Podcast / The Time of Monsters / Mar 10, 2024

Dune and the Allegories of Empire

“Dune” and the Allegories of Empire

On this episode of The Time of Monsters, David Klion on the science fiction epic with real world echoes.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

“Dune” and the Allegories of Empire | The Time of Monsters with Jeet Heer
byThe Nation Magazine

On this episode of The Time of Monsters, David Klion and Jeet Heer on Dune: Part Two, the science fiction epic with real world echoes.

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(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two (the sequel to his 2021 Dune) is the big Hollywood blockbuster of the moment and perhaps the year. Although it’s a science fiction epic set 10,000 years in the future, it has many contemporary echoes that are all he more striking because it is based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel and was made before the outbreak of the current onslaught in Gaza. The film tells the story of a galactic empire that depends on resource extraction from a desert hinterland, the site of an uprising from the native population. This anti-colonial revolution is met with a ferocious counterinsurgency and hijacked by a religious fundamentalist crusade.

David Klion reviewed Dune: Part Two for The New Republic, where he took up the faithfulness of the two film adaptations to Herbert’s novel. David is someone I love talking to Dune about. We’ve taken up the movies in two earlier podcasts, available here and here.

In this latest iteration of our ongoing Dune conversations, we take up the Cold War origins of the novel, its remarkable prescience about global geopolitics and the Middle East, and the influence of French Canadian history on director Villeneuve, among many other matters.

We also take up the issue of the film’s alleged de-Arabization of the story, a matter raised by many critics, including Roxana Hadadi in Vulture (in what I think is one of the most insightful reviews of the movie).

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Jeet Heer: The old world is dying. The new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters. With all the sort of dire news in the world, um, I thought I would, um, need a little relief. So I went to the movie theater and, uh, I watched, um, uh, Big Blossom. Blackbuster Hollywood movie, uh, really fun, um, about a daughtering emperor whose regime depends on resource extraction from a desert hinterland.

Um, and in that desert hinterland, uh, uh, co our anti colonial revolution breaks out and the emperor, um, although he wants to keep his hands clean, uh, co uh, you know, not very Uh, covertly supports a brutal counterinsurgency. Uh, and this is, of course, Dune, uh, which is the most popular movie, uh, uh, of the moment.

Uh, and perhaps a reminder that even as you go to the movie theater, you cannot escape the time of monsters. The, the monsters in the movie are, of course, sandworms and the evil heroic, um, uh, uh, family, uh, the evil great houses, uh, and perhaps even the, um, anti hero. Um, uh, but These monsters are not dissimilar to some of the monsters that we see around us.

So, uh, to talk about Dune, which is something I always love to do, I’m very happy to have on, uh, David Cleon, who reviewed the movie, um, for the, uh, New Republic, and who, um, I’ve done actually several podcasts now, uh, Uh, about Dune. We did a podcast before the, um, uh, first part of Dune came out and then we talked about the movie, um, after the first movie when it came out and we’re talking about it again.

Uh, I think it’s fair to say, uh, David, uh, in addition to being an excellent writer on politics and culture, is a Dune super fan. Um, well, I’ll ask him how many times he’s read the novel, uh, and, and, uh, uh, and then we, uh, we will talk a little bit about the movie, um, Uh, with um, uh, this might not be our final conversation about it either.

I feel like there’s a lot more to say about Dune and I’m going to figure out a way to um, have a, you know, future conversations. But, uh, for now, um, yeah, I want to hit on some of the themes of the relationship. Uh, the, uh, uh, movie to contemporary politics, which, uh, uh, uh, David, um, uh, Hicks on in his review.

Uh, so, uh, yeah, David, how, how many times have you read

David Klion: Dune? Um, I don’t have an exact count, but I’m gonna say a dozen or so for the first book. Um, and probably, uh, three or so for the other Frank Herbert novels. I do not consider the non Frank Herbert novels canon. I read the very first one when it came out and that was enough for me.

Um, but it gave me the flavor. I’ve sometimes checked like, you know, fan wiki sites and stuff to get like a summary of what the like major plot points are of the expanded universe. And that makes me First of all, they’re the kind of books where that’s all you need. It’s not like you’re missing the literary style or anything.

But I also, um, I I do not believe, and I don’t think I can be sued for saying this, I do not believe Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Andersen’s claim that they have the You know, lost outlines of, of if it’s true, they should prove it, especially now that they’ve written the books just to show us, show us the source material that that allegedly came from Frank Herbert.

Um, I think it’s all lies. I think we’ll never know what Frank Herbert would have done with the seventh book. Um, they’ve clearly milked it for a lot of cash. However, they do have producer credits on the Denis Villeneuve movies, uh, Brian Herbert and, or they have some kind of, They’re in the credits somehow.

I mean, it’s Brian Herbert Controls the Estate, so they couldn’t make these movies without him. Um, and I think Kevin J. Anderson consulted too, I think I saw that in the credits. And I don’t know what they actually did, if that’s just honorary, but I will say, they certainly didn’t stop Villeneuve from creating, you know, Masterpieces out of the source material.

So I’ll credit them with that.

Jeet Heer: Yeah. Yeah. I know. I mean, Brian Herbert, uh, I think your feelings about the sort of, uh, many sequels and prequels that he’s, uh, written in Covertin are, uh, part of a general consensus. Uh, I will say that one valuable one that he did, uh, right was actually the, uh, sort of biography of his father, Grimmer of Dune, um, uh, which I think is actually a useful book, uh, uh, which, um, really clarifies that, uh, you know, the author, Frank Herbert, very interesting person coming out of, like, a whole bunch of, uh, influences, uh, that, you know, one doesn’t need to say, They don’t make Frank Herbert’s anymore.

