Dune: Humanity Amidst the Spectacle
[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
The Gom Jabbar. The doomed Duke Leto’s courageous defiance in the face of Baron Harkonnen’s triumphant gloating. Duncan Idaho’s last stand. Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune features plenty of awe-inspiring set pieces. My personal favorite scene, however, is a bit more subtle than those other examples: Paul Atreides’ departure from Caladan.
It’s a simple montage: as the servants and soldiers prepare for their long journey through space, our young protagonist explores the terrain of his home world for the last time. He plucks a few blades of grass, gently touches the soil, submerges his hand in cool, clear water, committing the sensations to memory—because his memories will be all he has to comfort him beneath the blazing sun of Arrakis' hostile deserts.
In storytelling terms, these shots are, of course, purely functional and mechanical—carefully calculated to produce a particular emotional response. But their manufactured nature hardly diminishes their impact; they serve their narrative purpose beautifully, grounding the fantastical setting in reality by briefly deemphasizing the special effects and instead focusing on characters behaving in a recognizable, relatable fashion.
Like Alec Guinness buttoning the filthy, tattered remains of his shirt in The Bridge on the River Kwai (a display of British stuffiness that is comical and pitiful in equal measure), Paul’s farewell to his ancestral planet is a small (but welcome) moment of genuine humanity amidst an otherwise visually overwhelming cinematic spectacle—a morsel for the soul that elevates Villeneuve’s already sublime feast for the eyes.