Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Dune. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Dune: Part One about?
Dune: Part One is the first act of a coming-of-age story that emphasizes the myriad number of ways someone’s life can go. In real life, that idea is usually quite ethereal, but Dune portrays it literally through Paul’s visions of the future, visions that shift like the sands of Arrakis. They are potential outcomes, rather than definitive prophecies. Paul has to accept the burden of his birthright—his dad a Duke and his mom one of the Bene Gesserit—as well as face the realities of larger, world-shaping issues, like politics, economics, ecology, and what it means to have and wield power. It’s the same core journey as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and, in less exaggerated ways, regular people everywhere, including you, the person reading this. The universality of the story is one of the reasons Frank Herbert’s novel has been a best-seller for nearly 60 years, totaling over 20 million copies.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Paul Atreides – Timothée Chalamet
- Leto Atreides – Oscar Isaac
- Lady Jessica – Rebecca Ferguson
- Gurney Halleck – Josh Brolin
- Duncan Idaho – Jason Momoa
- Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Stellan Skarsgård
- Glossu Rabban – Dave Bautista
- Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam – Charlotte Rampling
- Dr. Wellington Yueh – Chang Chen
- Piter De Vries – David Dastmalchian
- Chani – Zendaya
- Stilgar – Javier Bardem
- Jamis – Babs Olusanmokun
- Dr. Liet Kynes – Sharon Duncan-Brewster
- Based on – the novel Dune by Frank Herbert
- Written by – Jon Spaihts | Denis Villeneuve | Eric Roth
- Directed by – Denis Villeneuve
The ending of Dune: Part One explained
The end of Dune: Part One begins following Paul and Jessica’s escape from the Sardaukar and deaths of Idaho Duncan and Liet Kynes. We have the sequence where Paul attempts to fly the ornithopter through a sandstorm. A vision comes to him—it’s Jamis explaining the ways of life and nature. “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience. A process that cannot be understood by stopping it. We must move with the flow of the process. We must join it. We must flow with it.” At that point, Paul stops trying to fly the ornithopter against the storm. Instead, he lets the storm fly the ornithopter. It works! They successfully crash land outside the storm.
There’s the sequence where a sandworm chases Paul and his mom. The worm shares a moment with Paul. Then leaves because it hears a thumper off in the distance. That leads to the encounter with Stilgar’s tribe. Jessica proves her worth to Stilgar. But Jamis doesn’t like the outsiders. This is the same guy who the visions showed would be a mentor to Paul. So his anger is unexpected.
That leads to the showdown between Jamis and Paul. Paul has a vision of the fight, a vision where he loses. The voices of his Bene Gesserit ancestors tell him “Paul Atreides must die, for Kwisatz Haderach to rise.” And “Don’t be frightened. Don’t resist. When you take a life, you take your own.” A brief conversation with Chani concludes with her lending Paul a crysknife, a blade made from a sandworm’s tooth.
Paul and Jamis duel. Quickly, Paul gains the upper hand. With a blade to Jamis’s throat, he asks, “Do you yield?” The Freman all gasp and Stilgar explains “There’s no yielding under the amtal rule.” The show of mercy enrages Jamis as it’s a blow to his honor. Try as he might to retake momentum, Paul counters him over and over, but won’t land the final blow. Jessica explains: “Paul has never killed a man.” The voices return. They chant Kwisatz Haderach. We see shots of Chani with the bloodied chrysknife. “Climb up. Rise,” the voices say. Jamis lunges and Paul doesn’t hesitate—the knife plunges into Jamis’s organs.
The Freman of Sietch Tabr wrap Jamis’s body and the clan all lay hands on Paul as a sign of acceptance. Stilgar explains “You’re one of us now.” When Jessica tries to plead for a way to escape, Paul shuts her down. “No. The Emperor sent us to this place. And my father came, not for spice, not for the riches, but for the strength of your people. My road leads into the desert. I can see it. If you’ll have us, we will come.”
Paul observes a Freman riding on the back of a sandworm. He says, “Desert power.” Chani responds, “This is only the beginning.”
