On October 22nd, 2021 the movie, Dune: Part 1 was released and was a huge hit bringing in $41 Million Dollars in it’s opening weekend. Some viewers saw obvious ties to spiritual topics which this article will touch on.
Dune is at times awe-inspiring and profound as it weaves a rich tapestry of spiritual and philosophical musings.
Other times it feels patently absurd as highly sophisticated space-faring people stab each other with swords and call each other by names like Duncan Idaho.
Other times it’s disturbing, with grotesque villains plotting violence and death. And yet every frame is visually breathtaking as only an auteur director like Denis Villeneuve can demand. We can all agree that he has filmed the “unfilmable” science fiction masterpiece originally published more than 50 years ago and effectively introduced to a new generation of film lovers to Dune with the 2021 release.
But what does a bonkers sci-fi story about a space messiah have to teach us about following Christ?
Dune centers on a young nobleman thrust into conflict. Paul, the heir to House Atreides, watches helplessly as his enemies destroy his home and murder his family. Outcast, but spared by fate, he must live up to the expectations of his grand lineage. Thankfully, he’s received the training and supernatural gifting to restore what was lost.
Biblically, there are many allusions, no surprise considering author Frank Herbert followed Catholicism before eventually converting to Zen Buddhism.
The film, however, covers only a portion of the first book in the Dune saga, but it still gives us a glimpse into how Herbert wrestled with themes of free will versus fate, and how people in power have wielded religion for their own selfish gain.
We learn the protagonist, Paul, comes from a bloodline that has been carefully curated over centuries to produce a mind with supernatural foresight. He’s played by the talented and conflicted Timothy Chamalet, who embodies the tortured messiah figure with a perfect if relentlessly stern grimace.
Right away, it’s easy to see the similarities to the Biblical account of Jesus’ bloodline and his divine knowledge of the future. The desert planet of Arrakis also constantly reminds the viewer of the Biblical setting of the Middle East with the nomadic desert tribes of the Fremen, to Paul and his mother, his father’s concubine, seeking refuge in the wastes, cast out like in the story of Hagar who was spared by an angel together with Ishmael.
As Christian men, we will no doubt be stirred by the Atreides motto, “There is no call we do not answer. There is no faith that we betray.”
Kobe Bryant and a Father’s Impact
There are moments of ‘true myth’ breaking through, like when Paul doubts his ability to live up to his father’s legacy.
His father answers, “A great man doesn’t seek to lead. He’s called to it. And he answers. And if your answer is no, you’ll still be the only thing I ever needed you to be. My son. I found my own way to it. Maybe you’ll find yours.”
As a father, this moment was surprisingly profound. It echoes the message Kobe Bryant got from his dad, which helped create a launching pad to greatness.
As phycologist Benjamin Hardy explains, during Kobe Bryant’s first year playing basketball at age 11, he scored zero points.
“After the last game of the season, he was crying to his dad about how bad he played. His dad looked him in the eyes and said, “I don’t care if you scored 60 points or 0 points. I will love you no matter what.”
That one conversation changed everything for Kobe Bryant. He told Lewis Howes in an interview that when he heard his father say those words, he knew he was “safe.” Regardless of what happened, his father’s love was secure. It was unconditional. He felt protected.
“Okay, that gives me all the confidence in the world to fail. I have that security there,” Kobe said. “But… to hell with that. I’m scoring 60!”
The next season, Kobe started taking way more shots. His creativity blew through the roof. Given that he had full permission to fail, he did just that. He failed over and over and over. Between those failures were lots of successes, and each success built his confidence and creativity.”
As fathers, this is an amazing gift we can give our children, our love, and acceptance without any stipulations. It is then from this place of confidence that a person can achieve great things and answer our calling.
Called to a Greater Destiny
And like Paul from Dune, we too are called to a greater destiny.
In 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
But unlike the Dune story, we are not called to lord over people, but to serve.
Matthew 20:25-28, “But Jesus called them aside and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
While the messiah trope is a popular one and does strike a deep path through ‘true myth’, it remains a shadow of the story we find ourselves in as Christians.
Before you can get comfortable in any allegorical meaning, it quickly becomes apparent this is not the Christian story retold, but a commentary on religion’s dark side. Herbert at once affirms the supernatural (even if it’s often tied to the super drug “spice”) but he also draws attention to the potent, intoxicating power of wielding religion and myth.
The religious order of the Dune universe works closely with the ruling powers, trading favours and keeping each other’s secrets. It comes to light that religious leaders seed different people groups with myths and legends, like the belief that Paul is the messiah, to control and manipulate. Karl Marx’s famous commentary on religion being the opiate of the masses certainly comes to mind.
Where Paul wrestles with being the “chosen one” and the ability to see the future and the violent crusade he was born to lead, we know Christ’s mission was not to overthrow Ceasar through force and raising up an army, but through self-sacrifice and submitting to His Father’s will. While Paul sees the future, he and the author Herbert are blind to the One who holds the future.
As Christ says in John 18:36, “Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
That’s the tragic twist of Herbert’s Dune universe, it borrows heavily from our own history of holy wars and religious devotion, but behind it all, there are only human machinations and drug-induced feats and miracles.
In the end, Dune is a mystical, spectacular science fiction movie that sticks with you, and whose universe has stayed with many since 1965. However, the reason it sticks is that it pulls together so many deep longings for purpose, calling, and prophecy. While it’s an intoxicating experience, like the mind-alternating spice of Arrakis, it will leave you wanting more.