We knew we’d leave Denis Villeneuve’s Dune wanting more as soon as its title card included “Part One.” And it sure did, as the fate of House Atreides, Arrakis, and the entire universe still hangs in the balance. But forget the future of the franchise. There are plenty of questions we have about the film itself. The movie featured loads of world-building, lore, visions, and whispering. And with so many hard-to-understand terms, it wasn’t always easy to follow what was happening even when you heard everything. So we’re here to clear up the movie’s most important, most mysterious, and most confusing parts by looking at the Dune: Part One questions we have.
We’re doing that by sticking to what we saw and heard in the movie—and only this movie—as much as possible. We’re not using Frank Herbert’s book wherever we can help it. Nor are we looking at David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation. This Dune must stand on its own. It must sandwalk on its own too.
What Is Spice and Why Is It So Valuable?
Spice is a rare psychoactive chemical that makes interstellar space travel possible. Navigators of the Spacing Guild use it “to find safe paths between the stars,” as spice makes interstellar travel possible. That’s what makes it the “most valuable substance” in the whole universe. Giant harvesters pull spice (mostly at night) from the dangerous sands of Arrakis where it is found.
To the native Fremen though, spice is a “sacred hallucinogen which preserves life and brings enormous health benefits.” Long exposure to spice is what gives the Fremen their signature bright blue eyes. Spice is clearly more than just an interstellar fuel or even a drug though. It opened up something in Paul. Being close to spice resulted in him having powerful visions of his future.
Additional Reading: What Is “Spice” in Dune and Why Is It So Important?
What Are Sandworms?
Growing up to 400 meters long, the sandworms of Arrakis live deep below the sand and only come to the surface when they feel rhythmic movement. The Fremen also call them by another name entirely: Shai-Hulud. The planet’s natives also revere them, as Dr. Kynes said before her death to a sandworm she knows “only one master: Shai-Hulud.”
The Fremen developed a sandwalk, an uneven, non-rhythmic walk that more resembles a dance, to avoid attracting sandworms. They also use thumpers in the sand to redirect the enormous worms. But the film’s final scene showed the Fremen do not need to fear sandworms completely. Some have mastered the art of riding them like a horse. (A snake-like horse you can stand on.)
Additional Reading: What You Need to Know About Dune’s Sandworms
What Was the Emperor’s Plan?
Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides initially believed the Emperor gave House Atreides stewardship of Arrakis to start a war between Atreides and Harkonnen. He saw the plan has a clever attempt to weaken both Houses, which each posed a unique threat to the Emperor.
For 80 years House Harkonnen ruled Arrakis. It controlled the entire spice trade and became wealthier than the Emperor himself. However, this is not what frightened (the unseen) Emperor Shaddam IV of House Corrino the most. He feared the growing power and influence of House Atreides over the other Great Houses. “The Atreides voice is rising, and the Emperor is a jealous man,” said Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen. “A dangerous, jealous man.”
Dangerous and jealous enough to destroy an entire family and its allies. The Emperor took Arrakis from the Harkonnen to destroy House Atreides. First it got House Atreides away from its home world of Caladan, a world unlikely to fall to an attack. Even had the Emperor attacked Caladan the invasion would have been too public. Instead the Emperor put Atreides on an inhospitable world it knew little about and was not ready to defend. Air and sea power is not much help on a desert world.
Ultimately Duke Leto learned the Emperor conspired with the Harkonnen to wipe out House Atreides for good. All because the other Great Houses looked to Atreides for leadership. The Emperor was so concerned about destroying House Atreides he had his own Imperial army, the Sardaukar, aid Baron Harkonnen’s invasion of Arrakis to “strengthen” the Baron’s hand. Even though that move came with its own dangers. Before he died, Duke Leto said this type of invasion by the Emperor and his Sardaukar is exactly what the Great Houses fear. If word gets out—and is believed—the Sardaukar attacked Atreides, it will likely mean all-out war between the Imperium and the other Great Houses.
The film also suggests the Emperor’s deadly scheme might be partially driven by his fear of Paul Atreides. The Bene Gesserit’s Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Truthsayer to the Emperor himself, was aware of the Emperor’s plan. It’s possible the Emperor knows Paul might be the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach and wanted to kill him and all his supporters before Paul became too powerful. And while the Reverend Mother had Baron Harkonnen assure the safety of Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, the Baron knew the pair would be dangerous if allowed to live. He tried to keep his sacred promise not to harm them by exiling the pair to the sands of Arrakis, where the desert itself would kill them.
Additional Reading: Everything You Need to Know About Arrakis from Dune
Who Are the Bene Gesserit and What Do they Want?
The powerful group of women, referred to as witches by one character, have tremendous power—both their own innate abilities and politically. They can will others to do their bidding by speaking to them in an unnatural pitch; it’s known as the Voice. They also “steer the politics of the Imperium from the shadows.”
Dr. Yueh warned Paul about the group before Paul met with the Reverend Mother. “The Bene Gesserit say they serve the greater good,” Yueh told him. “But, meaning no disrespect to your Lady mother, they also serve their own designs.” Lady Jessica, a member of the Bene Gesserit, told her son Paul what those designs are.
“For thousands of years, we’ve been carefully crossing bloodlines to bring forth a mind powerful enough to breach space and time, past and future, who can help us into a better future. We think he’s very close now. Some believe he is here.”
Paul might be that powerful mind. Lady Jessica defied her order and had a son for that exact reason. But what does being The One entail?
Additional Reading: Who Are the Bene Gesserit in Dune?
What Is the Kwisatz Haderach?
For centuries the Bene Gesserit carefully worked to bring about the The One. This prophesied hero, the Kwisatz Haderach Lady Jessica spoke of, will be a son born to a member of the Bene Gesserit. He will also have “The Sight,” allowing him to see beyond himself and the present.
