an alliance with the Fremen, the desert-dwelling people of Arrakis. After winning the duel, Paul recalls his father’s vision and states his intention to follow in his footsteps: “The Emperor sent us to this place, and my father came – not for spice, not for the riches, but for the strength of your people. My road leads into the desert. I can see it. If you’ll have us, we will come.”

In Part One, Paul becomes a man by becoming like his teachers. In Part Two, his development takes a darker turn. Over the course of the second film, Paul faces three groups of enemies, and in the end, he becomes like all three of them.

(1) Paul becomes like the Harkonnens, his hated enemies and the centuries-old nemeses of House Atreides, after discovering that he has inherited their blood from his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). “We’re Harkonnens,” he muses after learning the truth. “So this is how we’ll survive – by being Harkonnens.” The film begins with the Harkonnens burning piles of Atreides bodies after a massacre and ends with Paul’s Fremen troops burning piles of Harkonnen bodies after slaughtering them. Just as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler) compels his cousin Rabban (Dave Bautista) to kiss his boot in a show of forced fealty, Paul ultimately demands that the Emperor (Christopher Walken) kiss his ring. The implicit message is the same: “Kiss or die.”

(2) Paul hates the way the Bene Gesserit manipulate the masses with religious propaganda, but ultimately leverages the “prophecies” they planted to declare himself the messianic Lisan al-Gaib and take control of the Fremen. The Bene Gesserit routinely perform the Gom Jabbar test on people to determine whether they are “humans” who can be allowed to live or animals who must be put to death. The Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) explains the test in Part One after administering it to Paul: “Like sifting sand through a screen, we sift people. If you had been unable to control your impulses, like an animal, we could not let you live.” An “animal” who fails the test is stabbed in the neck with the Gom Jabbar, a poisoned needle – and Paul stabs Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) in this very spot, in the neck, before telling him, “You die like an animal.” Like the Bene Gesserit, Paul has arrogated to himself the authority to decide who is human and deserves to live, and who is an animal and deserves to die.

(3) Paul becomes like the Emperor in that he sacrifices his heart for power. The Emperor had Leto killed even though he loved him like a son; Paul marries the Emperor’s daughter Irulan (Florence Pugh) to consolidate his political power even though he loves Chani (Zendaya). In Part One, Paul told Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), “Do you know what the Great Houses fear most, Dr. Kynes? Exactly what has happened to us here: the Sardaukar coming and picking them off one by one. Only together can they stand a chance against the Imperium.” In the same conversation, Paul enlisted Dr. Kynes to support his bid for the throne: “The Emperor has no sons, and his daughters have yet to marry… As Emperor, Dr. Kynes, I could make a paradise of Arrakis with a wave of my hand.” At the end of Part Two, Paul does indeed become Emperor by marrying into the royal family – and it is he who, with the words “Lead them to paradise,” sends his own legions of unstoppable warriors against the Great Houses who are trying to stand together against him.

Each of the ways in which Paul becomes like one of his enemies by the end of Part Two twists one of the ways in which he had become like one of his teachers at the end of Part One.

(1) To some extent, Paul retains the “honorable protector” role he inherited from Duncan Idaho. At the beginning of their climactic duel, he gives Duncan’s salute to Feyd-Rautha – who is himself an honorable warrior who admires worthy opponents (“You fought well, Atreides”). Ultimately, Paul is spurred to defeat Feyd-Rautha in order to protect his beloved Chani after Feyd-Rautha threatens her. However, Paul’s good desire to protect his loved ones is twisted into a drive to seize power and preemptively attack anyone who might harm them, in the same way that Jessica manipulates the Fremen in the name of “protection” for her son. Whereas Duncan died self-sacrificially to save Paul, Paul sends off millions of Fremen to die in his name.

(2) By deeming the Harkonnens inhuman animals who deserve to be exterminated, Paul is not only taking on the perspective of the Bene Gesserit. He is also imitating the darker side of Gurney Halleck, who memorably told him while training him, “You’ve never met Harkonnens before. I have. They’re not human, they’re brutal!” Gurney is also the one who brings Paul to the atomic bombs with which he could exterminate vast swaths of human beings – and to reach the warheads, Paul must place his hand in a biometric scanner that visually recalls the Bene Gesserit Gom Jabbar test. Ironically, while the Bene Gesserit test was meant to prove its subject was a “human,” Gurney’s “test” makes Paul less human. In Part One, Gurney taught Paul to master himself and his moods, but in Part Two, Gurney and Paul are both mastered by their passion for revenge. By dehumanizing their enemies, they become less human themselves.

(3) At the beginning of Part Two, Jessica reminds Paul, “Your father didn’t believe in revenge.” Paul’s reply is terse: “Yeah, well, I do.” Paul first begins to chart a path away from Leto’s honorable ethos by seeking vengeance, and by the end of the film, he has twisted his father’s dream of an equitable alliance with the Fremen – one founded on dignity and mutual respect – into something much darker. After telling Jessica of his desire for revenge, he goes on: “I must sway the unbelievers. If they follow me, we can disrupt spice production. That’s the only way to get to the Emperor.” Paul preys on the Fremen’s desire for a savior so that he can use them to accomplish his own ends. Though he compels the Emperor to kiss Leto’s signet ring in the film’s closing moments, he is not following in Leto’s footsteps. In the very act of avenging his father, Paul becomes unlike him. Instead, he becomes like the man who killed him.

Movie, TV Show, Filmmakers and Film Studio WordPress Theme.

Press Enter / Return to begin your search or hit ESC to close

By signing in, you agree to our terms and conditions and our privacy policy.

By creating an account you agree to Noxe's our terms and conditions and privacy policy.


Mechanicsburg, PA  17050

Center Office

Mechanicsburg, PA, USA

All Right Reserved 2022 FilmFisher.com.