The character journey
Many coming-of-age stories in the fantasy genre begin by establishing the main character’s regular, boring life. They’re young and innocent. Typically what happens next is some kind of attack that destroys their home. Or at least drives them from it. It’s the “Doomed Hometown” trope. From TV Tropes: “It’s almost guaranteed that wherever the hero starts out—be it town, planet or even universe, depending on the scope of the story—is likely to be rudely destroyed by the forces of fate as soon as his back is turned.”
You see it in Star Wars, Avatar, Conan the Barbarian, The Hunger Games, a version of it in The Lion King, and many more. Lord of the Rings doesn’t destroy the Shire but part of Frodo’s coming-of-age story is establishing the innocence of life in the Shire in order to grow Frodo as a character over the course of his journey outside of it.
Dune: Part One turns that loss of innocence into the entire movie. The first-third of the film establishes Paul’s privileged life.The second-third destroys it. And the final-third challenges Paul in order to see how he navigates real-world issues.
The big juxtaposition used in Dune: Part One is Paul’s sparring session with Gurney Halleck versus his final fight with Jamis. The Paul who spars with Gurney is sheltered. When Gurney tells Paul to pick up a blade, how does the marquess respond? “I’ve had quite a day, Gurney. Give us a song, instead.” Gurney attacks him. When Paul gets bested, he says “I guess I’m not in the mood today.” That does not sit well with the weapons master. “What’s mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises, no matter the mood. Now fight!”
The Paul who fights Jamis is experienced. The sneak attack by the Harkonnens and Sardaukar destroyed Paul’s sheltered life. The events of that night and the day that followed are way more intense than the dreams and ceremony that caused Paul to feel “not in the mood” for the sparring session with Gurney. Jamis didn’t care about Paul’s mood when he challenged him to a fight to the death. And Paul, to his credit, doesn’t flinch from the moment. The film doesn’t cut back to Gurney’s words—you fight when the necessity arises—but they echo all the same.
So the fight with Jamis mirrors the fight with Gurney in order to show how tragic events have changed Paul. Even then, there’s still a bit of resistance, as he won’t, initially, strike Jamis down. Some innocence remains. And that’s really what the creepy voices meant they told him that “Paul Atreides must die.” The key was in their final words: “When you take a life, you take your own.”
When Paul finally stabs Jamis, his loss of innocence is complete. Paul Atreides, the boy, is gone. That notion is reinforced when Jessica tries to request a way to leave the planet. She’s the mother trying to protect her kid. But Paul is no longer a kid. So he cuts off that line of thinking with a firm “No.” Then takes command of the situation. It’s the first flicker of a leader’s fire. Lastly, right at the end, Paul’s positioned between Jessica and Chani. His mother is behind him. While Chani, his potential love interest, is in front of him. It’s very basic “the boy is about to become a man”.
Except this story isn’t just about Paul becoming an adult. It’s about him turning into Kwisatz Haderach.
What is Kwisatz Haderach? The Bene Gesserit are all female. The higher-tier Reverend Mothers have access to genetic memory. But only on the female side, because they don’t have Y-chromosomes. The Kwisatz Haderach would be the first male with genetic memory access. That unlocks an entire ocean of historic information. But because Paul has both X- and Y-chromosomes, he’d have all the knowledge of the female Bene Gesserit as well.
The kicker is the whole seeing the future thing—aka prescience. Some Bene Gesserit have minor visions. But Kwisatz Haderach can essentially see time the way Neo can see the Matrix. One passage from the novel goes: The thing was a spectrum of possibilities from the most remote past to the most remote future—from the most probable to the most improbable.
At the end of Dune: Part One, Paul doesn’t have that full power unlocked. But you can imagine he’ll get there.
One thing that might confuse people is Paul’s visions of Jamis. How could Paul see Jamis in the future if Jamis dies? That’s because Paul’s visions are not concrete. They’re potentialities. Versions of the future. So in the world of Dune, fate isn’t linear. There are many possibilities. Part of Paul’s power is seeing those futures (and potentially making a specific one come to fruition).
