Dune: What Happens Next?

Denis Villeneuve’s first Dune film ends on a cliffhanger. So what could go down for Paul and Jessica in Dune Part Two?

Timothee Chalamet in Dune
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

This article contains massive Dune spoilers, as well as potential spoilers for Dune Part Two.

House Atreides has fallen. That’s where we leave things at the end of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (or Dune Part One as the film waits until the opening title card to reveal). Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto lies dead, murdered by his own hand with a poison capsule that also killed the top lieutenants of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), but which left the grotesque fiend still breathing. Meanwhile Leto’s heir, our dear Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), has gone to ground, disappearing into the desert with his mother, the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

The film thus ends on a cliffhanger: Mother and son have been tenuously accepted (at least partially) by the indigenous Fremen of the Arrakis desert. But they’re still a billion miles from their home world of Caladan as well as their wealth and power. The Padishah Emperor and the Harkonnens connived in secret to destroy their house and take back Arrakis from the Atreides clan, and with Dr. Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) also dead, the Imperium’s other great houses remain none the wiser. But at least Paul has met the veritable girl of his dreams, a Fremen named Chani (Zendaya).

It’s a decent tease for things to come. Yet it will also surely frustrate those who just want to know… what happens next? At the time of writing, Dune Part Two has not been greenlit by Warner Bros., nor has Villeneuve even penned a word of the screenplay—although he says the treatment is done, and presumably he is eager to move quickly through preproduction. So with a long wait ahead for Part Two, many moviegoers who haven’t read Frank Herbert’s 1965 source novel might be eager to know how this all plays out. Luckily, we have read the book, and will happily tell you what to expect from the second movie.

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With that said, here is one more reminder that everything beyond this point will contain spoilers not only for the film you have seen but also the one Villeneuve hopes to shoot next. You’ve been warned…

Paul and Jessica Become Fremen

The major early developments of Dune Part Two will likely center around Paul and Jessica assimilating into Fremen culture. Which is more metaphysical than it might sound. For starters, we are certain to quickly see Paul assume his Fremen identity as a member of the Sietch led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Even for those who’ve never read the book or seen David Lynch’s infamous 1984 adaptation of the same story, the name  “Muad’Dib” will likely sound familiar. That’s because Paul chooses the moniker Muad’Dib as a way to be accepted by the tribe during a pivotal scene in the story. In doing so, he also names himself after those Arrakeen desert mice you saw multiple times in the first Dune movie.

Honestly, it is surprising they did not include this scene in the first film because of the multiple close-ups of how Muad’Dib mice collect moisture from their own oversized ears to survive their planet’s blazing sun. It also would’ve been a nice stopping point for Paul’s journey in that film as he goes fully native. However, that is just one small aspect of how Muad’Dib is ultimately accepted as both a Fremen… and as the Lisan al-gaib, which is the Fremen term for messiah.

Indeed, much of the first act of Dune Part Two will surely deal with the Sietch’s initial skepticism toward the messianic qualities attributed to Paul, and by extension Jessica. Recall that Dune Part One already revealed that the concept of the Lisan al-gaib is a construct created by a member of the Bene Gesserit, who travelled to Arrakis centuries ago and conditioned the Fremen to believe a member of their cult and her children would one day come from the Outer World and provide prophetic visions that will lead them into paradise.

However, how that illusion was ingrained into the Fremen is somewhat more complex. Apparently, this ancient Bene Gesserit member who was forced to live on Arrakis hundreds of years ago not only promised a messiah, but made herself into a local holy figure, calling herself the Reverend Mother (technically the only Reverend Mother should be the one chosen by the leadership of the Bene Gesserit on the planet Wallach IX, where Jessica was trained in their mysterious arts). However, there’s always been a secret Reverend Mother among the Fremen ever since that first Bene Gesserit’s arrival. Generation after generation, these Fremen reverend mothers have passed down their knowledge, experiences, and even literal memories through unprocessed spice melange.

Yes, there is another more psychotropic version of the spice that Fremen have hidden from Offworlders. As it turns out, Spice is a byproduct—arguably even an excrement—from recently dead Sandworms. Hence why the Fremen refer to Sandworms as “makers.” If one consumes the spice in its un-purified form, it can be deadly, and the Fremen only trust their so-called Reverend Mother to transmute it into something worthy of consumption. Hence when Jessica is able to successfully transmute it, this leads to the current elderly Reverend Mother to accept Jessica as her successor… and leads to grand visions of Jessica’s own (more on that in a moment).

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It also allows her to share some of those visions among the Fremen, who when partaking of her purified spice can enter into a temporary, psychedelic hive mind. In other words, they get really high and have a mental orgy. This is significant for both Paul and Jessica in multiple ways…

Paul and Chani

In the case of Paul, it is entering this hive mind where he first truly “connects” with Chani, the Zendaya character who was more of a cipher in the first movie. Through this stronger dose of spice melange, he is able to more clearly take control of his visions of the future, understanding how his “dreams” are not of one future, but every possible future that might occur depending on his and the Fremen’s actions in the present. And in all of these futures, he and Chani are lovers.

While high on spice, he and Chani begin to tell each other of their pasts and form a permanent, intimate bond, becoming actual lovers. Paul sees his future with Chani, and the child they will one day conceive.

Reverend Mother Jessica and Daughter Alia

However, while these spice-triggering visions are a romantic ecstasy for Paul, they are something far more tragic for his mother. She is the one who consumes the spice at its most pure form, which allows her to communicate with every previous Reverend Mother who ever lived on Arrakis and has done the same. She can literally commune with the long dead past… but also the future which is yet to be.

