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Dune: Part Two (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

Three years after Dune: Part One, audiences can finally be transported back to the spice-infused sands of Arrakis. As with the first entry, Dune: Part Two makes two facts clear: Dune is a difficult story to translate into film, and Denis Villeneuve is absolutely the right man for the job. Like a Fremen warrior riding a gigantic sandworm, Villeneuve somehow manages to harness the unwieldy story and turn it into something exciting and immersive. Dune: Part Two is a triumphant, sweeping sci-fi spectacle; a visually impressive and thematically complicated story about the interplay between faith, religion, and power. Although not without some elements for Christians to carefully consider, the film is sure to please audiences looking for exciting spectacle on an epic scale.     

In many ways, author Frank Herbert attempted to subvert the classic storytelling tropes that others like George Lucas would later embrace. What if the “Chosen One” resisted the call, not because he thought himself unworthy but because he believed himself to be too powerful? What if the rebellion to overthrow the Empire led to a bloody holy war rather than lasting peace? What if the wise, mystical guardians and mentors were the least trustworthy? Or, what might be of most interest to Christian viewers, what if the coming of a prophesized “messiah” was a moment to dread rather than celebrate? Thus, like a double-sided Crysknife, the aspects of the story that make it unique and interesting can also make it less accessible.         

Director Denis Villeneuve does a lot of heavy lifting in translating the complicated story into a crowd-pleasing cinematic event. The film looks superb. The scope and spectacle make it the epitome of a Hollywood blockbuster, a film that demands to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. During the climactic third act, which is filled with clashing armies, giant sandworms, and exploding nuclear warheads, I glanced around the theater to see several people literally sitting forward in their seat. I lost count of the number of epic slow-motion shots of Paul Atreides walking with his cape blowing in the wind as Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score plays in the background. Is it overkill? Maybe, but man…it’s just so cool. And I really need to buy myself a cape.  

The quality craftsmanship is evident in other areas as well. For example, in an inspired creative decision, the home planet of House Harkonnen (the pale, bald rivals of House Atreides) is rendered in black and white, effectively giving it an otherworldly aura. The film clocks in with a nearly three-hour runtime. But despite occasionally feeling disjointed (particularly in the first act), it never drags. Also, despite limited screentime, the new villain Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (played by Austin Butler) is magnetic, a worthy addition to a cast brimming with talent.    

Despite the film’s successes, some difficulties from the novel carry over. One challenge is that the protagonist is increasingly unrelatable and almost inhuman. Paul Atreides is more of an idea than a person. Not every protagonist must be an “aw, shucks” farmer with a heart of gold, and Paul’s journey from human to a symbol is a central component of the story. But the film doesn’t always push beyond the conceptual to the personal. The audience views Paul’s struggles at a distance through the eyes of others rather than from Paul’s own perspective.    

Likewise, Lady Jessica (played by the always great Rebecca Ferguson) is a constant presence who is mysteriously pulling strings and maneuvering, but (thanks to drinking some blue juice from a sandworm) she is so mystical and detached from regular human emotion that she almost transcends character depth. Paul wants revenge and Jessica (presumably) wants power. Pursuing those objectives becomes their sole motivation, and their story arcs lack the internal conflict that would make their journeys more compelling. As with the book, the story ends abruptly, paving the way for an inevitable Dune: Part Three.  

Overall, I had similar feelings toward Dune: Part Two as I did to Herbert’s original novel. I was captivated by the immersive worldbuilding and concepts, but I was left a little cold by the characters. Despite these issues, this adaptation is as good as is feasible. Villeneuve infuses the narrative with incredible spectacle and thrilling action, while remaining true to the novel’s dense worldbuilding and philosophical ideas. As with the first film—and the source material—Christians will likely be divided regarding the religious themes and implications (see more below). But as entertainment, Dune: Part Two is a triumph. In an era of skepticism surrounding the long-term viability of the movie theater industry, this film is a testament to the power and potential of cinema. 

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Religion, Faith, & Power       

Even more so than the first film, Dune: Part Two is filled with enough talk of faith, prayer, and messiahs to make even today’s faith-based films blush. But the story is far from a cozy evangelical sermon. Religion is central to Dune and often cast in a negative light. Even so, I think it is too simplistic to decry it as “anti-Christian” or to attempt one-to-one correlations (Paul Atreides = Jesus; the Bene Gesserit missionaries = Christians; religion is bad in the story = Christianity is bad, etc.).   

In an interview, Herbert once stated, “What I’m saying in my books boils down to this: Mine religion for what is good and avoid what is deleterious. Don’t condemn people who need it. Be very careful when that need becomes fanatical.” In other words, the themes explored in Dune are less of an assault on religion than a cautionary tale underscoring the danger of exploiting religion for power.   

Dune is about power—who truly has the power, and what does it take to gain it? Does power come from armies and political titles or from faith and charismatic leaders? Do the Fremen have the power of numbers and arms, or do Paul and Jessica hold the true power due to their influence? The Bene Gesserit debate who to support as their puppet messiah based not on character but on ease of control.   

A quote from the book gets reworked in the film: “The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it.” Indeed, to demonstrate his ultimate control over the planet of Arrakis and its valuable spice, Paul threatens to destroy the spice fields with nuclear weapons. Yet, the relationship between power and control is circular; power may lead to control, but one must first gain control to wield power.   

Early in the film, a skeptical Chani says, “If you want to control people? Tell them a messiah will come.” In an interesting twist, the prophecies used to stir up allegiance from the Fremen are fabrications spread by Bene Gesserit missionaries over many years. “It’s not true,” Paul says, “It’s just a story you keep telling.” This invented gospel preys on people’s primal need to worship and believe. Regarding the southern region of the planet where the “fundamentalist” Fremen live, it is said, “Nothing can live there without faith.” One of these fundamentalists declares that he doesn’t even care if Paul believes himself to be the messiah, saying “I believe it.”   

In the Bible, Paul declares that if Christ were not truly resurrected, then his faith was vain, and Christians were fools who should be pitied most of all people (1 Cor. 15). According to the Bible, a faith built on a false gospel is an empty and meaningless pursuit. Conversely, in Dune, faith built on a lie can be used as a tool to gain power. In perhaps the most tragic line in the film, Paul laments that the Fremen are no longer friends but merely “followers.” It is unclear what Paul ultimately comes to believe of himself, but the potential power to be wielded as the Messiah is intoxicating.  

At a fundamental level, a biblical worldview and Dune diverge in significant ways. Christianity is a true gospel, whereas the prophecies in Dune are false (both in-story and as the product of an imaginative sci-fi tale). Yet Christians can share in Dune’s caution against abusing faith and fanaticism. We need look no further than the realm of politics to see how religion can be wielded as a pathway to influence and power, regardless of whether the underlying faith is sincere.   

Dune offers a mostly pessimistic view of religion and exposes the dangers of faith built on falsehoods. Christians can be more hopeful, knowing our faith is built on truth and that Jesus calls us to a life of submission rather than dominance. Dune reminds Christians that true power can be found only in a God who transcends this world.  

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1 Comment

  • by Dennis Gannon
    Posted March 5, 2024 12:18 am 0Likes

    Instead of other countries being good or bad, Sci Fi writers use other planets so as to not offend fellow countries on Earth. Jesus has a kingdom, but not forwarded by force like the Holy Roman Empire tried to do since Constantine. Still the movie touches a nerve on the need for cleansing of Universe in the movie (really meaning Earth). Today there is only lying by the media, politicians, doctors, most churches, that a hunger to get rid of them all is very tempting. Hence the movie is a hit, and the anticipated Holy War strikes a strong chord here on Earth.

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