And, uh, among the influences, you know, like I’ll mention the sort of, you know, like, uh, Catholic, um, upbringing. Uh, and I gotta say the nuns did a number on this guy, right? Uh, like the, the whole Benedict Jesuit sisterhood is a kind of, you know, uh, nightmare vision of, uh, what it’s like to be raised by nuns in a, in a church.

Catholic school. Uh, but also, you know, sort of, um, Cold War liberalism of a Republican sort, uh, hatred of the Kennedy family, uh, and the sort of, you know, uh, missionic, uh, uh, pretences that he saw in, um, uh, John F. Kennedy and the hero worship, uh, but also the, um, Uh, Cambillion Science Fiction of the Golden Age, the science fiction astounding magazine, which was obsessed with themes of, um, ESP, prescience, eugenics, uh, um, uh, and, uh, uh, uh, galactic empires, uh, but also, uh, Uh, you know, coming out of the Pacific Northwest, a real engagement with Indigenous cultures, um, uh, of that region, uh, and as a Cold Warrior, and this is maybe sort of forgotten, this is one aspect of Cold War liberalism that is, um, uh, not appreciated, but Cold warriors, um, uh, you know, saw anti colonialism as something that was good, that it was a breakup of these old empires, and that they saw the U.

S. needs to get on the right side of the struggle of history of decolonization. Um, so, so, so the anti colonial theme, um, is there. And, uh, uh, but also a rising ecological awareness. That he got as, um, uh, um, uh, uh, in the 60s from, you know, scientists who are starting to think of, you know, the natural world as not just different, um, species interacting, um, but actually as systems, uh, of ecology.

And finally, mushrooms. I actually don’t think that, you know, like, uh, I try to think of like who in the world today would provide that set of influences, uh, to create a novel. Um, I’m not really coming up with anything.

David Klion: I forget if it was you or someone else who was tweeting the other day that we actually need like a great serious Frank Herbert biography.

Maybe it was you because he’s just He’s such a singular mid century 20th. A mid 20th century American character, um, and he, he did a lot of stuff, actually, but Dune is the thing he’ll always be remembered for, and Dune alone reflects this incredibly weird life, and I, I’ve only read excerpts from Dreamer of Dune, um, but I would think, As valuable a book as it is, that there’s someone who can do a more objective job than his loving son, who’s the custodian of his estate, um, and also Dreamer of Dune, uh, includes one of the worst aspects of Herbert coming out of his Catholicism, which was his homophobia, which led him to, um, basically disown his other son, who was gay, um, and which is clearly reflected in, um, The books where the Harkonnens are, um, are, you know, where Baron Harkonnen is cast as a gay pedophile.

And one, one bit of credit I’ll give to Villeneuve is that, unlike David Lynch, who basically went with the gay pedophile thing, um, Villeneuve found a way to make Baron Harkonnen, you know, Creepy and repulsive without coding him as gay. Um, And more so in part two. That you see the Heart Conan’s evil more in part two than in part one.

But not in a way that implies they’re gay.

Jeet Heer: No, no, that’s absolutely right. I think that, um, I think your review, uh, you know, coming out of, you know, your, um, really deep knowledge of the books, um, reflected on the sort of, Um, um, book of faithfulness of the adaptation and also some of the differences.

David Klion: Yeah.

And actually one, one thing I want to say also is on reconsideration, I went to a critic screening two weeks ahead of the wider release. So I wrote my review, I sent it in, um, it was published very quickly, um, and then I got to read other reviews and see how just people I know. We’re responding to it and I realize, I mean, I, I like my review and I stand by my review, but my review was so focused on like the key question to me, which was as a, as a fan of the book, as a fan of the franchise, as a sort of person with a complicated relationship to the David Lynch movie.

How do I, like the most interesting questions for me were questions of adaptation, what he keeps in, what he leaves out, how he reinterprets it. And what a brilliant job I thought he did of, of converting this sort of, you know deep, deep story. Fan lore in a way that does justice to it into something that a normal audience could could follow and appreciate without betraying it in any substantive ways And and the just how smart that all was and the thing I did not pay enough attention to in What I wrote is, holy shit, this is just a really good movie.

Like visually, it’s an, you know, the audio, it’s just like a spectacle. It’s just fantastic filmmaking. It’s epic. And, and like, I appreciated that watching it on screen. It was beautiful. But I, um, I think I should have emphasized more in my review. This is just like, this is as good as epic blockbuster filmmaking gets.

And We should be grateful for that too.

Jeet Heer: Oh, you know, absolutely. I mean, I actually think it’s like one of the, uh, first real advances on sort of, um, uh, blockbuster, uh, filmmaking and sort of, you know, visual science fiction that we’ve seen in, uh, uh, many years. Uh, you know, I mean, I mean, obviously there’s a lot of people working in that field, but like, this really feels like something new and different.

Um, but I think the two things are sort of connected, like, like the, you know, general faithfulness to the story, um, uh, but also that this is actually like a really good film. I, I think the miracle of Villeneuve is that he is able to take, uh, Herbert’s words, and, and Herbert was like, you know, like a very, you know, it’s a, Big fat 500 page novel and you know, I would not say that he is a master of concision or Well stylized prose.

He’s a clunky writer With a lot of great ideas and a great plot, but I mean they’ll do what he does Um, is that he turns words into, like, action, like, like he’s able to translate, um, uh, what is in the novel that he needs to take from it, uh, and, and really, like, like make it as visual as possible. And so that the dialogue is actually quite minimal.

