The Second Dune

Dune offers a messianic cinema experience, robed in provocative complexity.

By Jacob Feiser


This article contains spoilers for Dune: Part Two.

Some months ago, I encouraged this readership to read Dune and watch Dune: Part One (2021). I waxed about the complex anthropology and the prominence of religion in the book and the first film, and about how the first part was one of the most faithful adaptations of a book I have ever seen. All of this was at the forefront of my mind when I went to see Dune: Part Two opening night. And writing this review twelve hours after leaving the theatre, I admit that I am still processing the film – as I messaged a friend afterwards who was seeing it at the same time, “Wow.”



First, my critiques. Part Two deviated significantly from the book, most noticeably by condensing events of years into months and the alteration or absence of some characters. Such is forgivable, given the sheer volume of material in Part Two, but the condensation does water down the grotesque villain, the sociopathic Feyd-Rautha. Additionally, certain characters on the screen deviated rather starkly from the source material, although these deviations added a refreshing degree of unpredictability to the adaptation. Other critics may have found the film sterile, but the film navigates well the Scylla and Charybdis of film adaptions: follow too closely to the book, and there can be no artistic development; deviate too significantly and the integrity of the story (and the enjoyment of fans) is imperiled.

The only real issue I took with the film – after first viewing – was that resonant sound mixing made dialogue in certain scenes difficult to understand. This problem, however, paralleled issues with seeing Part One in theatres, and I expect the issue to be fixed by home viewing (so long as you do not have a subwoofer). 


Cinematic Masterclass

But what were the glories of this film? In the week preceding the film’s release, I had read reviews comparing the battle scenes to the Lord of the Rings franchise, and the cohesivity to the second Star Wars film, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. I can assure you, these are accurate comparisons. I have a professor who says that a good battle scene covers over a multitude of other issues in a film; the various fighting sequences of this film more than make up for any of my critiques of the film.

The cinematography and visuals of this film are august and awesome, and the actual storytelling is complemented by the excellent use of implication and imagination –the juxtaposition of setting and characters, all unified in religious fervor, is reason enough for me to return to theatres. The scoring of the film by Hans Zimmer only accentuates the stunning display.


Just Weird Enough

Thankfully, the visual storytelling is done appropriately, and nothing risqué is put in front of the audience. When much film today is saturated in sensuality, I was grateful that the film did not overemphasize certain undertones of the book. Truly, despite a focus on holy war and political retribution, the film keeps its display of violence muted and coordinated. I enjoyed each moment without being desensitized. The character development throughout the film is skillful and compelling, although certainly hurried at times. And the strangeness of the egalitarian Fremen (remember, Space Islam) comes to the forefront in several critical scenes.

Certainly, this film was even weirder at times than the first, but the book is weird, too. (The books get weirder as they go on.) The alien nature of many scenes and the cultic displays of religion are supposed to evoke discomfort in the viewer, and Part Two becomes all the more foreign and transcendent. 



The virtues of the film were equally worthwhile, yet far more subtle. There are several scenes where the mother of Paul Atreides, Lady Jessica, speaks with her daughter in utero. These scenes often consider a shot of the embryonic girl. Each scene is medically accurate for the stage of development, presented in a very Kubrick-esque way. And these scenes, as strange as they are, give the unborn voice. I doubt this was the intent behind the scenes, but nonetheless, that’s what is accomplished. An unborn girl is a distinct and valued character in a major motion picture. This film offers a distinctly pro-life message, and for that Christians should be grateful. 


Revisiting Religion

While Part One gave a far more full picture of religion, Part Two presents something more ambiguous. There are several scenes where Paul Atreides himself denies being the mahdi – the Fremen messiah – and rejects the religious prophecies that Lady Jessica exploits in their favor. Yet each move he makes confirms among the religious Fremen that he is their messiah, as he fulfills prophecy after prophecy concerning the mahdi. “As [it] written” is a common phrase for the second third of the film. 

Yet it remains very unclear to the audience if Paul is the Fremen messiah. Are the prophecies being fulfilled? Or do the Fremen see what they wish to see in some coincidence? It is clear that these prophecies and superstitions are the work of political agents. Religion is a tool used to subjugate and pacify. Yet, that doesn’t make those prophecies or religious beliefs untrue. Religion is something real in the film. Devotion motivates characters to resist tyranny and commit acts of terrorism, reminiscent of the Mujahideen.


The Protagonist

The center of the tragedy is protagonist Paul Atreides. That same college professor once expressed how he likes his film characters ambiguous, and there is no more ambiguous or tragic than the Paul Atreides of Dune: Part Two. Every single step he takes appears logical and warranted. And then you see where his character ends up. 


Religion is a deadly thing in Dune, and many might take this as a critique against religious belief; recognizing the danger in something, however, is not a critique of that thing. I see it instead as further recognizing the importance and reality of faith. One of the most compelling scenes occurs when Atreides enters the war council of the Fremen. He runs and hides from his destiny as the mahdi, but destiny still finds a way to make him the Fremen messiah. The skeptics dwindle to all but one, and the film carefully feeds the audience’s uneasiness with Paul’s new religious status. 


In Conclusion

Dune: Part Two is not a perfect film, yet it is provocatively complex. For those not familiar with the source material, it can be confusing and chaotic. Indeed, much of it – especially the call for holy war – is highly disturbing in the post-9/11 context. Yet I could not help but feel the messianic power of the film: watching Part Two was a religious experience, and well worth the price of admission. 


About the Author

Jacob S. Feiser is a research fellow for the Institute for Faith & Freedom. He is a senior political science major with minors in Biblical and religious studies, economics, and history from Havertown, PA. On campus, Jacob is the executive vice president of academic affairs for the Student Government Association. He is the executive content editor for the Grove City College Journal of Law and Public Policy. Further, he is a ranking member of the Student-Faculty Review Committee. He also competes for Grove City College on the Classical Fencing team.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. They do not necessarily reflect those of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.