The enduring appeal of “Dune” as a teenage power fantasy



Pressed inside one of my old books is a sheet of gray paper, folded in irregular quarters, entitled “Terminologie des dunes”. There are thirty-seven words and phrases, including a bewildering array of place names (Giedi Prime, pronounced “Gee-dee”), machines (ornithopter, a “small plane capable of flying like birds”), and rituals (kanly, a “formal quarrel or vendetta according to the rules of the Grand Convention”). Cinephiles with tickets to David Lynch’s “Dune,” which premiered on December 14, 1984 – I saw it opening weekend at a mall in the suburbs of Buffalo – would have taken the glossary of a stack upon entering the theater, although the guide was unreadable in the dark, and it contained more than a few spoilers. For the novice, this must have looked like an assignment. It shouldn’t sound like fun at all.

I didn’t need the cheat sheet – at fourteen I was familiar with the “Dune” universe, having already read Frank Herbert’s best-selling science fiction novel. By 1984, the book had sold over ten million copies and spawned four sequels. Focusing on fifteen-year-old hero Paul Atreides, the story takes place twenty thousand years in the future, on the desert planet of Arrakis, home to sandworms as big as spaceships, a group of survival guerrillas. called the Fremen, and the coveted spice known as the Blend, which allows its users to “bend space” – a necessity for interstellar travel – and which colors all of their eyes blue. “Dunehypnotized me. I scribbled Fremen’s rallying cry, ‘Ya hya chouhada,’ in the margins of my notebooks and studied the vibrant cover painting, with its dozens of tiny figures fleeing a sandworm. crawling, its mouth lit like a jet engine.The movie couldn’t have happened quickly enough.

Lynch’s adaptation, alas, was faithful but disappointing. The corridors of power seemed hypnotically adorned, but the open-air scenes and battle sequences seemed flattened and rushed. Sting – then the superstar police leader, riding high on “Synchronicity” and featured prominently in the film’s marketing – scoffed at the lack of lines. Linda Hunt stole a scene and then died. Max von Sydow must have said, “Remember to breathe in through your mouth and breathe out through this nasal tube.” Kyle MacLachlan, who was making his screen debut as Paul Atreides, was certainly not fifteen. I folded the “Dune Terminology” sheet, a disheartening memory, and went out into the cold night.

Herbert’s “Dune” was originally serialized in the science fiction magazine Analog, and first produced in book form in 1965 by Chilton, a publisher best known for its automotive manuals. The novel eventually entered the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s for its ecological and anti-imperialist connotations; the trippy properties of the mixture also made it into a drug story. In the preface to my big pocket edition, Herbert recalls his great ambitions. “It was to be a story exploring the myth of the Messiah,” he wrote, a story that “would penetrate the intertwined cogs of politics and economics.” He imagined an eco-fiction, in which “drinking water was to be an analogue of petroleum and water itself, a substance whose supply is dwindling every day”. (The author was suspicious of charismatic leaders, with particular disregard for John F. Kennedy and the Camelot cult; by the 1950s, Herbert had worked as a speechwriter for various Republican candidates.)

“Dune” is the epitome of world-building, teeming with invented history, complex new-old religions (the Zensunni faith seems to merge Islam with Buddhism) and names and phrases informed by a multitude of languages, especially Arabic. The setting is so ruthless you can taste it; The Fremen wear “stillsuits”, which recycle bodily waste into drinking water. But what really hooked me – and countless teenagers before and since – from the very first chapter was Paul Atreides, the book’s waiting messiah, whose family moved to Arrakis from their lush homeworld. of Caladan under imperial orders. Trained in combat by his father’s henchmen and in mental witchcraft by his mother, Lady Jessica, Paul masters his hostile environment and survives attacks. His role as the chosen one is fulfilled in an exciting way and, at the end of the book, he is the most powerful figure in the universe. As a teenage power fantasy, it doesn’t get much better than “Dune”.

Fortunately, Denis Villeneuve’s new propulsive adaptation does not need a glossary. The French-Canadian director has already revisited recent science fiction cinema, interpreting worlds from two of the best authors of the genre, in “Arrival” (based on a cerebral story by Ted Chiang) and “Blade Runner 2049” ( a sequel to Ridley’s Indelible Imagination by Scott by Philip K. Dick). These films are dark and impeccably lit, with sparse storylines. The narration in “Dune” is much more dense but lucid at every turn; the dazzling and deadly sand landscape is a character in itself. The pervasive heat and arid, besieged vistas are both prophecies of climate change and, inevitably, evocations of “Star Wars,” another series in which a young hero on a desert planet is exploited by an almost mystical sect for fulfill its revolutionary destiny. . When Paul and his mother escape into the silence of the desert, you half expect them to meet Jawas, not Fremen. (David Lynch turned down the possibility of directing “Return of the Jedi” and, by making his “Dune”, was determined not to film anything that resembles George Lucas’ interpretation of outer space.)

Unlike Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky – the Franco-Chilean filmmaker who planned and failed to make a hallucinogenic twelve hour version of “Dune” in the 1970s – Villeneuve was a fan of “Dune” since childhood, having come to the book at the age of thirteen. Its link with matter can be seen. The melancholic atmospheres of the alien contact tale “Arrival” and the dystopian sequel to “Blade Runner” are transmuted into a sort of interstellar emo, so that the dreams, fears and ambitions of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) become at the center of the film as the special effects and the political baton. Chalamet is twenty-five, the same age as Kyle MacLachlan coming out of Lynch’s “Dune”, but lighter, more vulnerable, closer to the “stringy rope of a youngster” described by Herbert.

Chalamet and Villeneuve bring verve and terror to the confrontation that opens the novel: a primitive scene of adolescent helplessness in the face of what appears to be arbitrary adult wickedness. The Reverend Mother of Bene Gesserit, a notoriously strong religious sect, mostly female, orders Paul to place her hand in a strange box. When he asks her what’s in the box, she replies: “Pain”. He obeys her command, as she holds a gom jabbar – a needle with a “meta-cyanide” tip – near her neck, ready to stab him to death if he withdraws her hand. He is in agony, imagining the flesh burning his fingers. In the book, Paul resists the urge to withdraw while contemplating a Bene Gesserit saying that his mother taught him: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. “(In Villeneuve’s staging, it’s Lady Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson, waiting anxiously outside the locked room, whispering the incantation.) Things all the time. The scene. gom jabbar takes this dynamic to an extreme expressionist, increasing the volume on both indignity and eventual victory.

A sad irony in Herbert’s life is that, for all his affinity with the aspirations and worries of adolescence, he was often a terrible father to his two sons. In “Dune dreamer, A 2003 biography, generally proud but sometimes bitter, of Herbert’s eldest son Brian, the novelist is revealed to have little understanding of children, which Brian attributes to his father’s own difficult childhood – as a son. of two alcoholics, Herbert was to be independent from an early age. Sometimes Herbert locked Brian and his brother Bruce out of the house so their noise wouldn’t distract him from his writing. Adept at the language, he became furious when they used the word “try”, just as House Atreides “war master” Gurney Halleck scoffs when Paul says he is not “from” mood “to train. In another colossal parenting failure, Herbert used a US Navy lie detector on his sons “if anything happened, like a missing item on his desk or questions about where I was after school.” Brian writes.


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