And this is very different than the novel, which is quite expository, not just in having, um, the, the narrator. Um, uh, the narration, but also like, oftentimes you have like voiceovers of the characters. Yeah. Constantly.

David Klion: Um, you’re getting italicized text of what’s in their head and the David Lynch version did that like was totally uncreative.

It just has actual voiceovers taken from those italicized dialogues. So you’re constantly getting what the characters are thinking just verbatim. And, um, you’ll never. totally dispensed with that. And it’s incredible given how much of all the Dune novels actually consists of the inner monologues of the characters, how effectively he manages to tell the story without any of that.

Yeah, no,

Jeet Heer: he’s a really visual storyteller. Um, as filmmakers are, and then it is a case of, you know, you show, not tell, and, uh, Yeah,

David Klion: but the dialogue too, which he co wrote the script with a guy whose name is Escaping Me, who I’m guessing is a native English speaker, but the, the script itself, it’s like he tossed, I mean, there are definitely lines that are direct citations from the book, as there should be, and Herbert did sometimes come up with really brilliant, memorable lines and phrases.

He, he can, he can be a little underrated as a writer, I think, as a, as a, just a stylist. He has his moments. Um, but, uh, and he’s very good at also visual descriptions, which, which Villeneuve is excellent at translating into, into visuals. But mostly the dialogue, like Lynch’s dialogue was often taken verbatim, not just the, the inner monologues, but the outer dialogue was taken verbatim from the novel.

Um, Villeneuve tossed a lot of it out the window and wrote new dialogue and even sometimes scenes that aren’t, this is in both parts, but that aren’t in the novel, but that are sort of implied, like that must’ve happened at some point. And he’s so good at both making people sound like human beings, like relatable human beings, not in like a too cheesy, you know, Contemporary Hollywood way, but like he lets people be people.

They don’t seem like they’re from like ancient myth or whatever and He um, or you know Shakespeare And he has them like he’s really good at embedding Necessary exposition into the dialogue without making it seem clunky and unnatural So that the audience learns what it needs to while also there’s a wonderful thing where I?

And the Star Wars movies are kind of like this too, but like, there’s a lot of stuff that’s not explained. If you are a diehard novel fan, you’ll notice it and you’ll be like, he understands this and he gets it right. If you’re not, you know, you’re just like, oh, that’s a fascinating mystery. This universe feels so big and lived in, like Star Wars.

And if you’re really interested You can go read the novel. You can, you can read the fan forums. You can geek out about this stuff, but otherwise it’s just like atmospheric and cool. And the way he like knows what can just be atmosphere and, and what, you know, we can fully absorb is just absolutely brilliant.

Um, or what, what needs to be explained. I mean, the Butlerian Jihad, the backstory of the whole doing universe being case in point, never comes up. Someone watching the movies for the first time might ask. if this is the future, like, why are there no computers? Why are there no robots? Or actually, a friend of mine asked a very smart question after part one, um, which is if you need the spice to navigate space, you know, how did they get to Arrakis in the first place?

If that’s the only source of spice, it’s a good question. If you understand the backstory of the Butlerian Jihad, you can kind of infer an answer, which is, well, they used to navigate space with Computers, but then at some point computers were banned 10, 000 years ago, but by then they had Arrakis, um, but, uh, and, and they could unlock, you know, human minds instead, but Villeneuve never explains that, never alludes to it, so you could go out in search of the correct answer, or you could just be like, it doesn’t have to make sense, that’s just The universe that we’re looking at and it’s cool and I’m just going to go with it and there’s room for both both experiences.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, no, this is like one of the great problems of sort of science fiction that you’re setting the imaginary universe and how do you, you know, convey the necessary information and, um, in, in sort of science fiction criticism, there’s this discussion of the problem of the info dump. Uh, which is that in bad, clunky science fiction, you have these great scenes of exposition where somebody explains something that, like, actually the person living in that universe would already know.

Uh, and there are ways around it. You can have, like, you know, an alien visitor and you have to explain to him, this is how our society works or whatever. But, um, the best science fiction, um, it does have that show not tell and that sort of inferred wider universe. Yeah. Well,

David Klion: Herbert, Herbert found several.

actually, mostly, um, effective ways around this problem. One is to make his protagonist a 15 year old boy. So he’s kind of like learning a bunch of things for the first time. He’s like having the adult world explained to him from the first chapter. Here’s how the politics of the One is he also ends up migrating into a different culture, the Fremen culture.

So that creates constant opportunities for us to learn new things with him. And the last is going all in on the info dump. Dune has a many pages long glossary, uh, full of, full of lore. It has several appendices. It has the, the sort of, um, textual. This is an element that was not really preserved in Villeneuve at all, um, but every chapter of every Dune book begins with, um, quote from an in universe text written sometime after the main action.

Um, so you’re constantly getting pieces of information there, but what makes those interesting is you’re also getting a sort of Meta, they’re, they’re informing you from the beginning that this is not just a straightforward hero story because there’s this sort of like, they’re, they’re constantly reminding you that there’s like different ways the story is being interpreted, um, and that there’s a great catastrophe ahead.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s right. And often those are actually written by the, uh, uh, the, uh, wife of, uh, the, the main protagonist, uh, uh, takes on a role as a kind of, uh, imperial historian, but has her own. You know, very political point of view.

David Klion: Yeah. And it was played by Florence Pugh very well in this movie.

Jeet Heer: Yeah. Yeah. So, so, so I, I, I, I think the, um, uh, best net, like what really makes the movie work. And then you also mentioned like, you know, just a stellar cast. Um, uh, that, uh, uh, uh, uh, actors, um, uh,

David Klion: none of them wasted all of them, all of them clearly like loving this and being like used to their full potential.

It’s wonderful. Yeah.

Jeet Heer: No, having said that, I do think that the two Dune movies that Delina has made are masterpieces, um, and are basically, as your review suggests, faithful to the core of the book. But having said that, these are like, you know, five hours, um, And even at five hours, like this is a 500 page, very dense book.

Uh, there’s a lot that he kind of had to, uh, check out. Um, and some of that, you know, uh, maybe if there’s sequels might come back in. Uh, but I, I did sort of notice that the, um, um, uh, the navigator. The Navigator’s Guild, um, is not really in the second movie, is a little bit in the first movie, but, you know, not to the degree it is in the novel, and that actually, um, I feel like skews us towards a purely, um, uh, story about, um, you know, religious, um, fundamentalism taking over, um, an Indigenous, uh, uprising.

Uh, whereas I think the aspect of the Spice Guild, I’ll be curious to what you think about this, like actually grounds the whole story in a more materialistic way. View, but you know, this is an empire that run that, you know, POC empire. You need the spice for the guild and that the, the navigators themselves are a kind of political power.

Uh, somebody at Twitter, um, uh, the, um, uh, historian and essayist Aaron, uh, uh, video, uh, uh, amusingly said that, uh, you originally in the sixties, this is basically the teamsters on mushrooms. That’s what the navigator guild is. Uh, and it is, it does give the whole, uh, two novels, Harper’s novel, there’s no grounding in a kind of, uh, materialist view of everything that’s going on.

But I’m curious, what do you think about that? I

David Klion: mean, I, uh, there were other cuts that bothered me more. I mean, it’s all there. Like, the guild stuff is all explained and presented. I mean, there’s a scene in the first movie that isn’t actually in the book, but, but might, might have been where, um, you know, the, the guild and other emissaries come to Caladan.

Uh, it’s a spectacular scene, so, so that Duke Leto can, you know, sign off on, on the Arrakis fiefdom. And so you get a glimpse of the Duke, of the Guild then, and there’s the film books, that’s actually another effective exposition thing, the, the in universe film books that Paul reads. Lynch used that one too.

Herbert Lynch and Villeneuve all make use of that, of the film books kind of telling you stuff. And I think they explain the Spice being essential to navigation and the role of the Guild in Part 1. There’s less of it in Part 2, but it’s alluded to. He threatens to nuke the Spice Fields at the end. It shows that he has this leverage over the universe.

And then So there’s going to be, most likely, especially because this is a huge hit now, um, a part three. Villeneuve has said in interviews he envisions this as a trilogy, and it’s a trilogy adapting the first two novels. So the first two movies we’ve now seen between them cover the first novel, and then he’s going to make part three.

Most likely, I hope, Dune part three, which is going to be based on the novel Dune Messiah, and the guild features very prominently in that. Um, and so I, I think we’ll see more of the guild. Um, we’ll also see more of Aaliyah, the most significant, um, change he made from the book in part two. Um, the book, the second half of the book spans maybe two years, two, three years, something like that.

Um, or there’s, there’s a forward jump in time once they join the Fremen. And, um, in the book, as in the movies, Lady Jessica is in the early stages of pregnancy when the, when they have to flee Arrakeen into the desert at the end of the first book, first, um, Part of the part one of, of the Villanova movies.

Um, and about halfway through the novel. So in the book, by the time you see the Fremen Atreides counterattack on, on the Harkonnens, Paul has a sister who’s like two years old. Her name is Aaliyah. Um, and she’s born with all the memories of all her female ancestors, uh, such that, um, she, uh, or I guess it’s just all her ancestors.

Because, ’cause Baron Harin comes in there later. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe there’s a weird homophobic commentary implied in that, but don’t No, no, no. I just

Jeet Heer: think it was all the ancestors. This is a, um, it’s a, it is a very common trope in sort of veian science fiction that Yeah. Yeah. That, um, uh, but, but, uh, that there’d be some way.

That the brain can hook up to, like, uh, trace memories of the past. Right. But, uh,

David Klion: yeah, yeah. But the point is, the point is that as a, as a, um, two year old, she, she’s already, um, like, not just a mature adult, but like, you know, ancient, like with all kinds of knowledge and wisdom. An old soul. And, an old soul, and Harkonnen, she’s the one who kills him with a gum jabbar.

Villeneuve decided, I think, for the sake of economy. Yeah. He had already established Jessica was pregnant at the, in, in part one. So he had to follow through on that. And Aaliyah will go on to be a major character in the second and third novels. Um, so that’s coming, but, uh, at least the second novel, but he, I think decided there was just too much going on and to have this like two year old.

It would just and so what he did was he compressed the entire timeline of the second half of the book into less than a full pregnancy. Um, Aaliyah is still not born at the end of the movie. Um, now, one thing is that means that This all goes faster. Paul goes native faster. He builds his from an insurgency faster.

Um, you know, the, the whole movie spans months. Um, but it also means that Aaliyah is not there to kill the Baron, which means Paul has to do it himself with a knife. Um, Which is a cool scene and it means that one of the movie’s weirdest and most creative devices, there are all these scenes of Jessica just kind of muttering to her abdomen because she’s in conversation with her unborn daughter, which is a fascinating, uh, and you see the fetus periodically.

And then in Paul’s vision at one point, you see a grown Aaliyah Played by, um, the actress, what’s her name, Anna Taylor Joy, I think it is. Um, and who obviously is gonna feature prominently in, in part three. Um, but, uh, so, so we get a little bit of a glimpse of that. But that was, I mean, that’s a major change from the novel, and I thought it worked really well.

Um, you know, I, I thought they also got rid of Paul and Johnny having a kid who dies, um, which happens in the, in the novel. That’s just like, it’s too much. It’s too much going on too much to deal with.

Jeet Heer: No, it’s a very plot heavy novel and you have to pick and choose. I think, I think that’s Like, uh, almost all the choices are very, uh, shrewd.

Um, I will say one thing, which is that, um, I think you’re maybe more down on the Lynch version than

David Klion: I am. Oh, I love the Lynch version. It’s it, it’s a failure. Like it’s, it’s, it doesn’t, it’s not actually a good movie and like, and it’s also a very bastardized adaptation, but it is. It’s David Lynch, and it’s full of wonder.

It’s full of, like, scenes I will always love, including, to your original question about the Guild, a scene that is not in the novel, where the Emperor meets with the Guild Navigator, presented roughly as described in the second novel, um, and it’s an amazing scene, um, and it’s not in the novel. Yeah. Well,

Jeet Heer: I, I, I think one thing that the Lynch does is convey the real strangeness and alienness of this universe.

And that includes having the, um, uh, you know, two year old Aaliyah, uh, speak like a grown adult and, you know, I mean, the creepiness of that character, um, at the end of the movie where she goes, you know, he is the Kwisatz Haderach, uh, that is, uh, uh, an amazing scene. So, so I believe there are gains and losses.

Through these different approaches, um, uh, but, um, and I, I will also mention, um, uh, for, you know, all the real Dune superfans out there, you know, there’s that sort of, um, uh, science fiction network, uh, adaptation, uh, from, um, uh, 20 years ago, there’s a mini series on TV. Yeah,

David Klion: which does not capture the wonder in the, like, it, it’s, it’s very faithful and it, and it’s the only adaptation we may ever see of the third novel.

Though, I would love it if Villeneuve kept going through the Herbert books. Or at least, I’d love it if he got through God Emperor. I think he could stop there.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, but, God, I, I, well, okay, no, no, that movie, I mean, it doesn’t, it’s TV, it doesn’t have the sense of wonder, but I think the movie is much more in the plot, and I sort of like that.

Like, I think you actually can get, um, there’s a lot of great scenes in that, uh, uh, the miniseries, uh, that you don’t get either in the lit, Uh, version. Um, and you get, I think, a better sense of the political machinations of, um, uh, the various factions. So, yeah,

David Klion: I would say my, my major, my major complaint that where, you know, in terms of the, the editing, uh, or the, the sort of like reducing what’s in the book.

And I’m only complaining about this not, I’m only complaining about it because part one set it up and then it’s a, it’s a loose thread, is I wish she’d found a way to keep Thufir Hawat in part two, um, the, the mentat. Because in, um, Because he’s a character in part one and he’s very memorable with the, the parasol and his eyes rolling back as he does the calculations.

There’s great stuff with Thufir. He’s, he’s established. I forget the name of the actor, but he’s very good. And then they just drop it. And in, in the novel and in the Lynch film. Partly in scenes they kept and partly in scenes they didn’t. Thufir has a complete arc. He’s taken captive by the Archonans. They administer a poison that basically keeps him loyal.

But meanwhile, he’s kind of manipulating them against their interests, and then he dies at the end. But he sees Paul one last time, which if you see the uncut Lynch version that Lynch is disavowed, That scene is actually there, Thufir’s death at the end. Um, here there’s none of that. They, they just, Thufir disappears with the attack on Arrakis.

We never hear about him again. Um, Villeneuve has said he never wants to release a director’s cut. So, I thought that was a bummer to just drop a cool character like that. Um, but that’s the only, that’s really my only, my only beef.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, yeah, no, no, no, for some of these reasons, Billu, he didn’t actually film what the second part of the character are, but, you know, because they wanted to keep this film, like a, you know, reasonable, uh, uh, three hour, uh, length, uh, they, they had to, um, uh, have, uh, They have to cut a lot of stuff.

So and in which we apparently will never see. But in any case, I mean, I think the narrative actually, you know, for the sake of actually conveying the essential narrative. Yeah, those are the choices that were made and then had to be made.

David Klion: Yeah, I mean, the entire plot line that Thufir is involved in, that’s a major subplot in the book about like, he thinks Jessica is the traitor and they confront each other.

And, you know, and then he’s, he’s working with the Harkonnens in part because he thinks, you know, He could get his revenge on her, but later he realized it’s like, that’s all, that’s a whole, novels can have a subplot like that. And sometimes it’s just like the, we don’t need this to make a, to make a good movie.

Jeet Heer: I actually do think that the ideal dude adaptation of the future for anyone that does this again would be a, you know, like an HBO miniseries. Right. Like, like five or six seasons or something, but, but, but, uh, um, but having said that, no, no, there’s like, you know, I had sort of started off with the sort of politics of this and, um, this is something, I mean, there’s a real divide, I think, in the kind of reviews.

Um, now, now Herbert was writing this in the sixties, context of the Cold War, but already, you know, like, um, involvement in the Middle East was, uh, very important and the United States, um, had all sorts of interests. You know, I’m going back, uh, before, uh, to the second world war. And even before in the sort of oil interest in the region.