The Fremen have another name for this hero. They call him the Lisan al-Gaib, which means a “Voice from the Outer World.” This hero will be their Messiah. And while Paul exhibits many of the traits of the Lisan al-Gaib, it’s impossible to know just yet if the Fremen really believe this is their moment of revelation or if they have simply been conditioned to believe it is.
Additional Reading: What Is Dune’s Kwisatz Haderach?
What Did the Bene Gesserit Do on Arrakis Before Paul Arrived?
“On Arrakis we have done all we can for you. A path has been laid. Let’s hope he doesn’t squander it.”
The Reverend Mother and the Bene Gesserit told the Fremen all the ways the newly arriving Paul would match the prophecy of the Lisan al-Gaib. They preconditioned the Fremen to see Paul as their savior. And that’s exactly what happened. The cried out “Lisan al-Gaib” when he arrived. Shadout Mapes gave Lady Jessica her crysknife because she believed Paul was the Messiah. Stilgar said “I recognize you” when he met the Duke’s son. And, after the young Atreides instinctively knew how to wear his stillsuit, Dr. Kynes said, “He shall know your ways as though born to them.” The Fremen see the signs that point to Paul and the prophecy.
It’s not clear yet whether Paul actually is The One, or merely stands in that role because the Bene Gesserit made the Fremen think he is? The Reverend Mother herself isn’t sure. “Our plans are measured in centuries. We have other prospects if he fails his promise,” she said. Whether or not Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach or just a powerful child though, he clearly possesses some of the hero’s traits.
Additional Reading: Who Are the Fremen in Dune?
Why Don’t Paul’s Dreams and Visions Always Come True?
Paul’s dreams and visions are not always harbingers of the future to come. They’re visions of potential futures. Paths he might follow. Like how on a different path he would have been close friends with Jamis, who Paul killed in one-on-one combat at the end of the film. (Another vision showed Jamis killing Paul instead.)
The future is not written for any. But Paul can see what might be.
What Did Lady Jessica Whisper During Paul’s Test?
During one of the hardest scenes to hear, Lady Jessica stands guard outside the room where the Reverend Mother is testing Paul’s humanity. Here’s exactly what she says:
“I must not fear. I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. I will face my fear and I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
She repeats much of this mantra later in the film aboard an ornithopter, when her and Paul are caught in a dangerous sandstorm.
Additional Reading: What Is Dune’s Litany Against Fear?
Whose Voices Does Paul Hear?
It’s never explicitly said, but those voices Paul hears throughout the film sound like the Bene Gesserit. The voices sound unnatural, like when the Bene Gesserit command someone to do something.
Additional Reading: A Glossary of Important Terms in Dune
What Did the Spice Show Paul?
Paul has many dreams and visions that prove ominous, like Duncan Idaho’s death. As well as ones that serve as warnings, like when he saw Jamis killing him in combat. But spice causes him to have his two most important visions.
The first is his own death at the hands of Zendaya’s Chani. Only he somehow knew that vision did not portent his actual death—simply that she will give him a knife. This ultimately proved true in an unexpected way. Chani did give Paul a knife, the one he used to kill Jamis. And by murdering Jamis, Paul murdered the person he was. “When you take a life you take your own,” said a voice.
(That vision also made clear to Paul his mother is pregnant. Could that child end up being the Kwisatz Haderach if Paul is not The One?)
The second major vision Paul had took place inside the tent with his mother. This vision terrified Paul. It had him asking for someone to help him. Here’s the terrible future he saw:
“I see a holy war spreading across the universe like unquenchable fire. A warrior religion that waves the Atreides banner in my father’s name. Fanatical legions worshipping at the shrine of my father’s skull. A war in my name. Everyone shouting my name.”
This possibility haunted Paul so much he later suggested a diplomatic solution to his issues with the son-less Emperor. He would marry one of the Emperor’s daughters and eventually ascend to the throne. He even invoked the idea he is the Lisan al-Gaib to Dr. Kynes to justify his offer. But from what we’ve seen about how Paul’s visions can come true in unexpected ways, this might be how he ends up on a path where he leads a holy war across the universe.
Additional Reading: What Is Dune’s Mysterious Gom Jabbar Test
Who Died and Who Possibly Survived?
Piter de Vries
Dr. Liet Kynes
Implied Dead/Possibly Alive
Everyone from House Atreides, except Paul and Lady Jessica. That includes Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson). However, neither of those important characters died on screen, so it’s very possible both are still alive. Gurney’s heroic rush into battle ended so abruptly and without closure that his survival almost seems likely.
Probably Dead, But It’s Weird
Duncan Idaho seemingly died, only to rise up and kill more Sardaukar. Why would the fact he died a second time guarantee anything? Especially on a planet with magical space dust. And also: Jason Momoa was so good in the role. It certainly appeared as though Duncan Idaho definitively died. But that entire sequence was weird enough to make us question it.
Additional Reading: A Glossary of Every Important Character in Dune
How Much of the Book Does Dune: Part One Cover?
Frank Herbert’s original 1965 novel is split up into three “books.” Part One of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adapts almost exactly half the book, or Part One of the book, ending right near the middle of the second book in the novel.
Why Doesn’t Anyone Say, “The Spice Must Flow?”
No one says this in Herbert’s novel. This line is famous because of David Lynch’s 1984 big screen adaptation.
Will There Be a Part Two?
UPDATE: Yes! Legendary announced Part Two will come to theaters in October 2023. Which is great for a whole lot of reasons. But especially now that we understand Dune: Part One so much better.
Now we just need to know if the third film Denis Villeneuve wants will happen.
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