Illustration by Luna Lopez.

Four Clueless First Years Talk Nonsense About Dune for 30 minutes

A four-person joint review of the recently released feature film *Dune*, including both genuine analysis and slander against the name Paul (disclaimer: spoilers!)

Emily: Hello, these are columnists Malak Elmallah, Emily Yoo and Sara Vuksanovic, with special guest and Dune expert, Orsi Nagy, all Class of 2025.
Malak: This week, we're going to discuss the 2021 film Dune, based on a 1965 novel of the same name.
Emily: I'll give a quick summary, but it’s a difficult movie to summarize. A lot of things happen, but the general plot is that our main character, Paul — his name is Paul by the way, or as we would say in Arabic since we have no P’s: Bool.
Malak: Ball.
Emily: Ball, alright yeah. He has visions that indicate he’s apparently the future of the universe. Paul and his family are sent by the emperor of the universe to a planet to collect spice, which is essential for space travel. This other family who used to run the spice planet get jealous and the emperor lets them invade said planet, so Paul gets stranded in the desert with his mother. That is the best summary I can give, I'm terribly sorry. If you’re not satisfied, go watch it yourself and try to give a better one.
Malak: Before we discuss issues brought up in Dune, let's talk about overall impressions.
Orsi: I appreciated that they followed the book very closely. I liked the actors, they tried to stay close to their book descriptions and the worldbuilding matches the book. What the book didn't have is a visual landscape and soundtrack, and the movie did a phenomenal job with those.
Sara: I haven’t read the book but I liked the film. I enjoyed the worldbuilding quite a lot; the way that they handled the representation of the spice planet culture was incredible. It was good enough for me to want to read the book.
Malak: Ok, this concludes the “we-liked-this-movie-very-much” section. Let's talk about the parts we did not enjoy. I'd like to make it clear that despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the movie a lot. I thought it was visually stunning, I thought the soundtrack was great, I thought that it did a good job setting up for the next movie. That being said, my problem stems from the fact that as a standalone, it does not hold enough weight. There's not enough character development or plot development for it to be a great movie.
Emily: I had similar issues with the movie. I didn’t hate it, but I like movies that have strong characters, which Dune did not have. Dune was really great in a lot of technical aspects, but it's not a movie that I could say I loved. That's it for general comments about the overall movie, now let’s get into the spicy stuff, pardon the pun. So, my number one criticism of this movie is that it's obviously colonialist. First of all, the main character’s name is Paul and he's played by Timothée Chalamet, who is extremely white.
Malak: The whitest of men. One of my main disappointments is how he has a super boring name. Everyone gets cool names...
Emily: ...except for the main character, exactly. The white people planet goes to rule this desert planet inhabited by people of color. It's not like Paul is deliberately going out to colonize this planet, but the narrative still frames it in such a way where Paul is clearly supposed to be a hero for ... colonizing people?
Orsi: Right, but they make it a point that he befriends the Fremen trying to form an alliance. The movie did an okay job of establishing that relationship but I feel it wasn't clear enough in places. You could tell that it came across sometimes as the desert people being lesser.
Sara: Obviously colonialism and orientalism were big in this film, but we have to kind of take into account that this is based off a book from the 1960s. Although it's amazing for the book fans to have an accurate adaptation, wouldn’t it also be valid to have details from the books changed to fit the current social climate of 2021?
Orsi: On that note, they did change one character; Dr. Kynes in the book was a male character, but the movie changed him to a Black female character which worked well. I feel it added a little more because there was a subversion of expectations with who was the expert about the planet.
Emily: Yeah, so let's talk about representation. One thing I wanted to say was that there is just one East Asian character in this movie. He is the ‘Mystic Medicine Man’ trope; he is also a traitor who gets killed so, as an East Asian person, I couldn’t really say I appreciated seeing that. But more importantly, the Fremen culture is based clearly on Middle Eastern cultures, which is interesting because there were no major Middle Eastern characters. In fact, I believe most of the actors playing Fremen characters were Black.
Malak: In that respect, I clearly saw Middle Eastern influences, but I think this kind of speaks to this U.S. American mindset of people either being white or “other”. In general, I feel like the movie did have a little bit of representation apart from the main characters, but on the other hand, if it is going to make a point about western colonialism then it's only fair to have most of the “colonizers” be white and the rest be not white. I feel like that's fair; we have to take the complexities of the movie as they are.
Malak: Finally, what would you like to see in the next one?
Sara: Zendaya.
Malak: Yes, she was just perfume adding the entire way through. If we're talking about social issues, environmentalism might be an interesting topic to explore. I mean, the mining of Spice could be easily an algorithm for fossil fuels.
Emily: … Allegory?
Malak: Yes, allegory — oops ...
Emily: I'd like to see actual, developed characters; I'd like to learn more about who Paul is.
Sara: I would enjoy learning more about the worldbuilding, as in what different cultures exist in this universe and how Paul and these characters who are outsiders interact with them.
Orsi: Thank you for reading. I hope you get the time to go watch the movie and then read the book.
Sara: Cheers, bye!
Sara Vuksanovic, Emily Yoo and Malak Elmallah are Book and Movie Columnists. Email them at
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