So the vision of Jamis is a red herring. It makes us think Jamis will play a bigger part in events, that he has plot armor. When he challenges Paul, we think we know how the fight will go. Except Jamis doesn’t survive. That’s done specifically to showcase that Paul’s visions are open to change. That has a lot of implications. For the viewer, it means that you can’t trust something will happen. You can’t get comfortable with an idea of the future just because we saw a vision.
On the character-level, it means Paul has agency. He’s not a pawn of fate, on a singular path to some destiny that’s already decided. Rather, he can make choices along the way. That matters in that it removes Paul’s plausible deniability. If he were a pawn, you can’t praise him if things go well or fault him if they turn tragic, since the result was predetermined. Because the future is open, because he can make a choice, that means the results are 100% his to own. If things go well, you can truly call him a hero. If they don’t go well, well…
The themes and meaning of Dune: Part One
The politics of power
When Dune begins, Paul’s on the outside of politics. He’s just the son of someone who rules an entire planet, Duke Leto Atreides, but not an active part of the kingdom. His role, at this point, is to prepare. He even says to his father “I’ve been training my whole life. What is the point if I’m not allowed to face some actual risk?” Leto’s response is to warn Paul that once they reach Arrakis there will be danger—political danger.
Leto: The Great Houses look to us for leadership, and this threatens the Emperor. By taking Arrakis from the Harkonnens and making it ours, he sets the stage for a war which would weaken both houses. But if we hold firm, and tap the true power of Arrakis, we could be stronger than ever. [He concludes with plans to make an alliance with the Freman]. Here, on Caladan, we’ve ruled by air power and sea power. On Arrakis, we need to cultivate desert power.
The Harkonnens and Sardaukar attack on Arrakis marks a tipping point. The politics that had been outside of Paul’s life suddenly are a major part of it. Leto had acted as a wall that stood between Paul and the realities of the world. With him gone, it’s on Paul to rise to the occasion.
What is the occasion?
Part of it is the inheritance of House Atreides. Paul, as the heir, is now the Duke. The leader of Caladan. He will wield power and influence that way, as well as have a responsibility to his subjects. But he’s also the son of Lady Jessica, a Bene Gesserit acolyte. That’s an entirely separate avenue of power. He can use the Voice, which allows him to quite literally control others.
The fate of Leto shows us how deadly the political game can be. That sets up plenty of danger for Paul. And asks the question of whether or he can navigate a way through a situation his father couldn’t. As of this moment, power is simply a means of survival. But what will happen if Paul is Kwisatz Haderach? The Lisan al-Gaib? The messiah? He’d have access to untold power. Which asks a further question, maybe the ultimate question—what does someone do with all that power?
When Leto explained the political landscape to Paul, he concluded with the line: “A great man doesn’t seek to lead. He’s called to it, and he answers.” Paul, though, seems to have access to the future. Will greatness call him? Or will he seek it? And if he chooses to seek rather than respond, what does that say about him?
That establishes a light side vs. dark side dynamic that’s less direct about it than Star Wars. The Emperor and Baron Harkonnen have already shown the dark side. While Leto was, seemingly, on the light side. Which path will Paul go down? What will having power do to him? Especially when his path to power begins with a duel to the death.
Why is the movie called Dune: Part One?
Dune obviously refers to the desert-aspect of Arrakis, the primary setting of the story. In universe, “Dune” is a nickname for the planet. We have those lines from Scary Baron Harkonnen. Quote, “But Arrakis is Arrakis and the desert takes the weak. This is my desert. My Arrakis. My Dune.”
The more poetic reason for the title is that sand is often associated with time. One of the most common idioms is “the sands of time”. That’s because people used to actually use sand-filled hourglasses to time things—they weren’t just a novelty or board game accessory. So when you have a story about a character unlocking time and it’s set on a planet that’s full of sand…it seems like a pretty clear symbolic connection.
The thing with sand dunes is that they look like a hill or mountain. But because they’re made up of billions of individual grains, the dunes constantly shift. They aren’t set in stone. That fits Paul’s relationship with time. The future isn’t a fixed thing. Rather, it shifts with each decision. The shape changes. With that in mind, you could see the title as a poetic reference to time, the future.
