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HomeWeekly ColumnFilm ThoughtsDune: Part Two isn’t the hero’s tale you think it is

Dune: Part Two isn’t the hero’s tale you think it is

Adapting Frank Herbert’s novel, Denis Villeneuve makes a small change with big ramifications

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two is the biggest (and maybe best) movie of 2024 so far, picking up right where we ended in Dune (2021) and completing the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel.

This column is too short to write about every aspect of Dune: Part Two that I find interesting so I’ve decided to focus my musings on one significant change Villeneuve made to the ending of this story. I also don’t have room to explain this story’s complex plot, so this might only be worth reading if you’ve seen the film.

While Villeneuve does make changes from the novel throughout the film (like the omission of characters Harah and Count Fenring), the most substantial deviation from the source material comes towards the end.

In the final moments of Dune: Part Two, Paul Attreides (Timothee Chalamet) completes his ascendance by defeating Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) in a duel to overthrow the Emperor (Christopher Walken), having asserted himself as the leader of the Fremem of Arrakis.

To end both novel and movie, Paul announces that he will take the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) as his wife. In the movie, the move is a blindside to Chani (Zendaya), coming moments after Paul pledges an undying allegiance to her.

That’s different from the book where Paul explains to Chani that it is merely a political move. Irulan will “have no more of me than my name,” he says. 

Chani, slightly apprehensive, accepts the decision and her position as Paul’s concubine.

In the movie she is last seen preparing to return to her desert home, far away from Paul Attreides.

I was originally unsure of my opinion on this change by Villeneuve. Not out of loyalty to Herbert and his vision, but because I didn’t buy that Chani wouldn’t understand the political move for what it was. Why wouldn’t she at least talk to Paul before leaving?

The more I thought, however, the more I got on board. It works because of the effort that Villeneuve and Zendaya spend throughout the entire film to make Chani her own character rather than just a companion to Paul.

This isn’t to say that Herbert does nothing to develop Chani throughout the novel, but Zendaya’s portrayal takes Chani from skilled fighter and faithful partner to someone who possesses both of those traits in addition to a distinct point of view.

In the film, Chani is much more vocal than she is in the book about her disbelief in the prophecy of the Lisan al Gaib, leading a large faction of like-minded Fremen.

I don’t think the changes to Chani’s character were necessary for this to be a good film, but I’m happy that Villeneuve made them. Villeneuve has been clear about his stance that Paul is not a hero and his changes to the text might lead one to believe that he sees Chani as the true hero of this tale.

Confirmation of that theory may come in later adaptations (fingers crossed), but it doesn’t go unnoticed that he poignantly closes the film with a shot of not Paul, but Chani. This is her story too.

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