Frank Herbert’s Dune presents a dense world full of political plotting and backstabbing. The Bene Gesserit puppeteer much of that from the shadows, laying out plans that stretch across centuries. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One brought that to the screen by showing the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam discussing it in plain text with Lady Jessica. The Reverend Mother scolded Jessica for straying from the Bene Gesserit’s plan to bear Duke Leto Atreides a daughter. Jessica chose to have a son, prompting the Reverend Mother to say, “You were told to bear only daughters, but you and your pride thought you could produce the Kwisatz Haderach.”
The term “Kwisatz Haderach” comes up throughout the film in regards to Paul Atreides. Here’s everything you need to know about the Kwisatz Haderach. And yes, it’s spoiler-free.
What Is a Kwisatz Haderach?
Essentially, the Kwisatz Haderach is a messiah and superbeing. In the Dune universe, Kwisatz Haderach is an old Chakobsa term that translates to “shortening of the way.” The Kwisatz Haderach must be male. The Bene Gesserit have been carving the way for the mythical figure for centuries through selective breeding—10,000 years of breeding to be precise. Their plan was to breed the daughter of Duke Leto Atreides to a Harkonnen male (specifically Feyd-Rautha, Baron Harkonnen’s nephew) to create the Kwisatz Haderach and unite the houses. Hence why the Reverend Mother didn’t seem thrilled about Lady Jessica birthing a son instead and potentially bringing the messiah to the universe a generation too early.
What Is the Kwisatz Haderach’s Purpose?
The Kwisatz Haderach will help the Bene Gesserit access more knowledge and power. That’s it in a sentence anyway. The Bene Gesserit can use spice melange to access genetic memory—but only maternally. Since Bene Gesserit, who are always female, only have X chromosomes, they can access strictly X chromosome memories. These memories of their ancestors help guide their machinations across the Dune universe.
But a male Kwisatz Haderach could tap into maternal and paternal genetic memories. He could access unprecedented amounts of information and possess wildly powerful mental powers. And then the Bene Gesserit would, of course, have control over this male and could use him to look into the future, among other things. Given that they spent so many thousands of years seeking to create the Kwisatz Haderach, the figure clearly has a lot of importance.
Is Paul Atreides the Kwisatz Haderach?
Warner Bros./ Legendary
Paul Atreides sure seems to be the Kwisatz Haderach. He shows enough promise that the Reverend Mother visits Caladan to administer the test of the gom jabbar. In the books, that happens when Paul is 15. Dune: Part One doesn’t call out Paul’s age, but he appears a bit older. The point is: Paul showed signs of being the Bene Gesserit’s messiah at a young age. He’s having visions, though some of the visions only show possible futures rather than what will absolutely come to pass. Paul certainly seems to know things he shouldn’t know, too—like how to perfectly put on a Fremen stillsuit.
However, the Reverend Mother tells Jessica they have “other prospects” besides Paul. Whether this is true or is further Bene Gesserit manipulation remains to be seen.
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Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, available now. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.