Important motifs in Dune: Part One
The visions are a concrete way to visualize Paul’s relationship with time and the future. So much of the film also focuses on the Atreides side of Paul’s life. The visions embody the Bene Gesserit side that comes from Paul’s mom. We also get a few hints of the power they contain. For example, we don’t know if Paul and Jessica would have survived the sandstorm if he had continued to try to manually fly the ornithopter through a storm we’re told is impossible to survive. But his vision of Jamis and the conversation they have informs Paul to let go and let the wind guide them through. That implies there will be, in the future, other situations where the visions give him an advantage. In that way, they also represent Paul’s budding power.
In Dune, power is mostly displayed on the political or militarial levels. Leto being a Duke. Harkonnen’s army’s sneak attack on House Atreides.
The Voice is far more intimate. It’s an individual completely subordinating another. It causes them to say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. It’s one of the magical, fantastical powers in the world of Dune. But it represents something real. Namely, the way in which people can force others to act a certain way. We see this with Dr. Yueh. He was a well-liked, trusted part of House Atreides. Yet he betrays them. Why? Because Baron Harkonnen kidnapped Yueh’s wife and was torturing her. So Yueh acted in a way he never otherwise would have because he thought it would save the person he loved the most.
So even though the Voice doesn’t exist, it does. Especially when you remember that one of Dune’s main themes is how people wield power. A cliche example is the boss that asks someone to work over the weekend. The employee says they can’t because they have plans. And the boss says “I don’t care. You need to come. This deal is too important.” And the person will, because there’s the implication that they’ll lose their job if they don’t.
Another cliche example is a mugging. “Did they have a weapon?” “I didn’t see one.” “So why did you give them your wallet?” “It was their body language. How they talked. I thought if I didn’t, something bad would happen.”
Voice is the “cool” fantasy version of a real byproduct of power and represents the way in which powerful people can force others to take a certain action, even if they’d rather not.
Sandworms come back to that theme of power. The film tells us the Fremen are the true jewel of Arrakis, not spice. But Leto and Paul couch that in terms of “desert power”. Given that this is a fantasy/sci-fi universe, you can take this idea of desert power to the next level and put in these giant sandworms that exemplify the potential power of the desert. It also increases the perceived value of the Fremen when we understand they not only live with the sandworms but can, as we see at the end, ride them.
It also puts some subtext into Paul’s staredown with a worm. Paul’s on the brink of becoming the most powerful being in the world, Kwisatz Haderach. So the immensity of the sandworm, the surreal, sublime force that they are, also represents the power that Paul could one day wield. If the Freman are the Atreides/political side of the coin. Then the sandworms are the Bene Gesserit/fantasy side.
Questions & answers about Dune: Part One
Why did the sandworm stop chasing Paul and Jessica? Did it recognize Paul?
Denis Villenuve did an interview with James Cameron. Near the end, he discusses how he purposefully staged the scene to have multiple interpretations. One being the grounded answer that the sandworm lost interest because Paul and Jessica were off the sand. That would make it more of a territorial thing. The other interpretation is that, in Villeneuve’s own words, a “miracle”, in the sense that you have two different species, human and sandworm, having this unspoken communication between them. A communication we would assume has to do with Paul’s destiny as Kwisatz Haderach. The sandworm’s recognition would essentially confirm that, yes, Paul is the chosen one.
What does“Dreams are messages from the deep” mean?
We don’t know what the “deep” refers to. It could be something specific to the world of Dune that’s just not introduced in the first film. It could be a reference to the Bene Gesserit power of genetic memory. Or it could refer to the more general idea of aether, of all the mysteries and phenomena humanity hasn’t fully grasped. Either way, dreams come from this strange, secretive, and powerful place. They’re telling us something. Speaking a language we perceive visually rather than audibly. A language not fully understood, only partially gleaned.
When Gaius Helen Mohiam, the Bene Gesserit’s Reverend Mother, tests Paul, after the “hand in the box” sequence, this is the conversation:
Gaius: Tell me about these dreams
Paul: I had one tonight
G: What did you see?
P: A girl. On Arrakis.
G: Have you dreamt of her before?
P: Many times.
G: Do you often dream things that happen just as you dreamed them?
P: Not exactly.
Neither the direction nor the acting necessarily emphasize the final question and answer. There’s no dramatic close-up. There’s no meaningful pause before the delivery. Without something like that, it’s easy for Gaius’s questions and Paul’s answer to fade into the general intensity of the scene. Especially over the course of a 2.5 hour movie. The same is true for that opening “Dreams are messages from the deep.” These might not be details you pick up on until someone mentions them or you watch the movie a second time.
But what we see is that, very early on, Dune emphasizes that dreams are messages. And that the messages Paul receives don’t always come true. This is, at the beginning, simply theoretics. But by the end, the dreams are far more relevant and prevalent, as they’re no longer about something that’s distant from Paul’s present, rather, they’re part of the here and now. Affecting the choices he makes. They’ve become consequential. Possible futures.
What is spice melange?
About five minutes into Dune: Part One, Paul watches a video about Arrakis. The narrator explains: For the Fremen, spice is the sacred hallucinogen which preserves life and brings enormous health benefits. For the Imperium, spice is used by the navigators of the Spacing Guild to find safe paths between the stars. Without spice, interstellar travel is impossible, making it, by far, the most valuable substance in the universe.
The word “mélange: means mixture. So a salad is a melange of different vegetables. New York City is a melange of people. So spice melange in just a mixture of elements that come together in the Arrakis desert, in particle-form. It resembles paprika.
Why does Paul react so weirdly to spice?
We’re told it has hallucinogenic qualities. But Paul’s the byproduct of generations of Bene Gesserit breeding. They want him to unlock prescience and become this superbeing. And spice plays an important role in activating those powers. That’s why, when he has his first encounter with the spice, the creepy voices say “Kwisatz Haderach awakes.”
Why did Mother Mohiam work with Baron Harkonnen?
The Bene Gesserit is an independent order with their own goals. They work as advisors to many of the powerful figures in the galaxy. Mohiam advises the Emperor himself. Which makes sense since she’s so powerful. In the meeting with Harkonne, she mentions that Leto doesn’t matter to the Bene Gesserit but that Jessica and Paul must live.
While it seems like Mohaim is simply doing what the Emperor wants, by helping Harkonnen end House Atreides, in reality, the Bene Gesserit have pulled many strings to get Paul to Arrakis, on a path to become Kwisatz Haderach. They view him as a tool that, once fully empowered, the order can use to rule the galaxy.
What are the shields and why do they glow blue and red?
This universe has self-protective energy shields. It seems they work by producing enough vibrations to keep fast-moving objects from reaching someone’s body. So if you try to slash someone with a sword, the vibrations stop the blade from hitting skin. But, as Gurney demonstrates on Paul, a slow-moving blade can make it past the vibrations. I guess because the low speed means it doesn’t trigger a defensive response.
But the shields clearly aren’t impenetrable. They can help someone survive or give them time to get away from an attack, but they don’t grant invincibility.
How did Baron Harkonnen survive the poison mist?
Yueh betrays Leto but does it in a “we’re still bros” way by turning Leto into a living weapon via the tooth that releases a deadly poison cloud. The mist is potent. We see multiple Harkonnen guards drop immediately. But the Baron is smart and activates his body shield. But he’s full of interesting technology. So he can also float/cling to walls. The poison is heavier than air, so it doesn’t rise. It stays lower to the ground. That means the air near the ceiling was breathable.
In short. Body shield to survive the initial release. Then breathing in the air near the ceiling allowed him to live long enough for help to come.
Why do they call Lady Jessica a concubine?
So Leto and Jessica seemed to love one another. Leto even tells her he wished he had married her. Why didn’t he?
House Atreides was one of the most powerful in the empire. In such a political environment, marriages are important. They aren’t done for love but for diplomatic reasons. We hear Paul speculate he could win the Emperor’s favor by marrying the princess.
It’s likely that Leto remained unmarried because it kept open the possibility that he could, if needed wed someone from another important house. The title of “concubine” was a step below wife. It’s essentially a fancy, kind of demeaning way, to say girlfriend. The relationship is serious but not definitive.
So, in short, Leto never married Jessica, despite loving her, because it kept open potential political alliances. His marriage to anyone, even Jessica, would have potential allies looking elsewhere.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Dune? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!