The following post contains SPOILERS for Dune — the movie as well as the portions of the original novel that weren’t adapted to the film.
“This is only the beginning.”
That’s the slightly cheeky final line of dialogue in Dune — or, as the onscreen title card reads, Dune: Part One. If you read interviews with director Denis Villeneuve, the fact that this isn’t the complete story as told in Frank Herbert’s landmark science-fiction novel isn’t necessarily a secret. But if you’re the sort of viewer who likes to go into a movie cold, you probably would have no idea you’re only getting half the story until the final credits roll. While the onscreen title in the actual film is Dune: Part One, the trailers and posters and other marketing materials all refer to it simply as Dune.
The film doesn’t so much end as it stops. As those final spoken words attest, Villeneuve planned this approach all along. Believing that Herbert’s book was too dense and epic to fit into a single feature, he designed his Dune adaptation as two films that would tell a single story. But Warner Bros. decided not to film both halves simultaneously in a single production, the way, for example, Marvel shot Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame back-to-back with the same cast and crew. Instead, Warners opted to produce just Part One; if this film is successful, then they’ll reconvene everyone and film Part Two.
As a result, no one — not even Denis Villeneuve — can say definitively what happens next to Paul Atreides and his allies on the dessert planet of Arrakis. Still, Villeneuve’s first Dune hews closely to the plot of the first half of Herbert’s Dune. Which means that Part Two will likely do the same. So the book should give at least a decent preview of what will follow in the next movie, if it happens.
Villeneuve’s Dune (Part One) ends with Paul (Timothee Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) venturing into the Arrakis dessert with members of the Fremen, the planet’s native people. Paul is the heir to the powerful House Atreides, who at the start of the film are made the new rulers of Arrakis, home to the substance called “spice” that is essential to faster than light space travel, and thus the most valuable commodity in the universe. Arrakis’ former rulers, House Harkonnen, return to the planet with an army and destroy the Atreides compound and most of its soldiers, including Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac).
Before his death, Leto was convinced that an alliance with the Fremen was vital to Atreides’ success on Arrakis. And so at the end of the film, Paul walks off with the Fremen, after first defeating one of their warriors in a duel. Their ranks include their leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and Chani (Zendaya), a young woman who Paul has seen repeatedly in his prophetic dreams.
Again, what comes next in Dune: Part Two could differ from its Herbert’s concepts, perhaps in large ways. But in the source material, Paul spends the next several years living among the Fremen. Paul and Chani have a son, named Leto II, while Jessica becomes a full Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit order (that’s the mysterious matriarchal group who influence events in the world of Dune, mostly represented in this film by Charlotte Rampling’s Gaius Helen Mohiam). Jessica also turns out to be the daughter of the evil Baron Harkonnen.
The Fremen believe Paul is the “Lisan al-Gaib,” a messianic figure who will free them from oppression. Paul is accepted into the Fremen, and takes the name Paul Muad’Dib, then begins leading the Fremen in strikes against House Harkonnen, who have retaken control of Arrakis. Paul and Jessica are also reunited with Gurney (Josh Brolin), who survived the destruction of House Atreides,
Paul expands his consciousness through the use of Arrakis’ various mystical substances; doing so confirms that he is the “Kwisatz Haderach” superbeing that the Bene Gesserit have been trying to create for centuries. He also learns to ride the planet’s giant sandworms — something we see other Fremen doing in the final moments of Dune: Part One — and then defeats the Harkonnen and Imperial armies with his own forces, although his son Leto II is killed during the war.
Paul confronts the Emperor, and engages in a duel with Baron Harkonnen’s nephew Feyd-Rautha, a character who doesn’t appear onscreen in Villeneuve’s Dune. (In David Lynch’s Dune, he was the character played by Sting in a very silly, very pointy bathing suit.) Paul is ultimately victorious and negotiates with the Emperor to depose him and take his place in exchange for marrying his daughter, Princess Irulan. (Neither the Emperor or Irulan are in 2021’s Dune either; in Lynch’s Dune, they were played by Jose Ferrer and Virginia Madsen, respectively.)
Essentially, all of Paul’s destined greatness comes to pass — although whether that is a good or bad thing for Arrakis and the universe at large is very much a matter of debate, and something explored at length in Herbert’s subsequent Dune sequels. But let’s see if Villeneuve gets to adapt the rest of the first Dune before we discuss those. His film is now in theaters, and available on HBO Max. If you like it, and you want Villeneuve to complete the story, make sure you tell one or two million of your closest friends about it.
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The new adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel stars Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.