This article contains spoilers for Dune: Part Two (but nothing not already hinted at in the trailer and first film).
“This prophecy is how they enslave us!” the ferocious Fremen warrior Chani (Zendaya) proclaims in the new trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two. And though we do not know everyone she declares this to, it’s easy to imagine even the powerful Paul “Muad’Dib” Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is wincing.
“It’s not a prophecy,” he confesses to his lover. “It’s a story.”
This tantalizing moment in the second trailer (as well as a few others) suggests the legend that will turn Paul into the Muad’Dib messiah is going to be considered from more than just the vantage of House Atreides in Dune’s much anticipated sequel. And the implications could be immense.
The prophecy in question is something that was hinted at already in 2021’s Dune: Part One. Near the beginning of that film, Paul’s mother, the concubine and Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is informed by her coven’s matriarch that “on Arrakis, we have done all we can for you. A path has been laid. Let us hope he doesn’t squander it.” In this fall’s second half of the story, we find out exactly what that path leads to though…
As is gleaned in the latest Dune: Part Two trailer, Paul takes on an almost godlike image in the eyes of the Fremen, who worship him by the millions. It’s a future that Paul already has seen in his visions in Part One, and which he claims he wants to reject. However, we think he doth protest too much. Soon enough, he and Jessica will be welcomed into the Fremen desert culture, not least of all because (SPOILER FROM THE BOOK) a Bene Gesserit space-witch landed on Arrakis centuries ago and indoctrinated the local population into a new religion. She convinced them a messiah will one day come from the stars and that he’ll be the son of another Bene Gesserit.
This will be the Lisan al Gaib, an Off-Worlder prophet who will deliver them from toil, and Arrakis will become a green paradise. It is revealed in both Jessica and Paul’s internal thoughts that this is a form of imperial control the Bene Gesserit have implemented on countless worlds and in countless repressed cultures, should the need arise down the road for a compliant population.
Yet this scheme took an especially strong root on Arrakis due to the extreme hardships faced by those living on a desert planet (and among other reasons we won’t spoil). It thus positions Paul into finding a culture ready to mobilize into a personal army. In fact, they soon become eager to perform an intergalactic jihad in Paul’s name (they literally call it a “jihad” in the book).
While Paul struggles with the fact his messianic image and power is derived from a lie, he never outright fully confesses the manipulation to Chani or his closest Fremen friend and adviser, Stilgar (Javier Bardem). But in the new trailer, we see a bleeding and wide-eyed Stilgar tell Muad’Dib, “I don’t care what you believe, I believe!” It would seem for at least a handful of Fremen characters, the truth of what Jessica calls “something to hope for” will be revealed, although how they react may differ drastically from the page.
This is indeed a departure from the novels, because while Paul has mixed feelings about his messianic status on Arrakis, the reader is left to brood on them with the so-called Lisan al Gaib as he watches the full impact of his holy war take shape. With that said, writer-director Villeneuve has already shown a willingness to interrogate this story as well as broaden it beyond the perspective of just Paul Atreides and his family, which initially arrived on Arrakis to continue a literal colonization project.
Consider that in the first film, Dune begins not with Princess Irulan passively explaining how the events of the story we’re about to watch unfold, as if she’s writing intergalactic scripture. Instead the film begins from Chani’s perspective as she and her fellow Fremen practice guerrilla tactics against House Harrkonnen’s spice-mining operations. At the end of the prologue, she says, “Who will our next oppressors be?”
From the outset, Villeneuve has shown an interest in refocusing this story at least partially from the perspective of the oppressors to those who are oppressed. And the new trailer suggests that will expand greatly if Fremen leaders learn from the messiah’s mouth that their entire religion is centered around a lie that has, as Chani realizes in horror, “enslaved” them. And if the truth comes out, could Villeneuve be departing further from Frank Herbert’s novels?
Perhaps, but another way of looking at it is that by the time Villeneuve gets around to his already announced intention to adapt Dune: Messiah (the second novel in the series), the audience will have a much clearer idea that this isn’t the story of a hero saving the galaxy. In fact, it could turn out to be quite the contrary…
Dune: Part Two opens Nov. 3.