“The test is simple. Remove your hand from the box and you die.”
“What’s in the box?”
The Gom Jabbar Test for Humanity is a major aspect of Frank Herbert’s Dune. So major, the book opens with the test and it is the main narration behind the trailer for the new Denis Villeneuve film adaptation. Who is that mysterious, sheathed woman putting Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) through hell and what does she want?
Her test is of the utmost importance. It’s a test that proves someone’s humanity. And not just their humanity, but their stamina, their willpower, and their abilities. It’s a test that tells us much about this unique young man and his place in this story.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Gom Jabbar Test for Humanity from Dune.
What is the gom jabbar?
In Dune lore, the gom jabbar is a long needle, also known as “the high-handed enemy,” laced with a powerful poison called meta-cyanide. All noble houses keep a gom jabbar. They are also instruments used by the Bene Gesserit, a mysterious matriarchal order who’ve achieved superhuman abilities through fierce mental and physical conditioning and with the use of spice melange—a powerful drug that sharpens these abilities.
What is the Gom Jabbar Test for Humanity?
All women who enter the Bene Gesserit order must take the Gom Jabbar Test for Humanity. The test is administered by holding the poisoned needle to an individual’s neck while they’re inflicted with some form of pain. The goal of the test is to see if a person’s awareness is stronger than their instincts. The woman in the trailer testing Paul is a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother named Gaius Helen Mohiam ( played by Charlotte Rampling), and she puts it simply: “An animal caught in a trap will gnaw off his own leg to escape. What will you do?”
The test is intended for the Bene Gesserit women and very rarely given to men. So why does Paul take this test and what purpose does it serve?
Why does Gaius Helen Mohiam make Paul take the test?
The Bene Gesserit condition their bodies so intensely that they are able to control the sex of their babies in utero. This is a function of a selective breeding program, which they established centuries ago in the hopes of one day uniting the warring House Atreides and House Harkonnen families. Through their prescience and planning, they determined that Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) would become the concubine of Duke Leto I Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and birth their daughter—a daughter whose son would be something known as the Kwisatz Haderach, who would marry a Harkonnen daughter. The Kwisatz Haderach would essentially be a superhuman; the result of thousands of years of calculated breeding that yielded a man with preternatural powers and immense prescient abilities.
But Lady Jessica wound up falling hard for Duke Leto, who wanted a male heir. So she betrayed her orders and gave birth to a son, Paul. Because Paul was never meant to exist in the form he does, the Bene Gesserit are understandably mystified by him. Did the breeding program yield a powerful, gifted person, or is Paul weak? Will Paul use his powers for good? Or does he have the capacity for great evil?
That’s why Gaius Helen Mohiam gives Paul the Gom Jabbar Test for Humanity; to discern his potential abilities and see if these unique circumstance accidentally created the Kwisatz Haderach a generation early. So she holds the needle to his neck, places his hand in a nerve-induction box, and tortures him.
Can he control his pain enough to conquer his animal instincts? Will he prove his worth—or will he fail the test? If you haven’t read the book, you’ll find out what happens when Dune hits theaters on December 18.
Click here for more of Nerdist‘s Dune coverage, including trailer breakdowns, explainers, and more!
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures
Editor’s note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks