April 14, 2024

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Opinion: What 'Dune: Part 2' failed to understand about colonialism

Opinion: What 'Dune: Part 2' failed to understand about colonialism

Editor's note: Noah Berlatsky (@nberlat) is a freelance writer in Chicago. The opinions expressed here are his own. Scenery More opinion On CNN.


“Dune” by Frank Herbert The novels struggled because of their debts to colonial adventure literature. Books enjoy mixing, buckling and Great whitey Heroes emerged from writers as diverse as Edgar Rice Burroughs, James Fenimore Cooper, and H. Rider Haggard. But Herbert, writing in 1965, was also attuned to the critiques of colonialism of his day. His hero, Paul Atreides, is full of doubts about his role as a Christian leader and administrator of colonial conquest.

Noah Berlatsky

Noah Berlatsky

The cinematic adaptations made by Denis Villeneuve, especially the most recent ones.”Sand Dunes: Part Two“, attempted to build on Herbert's anti-colonial tendencies through a subtle and not-so-subtle approach. Storytelling adjustments. Villeneuve goes further than Herbert in questioning the basis of colonial narratives. In the end, though, he faces the same problems that undermined Herbert's more liberal impulses. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to tell an anti-colonial story while focusing on the perspective, heroism, and general awesomeness of the colonial hero.

The first part of the movie “Dune” (which will be released in 2021) introduces us to Paul (Timothée Chalamet), the heir to the House of Atreides, in a feudal future full of space travel and complex conspiracies. (The distributor of “Dune” and “Dune: Part Two” shares its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, with CNN.) Paul's father, Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), has been given rule of the desert planet of Arrakis. Arrakis is the sole source of the mixture, a narcotic spice, which gives space pilots the altered consciousness they need to travel between worlds. It's as if LSD is petroleum, or vice versa.

But Arrakis's gift is a trap. The Emperor (Christopher Walken) conspires with the former ruler of Arrakis, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard). They attack and destroy House Atreides on Arrakis, killing Leto. Paul and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) barely escape into the desert. There they encounter the proud desert-dwelling Fremen – and this is where “Dune: Part 2” begins.

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And in the second (very long) film, Paul enters into his fated and prophesied inheritance. Like many colonial heroes before him, from Tarzan to Natty Bumppo, Paul, as a colonizer, soon showed himself to be a better Fremen than the Fremen themselves. He's a superior fighter, and… He knows the desert roads from prophetic dreams. When he rides giant desert worms (penis), he's riding the biggest of them all. The Fremen are presented as fierce, intelligent, and brilliant – but all of that Paul absorbed their splendor, appropriated their power for himself and became stronger. This is how colonialism (and colonial literature) works.

Herbert attempted to undermine or question these colonial tropes by making Paul himself feel truly guilty. Thanks to his prophetic gift, Paul could see that he was destined to lead the Fremen in a jihad of conquest (changed to “holy war” in the film to try to assuage anti-Islamic connotations). He does not want to be a conqueror and annihilator of groups; He does not want to sabotage Fremen culture for his own purposes.

That the colonial ruler is grim is not actually an anti-colonial criticism. Villeneuve is smart enough to figure that out. So, in the film, it is not only Paul who sees problems with his colonial power. His lover, Freemen Chaney (Zendaya), is also conflicted.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Timothée Chalamet in “Dune: Part 2”

In the book, Chaney is mostly supportive of Paul, with a few reservations. In the film, by contrast, she steadfastly refuses to believe in Paul's prophetic destiny. She insists that the myth of the coming of Christ is a colonizer's hoax aimed at making the colonized people wait for freedom indefinitely. She wants Paul to join her as an equal, rather than rule over the Fremen.

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Giving a colonizer the opportunity to express anti-colonial sentiments is an important change. But it does not exactly lead to anti-colonial discourse. Paul's fate is stronger than Chaney's, and this fate is the story of the film itself. Most viewers want Paul to get revenge on the Harkonnens (the doppelgänger); You're rooting throughout the movie for Paul to win.

Chaney argues not with Paul, nor with other Freemen, but with the plot itself, and all the pleasures of an action movie and a revenge narrative. The film, the audience, and even the characters know that the story is Paul's. Whether Chaney is right or wrong doesn't matter so much as the fact that Paul's story fits into the inevitable groove of the genre.

The film's failure to present an effective anti-colonial vision is particularly frustrating since we are in the golden age of anti-colonial epics. “N.K. Jemisin”Broken EarthTasha Suri's trilogy “The Amba wrote“Panganon Sriduangkaew Series”He commanded her without pity“Trilogy, Tide Thompson.”bitter“Triple And many other works from the past decade or so consider colonialism with far more depth and insight than Herbert ever imagined.

The key to Jemisin O' Suri's success is that it gives narrative primacy to the experiences of people targeted by colonialism, rather than celebrating the power, success, and conflicted consciences of kings, rulers, and colonizers. If Villeneuve, or Herbert, had really wanted to question the logic of colonial power and colonial privilege, the story's hero would have been a Fremen like Chaney. She will fight, not with Paul, but against him and his efforts to drag her into his dreams and prophecies.

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Despite this, few blockbuster films give narrative priority to colonized peoples. As a writer and professor, Viet Thanh Nguyen He writes In Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, his study of Vietnam War films, he argues that “much American artistic and cultural works about the Vietnam War, even when they engage in anti-American criticism, position Americans resolutely and crudely.” At the center of the story.”

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This is not limited to Vietnam films only. The supposedly anti-colonial science fiction films “Avatar” focus on a colonial savior turned white man. The “Star Wars” movies get you on the side of colonial resistance – but they make sure that the leaders of that resistance are mostly white, and, Unlike the Fremen (Who provokes Pictures of the Middle East or North Africa The cultural elements and some of its language are taken directly from Arabic), but are not a direct counterpart to the actual colonized people.

This is not an accident or a misstep. Refusing to see colonized people as the primary focus of their own stories is part of colonialism itself. Paul feels bad for being the person he is destined for; Herbert and Villeneuve, to varying degrees, seem to regret making Paul the destined one. But Paul doesn't listen to Chaney in the end, and neither does Villeneuve. “Dune: Part 2” aims to show a struggle for freedom on a strange and distant planet. But it tells the same old story of power as it always has.