In a tragic twist of fate, the unborn child still barely alive in her womb—recall Jessica learned she is only a few months pregnant in the first film—has her consciousness awakened. Jessica is bearing a daughter who she will name Alia, and this poor child-to-be experiences everything her mother has ever lived, and everything each Arrakeen reverend mother has ever lived before her, without ever having opened her eyes. It is unnatural, to put it mildly, and when Alia is born, the baby will have the self-awareness and maturity of a fully grown woman.

Her existence will create an eerie supernatural rift between the Fremen culture and Jessica and Alia. In fact, when the actual Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) reenters the story, she’ll be terrified of Alia as an abomination.

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The Harkonnens

Speaking of Reverend Mother Mohiam, her conspirators on the planet Giedi Prime will also be enduring their own growing pains. Part of this is by the Baron’s design. The old ugly Baron set-up his nephew Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) to fail when he told him to overtax and oppress the people of Arrakis. While the Baron does scheme to exponentially increase spice production for when the market’s Off-World reserves are sold, and to eradicate the Fremen whom he views as a small and dying nuisance, the Baron also wants the non-fremen population of Arrakis to hate his nephew.

That’s because the Baron has another nephew whom we have not met. He’s named Feyd-Rautha, and the Baron has a creepy infatuation with him. Feyd-Rautha is younger than Beast Rabban, and is in fact about as young as Paul. He is also as cunning, but because he’s been raised as the heir apparent by the Baron, Feyd-Rautha is cruel and malicious. He even enters into plots against his own old uncle. For sport, Feyd-Rautha also enters a gladiatorial arena to battle and poison captured Atreides men. Think Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Gladiator.

A poisoner and callow tactician, Feyd-Rautha is the future of House Harkonnen, and someone the Baron hopes to marry into the imperial royal family. For that reason, expect other new major characters from Offworld in the form of Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, Lord Protector of the Imperium, and his beautiful, scholarly daughter, Princess Irulan.

Raised from birth to secure the next ruler of the imperium through marriage, Irulan was also trained in the Bene Gesserit arts by Mohiam, who has her own designs for the princess… yet, much to the Reverend Mother’s surprise, both she and her pupil’s futures are wrapped up in the fate of Arrakis.

A Time Jump and a Revolution

When this writer first heard that Dune had been split into two parts, he had speculated the dividing line would be the Fremen spice melange orgy where Muad’Dib realizes his seemingly inescapable destiny, and the time jump that comes next. After all, there’s already a three to four year gap built into the story!

After Paul and Chani’s first actual kiss, we next see the self-proclaimed prophet as a full-grown man some years later. He’s now consolidating power by proving his final Fremen bonafides via piloting a Sandworm for the first time. In the interim, Paul and Chani have had their first child, a son, who is being raised largely by his mother and sister, both of whom act as Reverend Mothers in the Fremen’s more secret and sacred Sietch in what amounts to Arrakis’ South Pole (a desert so deep no ornithopter can fly there). It can only be reached by riding makers.

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It is interesting to imagine how Villeneuve might mark the passage of time since the movie will presumably begin where the first film left off—lest he chooses a framing device where many of the events mentioned above are shown as flashbacks. Perhaps Chalamet can grow a beard to perfect the messianic, Christlike appearance?

In any event, Paul becomes a skilled if bumbling Sandworm rider and convinces all the Fremen leaders, including the initially reluctant Stilgar, to follow him as their one true leader. And by consolidating their forces, he leads them into coordinated strikes against the Harkonnen forces like he’s Lawrence of Arabia. He even eventually wins the support of local smugglers, who are now being led by Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), a soldier-turned-pirate out of anger—Gurney refused to leave Arrakis after the Duke’s death. He’s waiting until he gets a chance to kill Bautista’s Beast Rabban with his own hands in retribution for Leto’s death. Although you can imagine his delight when he discovers his young lord is still alive and now technically the new Duke Atreides—even if he now has spice-blue eyes.

Muad’Dib’s leadership of the Fremen is so superb, in fact, that their insurgency causes the Harkonnen control of Arrakis to collapse—particularly after this mysterious desert prophet begins threatening to destroy all the Sandworms who make the spice, essentially robbing the whole universe of its most precious resource. (This idea partially comes to him after he breaks another Bene Gesserit tenet and becomes the first man to drink unfiltered spice and live).

A New Emperor Is Crowned

All of this culminates in a massive battle wherein no less than the Padishah Emperor and his entire court arrive on Arrakis to make an example out of this mysterious Muad’Dib, as well as humiliate the Baron Harkonnen who’s lost control of his prized planet. An epic battle worthy of Lord of the Rings should ensue, involving Fremen-ridden Sandworms, the greatest sandstorm in living memory on Arrakis, and even an honest-to-maker nuclear weapon being set off.

When the dust literally settles, scores will likewise be settled, young Alia will come face to face with the Baron, and Paul Muad’Dib will have a final confrontation with the Emperor, the Reverend Mother who nearly killed him when he was a boy, and even his doppelgänger in Feyd-Rautha. Without giving away all of the final conclusion, Paul will have choices to make about whether the “crusade” he dreams of—a future where his Fremen leave Arrakis to bend the whole imperium to Muad’Dib’s will by the end of the sword—will come to pass, and whether he will take Princess Irulan as a wife, making himself emperor. Given how blood-soaked his visions already are in the first movie, you can probably guess the answer…

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