Denis Villeneuve and his team have finally begun to bring Dune to cinema in a way that is fitting. It is years since I read the book, but experiencing this film brings it back in a vivid and compelling way. I can smell it. This is a movie that you live through for its 155-minute running time. You can see, feel, and breath in the fabric of this story in a compelling and satisfying way. One of the real successes here is in taking a complex, politically woven novel, yet presenting the important themes in a clear and interesting way.
Frank Herbert wrote the original novel and it was published in 1965. He has brought together many ancient political, religious, and economic strands from the history of human civilization and woven his story through it giving his fictional world a real weight.
The Dune Wiki says that the religious themes of Dune are mainly derived from Islam, and the language inspired by Arabic. The Middle Eastern influence is clear. But the life of Paul Atreides is a Messiah story that recalls the stories that are rooted in ancient Judaism and fulfilled by the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Set Islam aside for a moment. There is a lot of Christian symbolism in Dune.
Paul may be the Kwisatz Haderach, or Muad’Dib. These words identify the Dune universe Messiah figure who will lead people to true freedom and is expected by both the Fremen on Arrakis and the Bene Gessarit. In his blog, Scott Smith identifies links in Dune to the Hebrew Kabbalistic term Kefitzat Ha’derech.
Paul is the son of a king (or Duke) and he comes to a people who are repeatedly abused and colonized. The Fremen of Arrakis are reminiscent of the Hebrew people, colonized by the Romans, and visited by the Messiah Jesus. Yet while the Jews expected a military Messiah, and the Fremen of Dune expected and got the same in Paul Atreides, Jesus of Nazareth is anything but a military figure. Like Jesus, Paul is expected and tested in the desert. Unlike Jesus, the people recognize him when he arrives on Arrakis. The film captures these themes really clearly.
Dune Reminds Me – We Are Looking for a Messiah
This reminds me that humanity has a history of expecting the divine. So many ancient mythologies and religions down through history have pointed to a coming deity – just like Dune does. J Warner Wallace has helpfully listed many of the characteristics of these religious deities:
The deity is:
- Predicted, like the birth of Zoroaster, and Paul Atreides.
- Comes from royal heritage, like the Greek god Adonis, and Paul Atreides.
- Comes from unnatural means, like the Hindu Tibetan deity, and possibly Paul Atreides.
- Protected as a child, as the Buddah’s parents may have done.
- Faces temptation, like Krishna the Hindu deity.
- Is identified with shepherds, like the Egyptian god Osiris.
- Possess supernatural power, like Quetzalcoati the Mesoamerican deity.
- Active in engaging humans directly, like Tammuz the Mesopotamian god.
- A teacher of human followers, like Serapis the Graeco-Egyptian deity.
- One who recognizes the need for a sacrifice, like Shangdi the Chinese deity.
- One who faced a judicial death, like Dionysus the Greek and Roman god.
- One who establishes a divine meal, like Mithras the Persian and Roman god.
- One who has the power to defeat death, like Heracles the Greek god.
- One who offers eternal life to their followers, like Zalmoxis the deity of Getae and Dacian.
- One who will judge the living and the dead, like Thakur Jiu, the Santal deity.
I guess we can add Paul Atreides to this list.
Jesus is the Ultimate Messiah
There are similarities here in these deity figures between these ancient religious figures and Paul Atreides of Dune. Frank Herbert was inspired by human religious tradition, so this is expected. But even more, there are similarities between the attributes on this list and Jesus of Nazareth. Wallace observes that, rather than joining this list as yet another humanly invented deity, Jesus is different. He uniquely possesses all the characteristics found in so many ancient mythologies. He embodies and personifies mankind’s expectation of God.
This similarity with mythology was the thing that kept C S Lewis back from accepting Christianity for many years, until his friend J R R Tolkien helped him see that Christianity is not just another fictional mythology to add to the list. Rather – it is the mythology which is true, being rooted in history and real events. Later in his life, Lewis wrote this:
“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous different that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are man’s myths … Christianity is God expressing himself through what we call “real things.”
I loved Dune part 1, and I recognize the power of myth. And I think it – like the many compelling fictional myths that have come before it – point ultimately to the true myth of Jesus who meets all of mankind’s needs for a Messiah. The one who finally makes us free men and women, free from the weight of mankind’s rebellion against God, free from guilt and shame, free to experience life in the future as God intends..
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” Galatians 5:1
 J Warner Wallace, Person of Interest, (Zondervan Reflective, 2021), 33-35.