And then this is like a very big part of the kind of, uh, the novel. And I think it’s hard, um, to watch the, uh, movie for me, it was hard to watch the movie and not be the view of Gaza because you see these, you know, like, uh, there’s like. technologically advanced empire, you know, going against, um, an indigenous, uh, uh, insurgency, um, um, that has both a sort of secular and religious component, uh, and, um, uh, it seems, um, uh, you know, very, um, Um, uh, of the moment, even though, you know, the book was written long before anything that’s happening in Gaza, uh, and the movie was made before the events in Gaza, but I mean, maybe, um, uh, suggest like the degree to which what we’re seeing Gaza, you know, has such deep roots, um, that, um, yeah.

It does.

David Klion: It’s a story that didn’t begin on October 7th, right? Like the, the, there are people who weren’t thinking about the Middle East actively until October 7th. And now they’ve, you know, because of whatever their feelings about Israel or Palestine are, they’re obsessed with, with, with it. Um, but, and, you know, in reality, the story of Israel, Palestine, American engagement in the Middle East, European engagement in the Middle East is a, is a, you know, century old story at this point with that cycles through many different phases.

And it was, it was a story in the 60s when Herbert wrote the novel. Um, so a lot of these themes, the idea that the essential resource for, um, facilitating global transportation would come out of this desert region and that there are, you know, um, Um, Arab like peoples who could take control of it, who could, you know, I mean, the really, the real prophecy in a way was that he wrote, um, the novel less than a decade before the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.

Um, it’s like he saw that coming. Um, he wrote it. A decade and a half before the, um, Iranian revolution and the proclamation of a, of a theocracy there. Um, you know, the fact that the fact that the current Gaza war seems anticipated by it. It’s like, yeah, no shit. Like, He, he, uh, he was writing a novel that, among many other things, was an allegory for the basic colonial dynamic between the West and the Arab world.

And that dynamic goes on in, in various different ways to the present, so it’s always going to seem relevant to whatever, whatever’s happening in that region now, which happens to be this Gaza war at the moment, obviously. Herbert didn’t know this particular war was going to happen, and neither did Villeneuve when he made part one or part two.

But, uh, especially because part two was so delayed, it was supposed to come out last fall. Um, but, uh, because of the strike, it was delayed. Um, But yeah, I mean, the thematic parallels are obvious as far as they go. Um, there’s a warning, of course, uh, you know, Justice Herbert’s politics are hard to reduce. I mean, he was a right winger, but left wingers see all kinds of things in what he was saying.

You know, likewise, is this a movie about how the West is exploiting and ethnically cleansing? Arabs in pursuit of resources and dominance. Yes. Is it also a movie about how, uh, it would be bad to follow, you know, Islamic fundamentalist extremists in a global jihad? If that were a realistic scenario. Um, yeah, that, that, that’s, that’s in there too.

Um, and there’s a lot of other stuff going on, including a kind of subversion of the white savior narrative where the white savior is actually the one who’s Who’s, uh, gonna bring ruin to not just the universe, but to the Fremen themselves. Their, if you read the subsequent novels, their whole culture basically collapses as a result of Paul’s, uh, holy war, as the movie calls it.

Jihad is the term used in the books.

Jeet Heer: Well, yeah, I know. I think the point you made there is very essential. The books, um, were, you know, and this is, I think, one of the strengths of science fiction. It is a very political literature that is trying to engage, um, uh, with politics, not just at the level of, like, you know, uh, different factions fighting, but history.

Science fiction is a sort of, you know, has the epic scope of history applied to the future, um, and, and it tries to see things, um, uh, dialectically. Like, like, I actually think, um, you know, uh, uh, one argument one could make is that, uh, the spice is basically, um, dialectical materialism. Uh, that, you know, you know, it gives you the power to foresee future timelines, um, and, and makes you realize, uh, that you have the power to make history, but also.

Makes you realize that you don’t think history under the conditions of your choosing, uh, that you are also faded and constrained. Yes. That’s brilliant.

David Klion: I love that. And Paul learns

Jeet Heer: that, you know, you don’t fall out of a coconut tree.

David Klion: Someone did that tweet yesterday. Somebody said, like, uh, I want to read this verbatim to make sure I get it, uh, right.

But it was, it was a great tweet. Um, somebody said, um. They did it as a little dialogue. Paul, colon, I just fell out of a coconut tree. Then Paul drinks the water of life. And then Paul, I exist in the context of all in which I live and all that came before me. Uh, so kind of a wonderful use of a recent meme.

Uh, I mean, the, the genius of that meme is that it’s such a strange and awkward thing to say from Kamala Harris. He’s a very strange and awkward person. So. But it’s also totally right, right? Like it’s, if you parse it, she’s making a good point. She, it is, it is Marx. It is. We make history, but not of our own choosing.

It’s just said in the strangest folksiest way possible while she’s, while she’s like giggling nervously, um, as a, as a side note, I, I, uh, I may as well say it here, I don’t know if I’ll say it anywhere else, um, I’m ready for Harris. I’ve been, I’ve been doomer enough about Biden. I’m like, let’s do a Hail Mary pass and just see what happens.

Although I didn’t watch last night’s State of the Union and I hear it actually was effective, uh, that, that, that it, it gave him a bump. So,

Jeet Heer: yeah,

David Klion: let’s not go down there, we’re just, we’re just stating

Jeet Heer: the context of delivering a speech. Sure, but I mean,

David Klion: he proved he can still deliver a speech. So that’s something, yeah,

Jeet Heer: so we’ll, we’ll talk about that, but I mean, yeah, yeah, no, I am of the opinion that, uh, Um, Kamala Harris is the Kwisatz Haderach.

And, um, uh, uh, no, no, no, no. Okay. So this is perhaps like a final point to, um, circle back to, um, you know, like, in terms of talking about the changes in the movie, um, there, um, uh, and, and, and this context of, you know, politically, it’s an allegory. Um, uh, there’s a whole discourse of the sort of de Arabization, um, uh, uh, uh, of the, um, uh, the famine and the, uh, the uprising.

Um, and I’ll, I’ll link to it, but I thought the smartest, uh, review, and I think one of the best reviews of the movie, was by, uh, Roxana Hadidi, uh, writing Vulture, and then she, like, goes, through this, uh, in great detail. And a lot, but a lot of it seems to be on the level of linguistics. Um, the feminine are, um, this is set in far future and Herbert is imagining a mixture of cultures.

Um, and you know, like he has things like the Orange, uh, Catholic Bible, uh, and also things like, um, uh, Zen Sunnism. Uh, so, so, so, so things in this universe are mixed in ways that they aren’t. In our world, but I think it’s predominantly true that like, you know, a desert planet, resources, um, uh, kind of warrior honor culture that is nomadic, you know, it has, um, uh, with in the novel, a lot of like sort of Arabic phrases, including jihad.

Uh, now, uh, In the movie, jihad turns into holy war, um, which, you know, might, you know, one can imagine a bunch of different, uh, reasons, some of them quite good, as to why you would not want to use jihad, uh, you know, uh, the word jihad in a movie like this. Uh, but, but, but, yeah, I mean, with, uh, any thoughts on this sort of, uh, discourse, like?


David Klion: yeah, so, a few. One is, I think we could go back to the source material and say, Um, I think this discourse is a little bit overblown because the Fremen were never meant to be one to one Arabs, and it’s reductive to say they are. He was heavily influenced by other cultures. You mentioned Zen Sunnism.

There’s a Buddhist element mixed in with Islam. Um, he was drawing on diverse spiritual practices. To him, exotic Eastern spiritual traditions. Um, he was also drawing on indigenous North American culture, which he had actually spent time with, and in the like, Pacific Northwest sand dunes. So the Fremen were an amalgamation of A number of different cultural traditions, which also gave him the freedom to write them however he wanted and shape their precise culture to the precise landscape of Arrakis, which is obviously a made up and very distinctive world, um, and which draws on different cultures.

Real world desert environments and then obviously, you know spice and sand worms are completely made up Even if they are analogous to certain things in the real world. So yeah, the Fremen use a lot of Arabic words and There’s a lot of customs brought in but I think it’s actually a people who are just like in the book the Fremen are Arab So why have they been de Arabized?

I mean, I’m not I haven’t read the book So I don’t, I’m not accusing her of that, but I will say, um, I’ve heard people say things like that and it’s, that’s reductive and a misread of the book. I think it’s, it’s, the Arabs may be the single largest of a number of influences on the Fremen, but the Fremen are not just Arabs.

That’s not, and they’re not meant to be, and they never were. Um, and then there are more present day sensitivities where I would say, you know, You know, you can’t win. I mean, if you, if you did really play up how Arab they are, it would undoubtedly offend some people too, would probably offend Arabs. Uh, it would offend, um, It would offend woke people of whatever background to feel that it’s their job to get offended on behalf of various groups, whether they understand them or not.

Um, and, uh, you know, I, I think Villeneuve was navigating around that as carefully as he could. Um, What the movie does make clear visually, and I say this in my review, is the great houses of the Imperium are coded as white. I think every actor in House Atreides, well, not, I don’t know, Thufir Hawat is not white, but all the like noble born Atreides, Harkonnen, Corono families are all led by white actors and the Fremen are, A mix of every other race that exists, basically, um, there there there’s and that’s clearly not an accident.

I mean, the, the, the casting clearly deliberately made that decision and was like, you are meant to understand the great houses as the imperial West and you are meant to understand the Fremen as the collected, uh, Ratchet of the Earth rising up, um, that, you know, against colonialism and exploitation.

That’s, that’s obvious. That’s, and, and I think, and I think reasonable, personally. Some would disagree. I mean, Game of Thrones, I remember, took some flack for doing the same thing with the, all the, the Seven Kingdoms are white and based on Western Europe, uh, at least until you get to the new series where there is a house with, um, black people.

But, um, Whereas the Dothraki are a mix of non white ethnicities. And there was an infamous scene in Game of Thrones where the very white, very blonde Daenerys is kind of like worshipped as a god by the Dothraki. Now I would say if you follow through to the much maligned final seasons of the show, You see that actually the plot is very similar to Dune, in that the apparent white savior of this, you know, um, non feudal, migratory, um, non white population, you know, goes on essentially a violent jihad, destroys everything.

Um, and is, uh, considered villainous by the end of it, um, to the point where I would guess if, if that is how George R. R. Martin intended to one day end his book series, he may very well have been influenced by Herbert. Um,

Jeet Heer: yeah. that he was. And, um, I know, I will also say the visual aspect, I think is key here, like, like, you know, like, even if the language is de Arabized, um, visually, um, the, uh, uh, I, I think the, the allegory is, uh, strong, or perhaps even stronger here.

in the book because you actually, you know, see the people. Um, and I, I think it’s, uh, um, uh, very clear, like, like the whole of Arrakis to me really feels like a North African, Middle Eastern, uh, uh, society. Um, Having said that, I mean, I think there’s one final point to make, which is that like Villieu, um, and it speaks to the way in which all these allegories have multiple layers, and people always interpret an allegory in light of their own experience.

You know, Villieu is a French Canadian, uh, and he’s given interviews where he basically said when he was reading the novel, you know, like as a 15 year old boy, uh, you know, he saw the Fremen as French Canadians. Now this might sound very strange. To, um, uh, my, uh, listeners, especially my American listeners, uh, but, um, uh, Quebec, um, uh, until the 60s and 70s, uh, you know, was almost a classic colonial situation of a submerged nation, that if you went to, um, uh, Uh, Quebec, you know, like all these sort of prestige jobs, um, in the civil service of lawyers, of doctors, um, and of businessmen were held by Anglo Canadians, and the French Canadians, uh, were very much, um, And anglo

David Klion: canadian jews too, right?

Jeet Heer: Well, yes, yes, well, yeah, we could, we can mention some names there, but

David Klion: uh, so some, some of whom are, are, uh, are, are the family, their families have gone on to be prominent in the neoconservative movement, which you and I both follow closely, but

Jeet Heer: yeah, and, uh, conversely, um, so, uh, and one way in which the peas, um, um, Uh, the French claims were held in check was not just through this, you know, um, uh, domination of an Anglo elite, uh, but through, um, uh, the sort of, uh, comprador class, this, this, um, um, uh, compromised class within the society led by the Catholic Church, uh, which had basically Preserve its own power in that society, uh, by saying, you know, we’ll, we’ll allow Yang will to dominate, uh, all political power, but we control education.

Uh, uh, which is, you know, like not dissimilar to the way in which the Bene Gesserit, uh, operate in the Jewish universe. So I think there is a way in which, um, uh, you know, like if you’re a French Canadian and you’re reading this, uh, book in the, you know, 60s, 70s, and even 80s, you can definitely see, um, Parallels there.

I’m Having said that, I mean, there’s a whole other discussion as to which, um, you know, whether French Canadians, um, overplayed this aspect and, you know, are maybe a little bit blind to their own role as settler colonialists. Right, I mean

David Klion: the, I mean the major The major difference here is that while the Fremen are not indigenous to Arrakis, um, they arrived in the Zensunni wandering for the, I mean, because, because Dune is not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

It’s, it’s our distant future. Everyone is originally from Earth, you know, tens of thousands of years ago, um, including the Fremen. That said, there were no indigenous human or humanoid inhabitants to Arrakis. Uh, presumably the, the Fremen were. Uh, the first, I think that’s right. Or, um, whereas, of course, the, the Quebecois may have been conquered and subjugated to an extent by the, the British Empire.

But, um, before that, they, they were the settler colonialists in a place that very much did have indigenous inhabitants and still does, um, And, uh, yeah, which, to my mind, makes them a little more analogous to, like, the Afrikaners, for instance, or to, in the United States context, um, sometimes you’ll hear about, you know, the sort of Scots Irish Appalachians feeling like they’re exploited as an internal colony by, like, eastern Anglo capital.

Um, and, you know, that dynamic is true, but they were settler colonists who conquered that land from indigenous people, too. Um, so, yeah, you can Yeah, it’s not the whole truth, though. Or, or it’s Israel, right? The Israelis are, are settler colonists who at one point were fighting for their independence against the British Empire, too.

But, you know, that, that didn’t make them not settler colonists. That’s right,

Jeet Heer: that’s right. Yeah, but, but I do actually think that, uh, this aspect, uh, we all, one could, uh, dispute, uh, to what degree the, uh, uh, the French Canadian Quebecois are actually prevalent, uh, but it does actually help explain, like, why this

David Klion: I mean, I mean, undeniably, they do have powers of prescience, and blue eyes, and, uh, are, are ferocious warriors, um, anyone who’s ever met the Quebecois cannot deny those parallels, but Well, I mean, it’s always Celestiaan

Jeet Heer: is the, uh, President Tadrak, I

David Klion: mean,

Jeet Heer: she, uh, she conquered the world, uh, in a kind of, uh, musical jihad.

David Klion: So, so is Justin Trudeau in this, is, is he, uh, is he Muad’Dib? Is he, is he the, the, he’s the emperor of Canada come out of the, the Fremen ranks, right? To, to avenge, to avenge his father.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, except that he’s also, I mean, it actually maybe does actually work because just as uh, uh, paulo trainees ultimately betrays the the uprising the the trudos can be seen as a kind of like you know, um, um, native informers and native sellouts, you know who Uh make some Um, uh, uh, triumphs for the French Canadians in terms of bilingualism, but ultimately served the emperor.

David Klion: Gene, I think you are better suited than anyone as, as a, as a proud Canadian to, to write the take. Uh, you have, you have the hook? Which is the movie being a hit and Villeneuve comparing the Fremen to, uh, the Quebecois. And I think you can get a great 1500 word piece that I would happily help go viral, not that you need my help, um, about, uh, that carries this, this, Analogy as far as it will go and casts Canada as the known universe.

The Trudeau’s is the Emperor’s. I’m this is this is gold. Gee, right? The

Jeet Heer: space. Okay, I got. I might very well do that. I love that. And then it drops all that. Don’t go. Uh, we’ll end it. Uh, there’s been a very beady and long discussion, but a lot more to say. And I think we will end up returning to do it at some point.

Perhaps after I write my piece. Uh, I want to thank, uh, David, uh, I suggest everyone look up his review and, um, yeah, yeah, always fun talking with you.

David Klion: Always a pleasure. Look forward to more of it.

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Jeet Heer

Jeet Heer is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation and host of the weekly Nation podcast, The Time of Monsters. He also pens the monthly column “Morbid Symptoms.” The author of In Love with Art: Francoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman (2013) and Sweet Lechery: Reviews, Essays and Profiles (2014), Heer has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The American Prospect, The GuardianThe New Republic, and The Boston Globe.

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