There is a basic storyline on the surface of the film that is very relevant to us today and the symbolism is revealing. The movie takes place in the distant future where humanity has spread throughout the galaxy and there is a galactic empire. There is an intricate system of feudalism with noble families, but we also have a corporate structure as well that is essential to the story. There are also a myriad of secret societies that play important roles in the story. It is of course also about the apotheosis of Paul Atreides who is the very un-Christ like messiah figure.
Kyle MacLachlan is an interesting choice for this role considering some of the strange roles that he has had, especially in Twin Peaks, and The Hidden.
There are dichotomies in the story that relate to much other science fiction. There are no "thinking machines", that is artificially intelligent computers, as they had been banned centuries before and destroyed in the Butlerian Jihad. This is interesting in comparison to the ideas expressed in other films that have the machines destroying humanity or waging an apparently endless war ("The Terminator" and "The Matrix" come to mind). There is a total outlawing of any kind of machine "made in the image of a human mind" and the penalty for creating or using such was death.
There is no lack of technology for all of this. It is of a different kind and centered on the development of human potential and on organic technology. Drugs are an integral part of the story, the Mentats use the "Juice of Sapho" to quicken their thoughts, giving them a stain around their mouths.
The Mentats are meant to take over the actions of computers because they are trained to think in strictly computer like ways, analytically and capable of amassing huge amounts of data and collating it just like computers.
The elite all use "Melange", the spice that is created by the biological action of the sandworms of Dune or Arakis.
Reverand Mothers in the "Bene Gesserit" school ( a religious order that fulfills many different functions in the empire) use several different drugs and poisons in their rituals.
The "Guild Navigator" uses the spice for seeing accurately through space time to enable the folding of space to allow for near instantaneous transport of heighliners between distant planets, it also mutates them over time. David Lynch chose to have the navigators actually do the folding of space in the movie even though in the book they are only able to see the correct safe passage that the heighliner will take to travel safely. This is an interesting departure because it makes the navigators much more powerful because they can literally go anywhere nearly instantly.
Gaius Helen Mohiam and a couple of
fellow Bene Gesserit sisters.
There are plenty of themes to explore in the movie. One thing I want to point out before we go on is what is conspicuously ABSENT from the film. Can you guess or do you know? What's missing? ALIENS! The whole galaxy in this mythology is peopled by humans, there is no other intelligent life, just humans.
It should be noted that even in the books there is no other intelligent life in the galaxy besides humanity.
Believe it or not this actually plays into the idea of a hidden "other" on Earth as has been the subject of discussion on this blog as well as some other less "reputable" ones. ;)
It would take a month to properly lay out all of the back story to show the symbolism here.
A scientific genius, who becomes part man, part machine discovers the secret to interstellar travel and communication over a long lifetime. Part of this technology is the idea of a null point. These can be used to create pocket dimensions. That is a very real blueprint for the alien as Earth inhabitant, AND dimensional entity. Humans are the same everywhere in the Dune Universe but you would not know it to look at them since the variance is quite broad ON THE SURFACE. Genetically they are all human. This is key in considering the idea of other beings existing with us that equate with the gods of old. Sometimes these gods have been depicted as having certain animal characteristics but a lot of the time they are shown wearing things that made them look animal like.
Oannes, clearly manlike "wearing" a fish.
And then you have the Guild Navigators that are described in the books as vaguely aquatic looking. And depicted this way in the "Children of Dune" miniseries:
They even have a little bit of the "grey alien" in them eh? David Lynch chose to depict the Navigators as shown further above. That change takes away from my thesis a little, but he had a different vision of these beings than Herbert did.
There is a messianic story here as well with Paul Atreides' ascension to near godlike status. His apotheosis is a retrograde one. The breeding program that produces him is clearly designed to produce a human that is in command of the forces that man had in the ancient past. The perfect man that existed in the "Golden Age", or Eden, or take your pick of any of countless myths of mans origins.
Artificially intelligent/computer technology is shunned (though this envelope is pushed even after the ban) and organic evolution is pursued through control of the body right down to the cellular and genetic level.
Various societies exist in a dynamic tension of control. Most of the major organizations are highly secretive and masonic or church like though there is no overt subject of worship except amongst the Fremen, which clearly are derivative of Middle Eastern racial groups and religious philosophies such as Islam, Zoroastrianism, Sufism, etc. The empire is highly structured and religious but there is an absence of a god or gods, except, perhaps, amongst the Fremen.
There is a fanatical devotion to Paul Atreides by his Fremen warriors, and interestingly enough Paul's secret name is Usul, which in their language meant "base of the pillar", shades of "Foundation" and "Al-Qaeda".
Just a little aside in the story. After 9/11 there was almost immediately a conspiracy theory that purported that Al-Qaeda derived it's name from the Foundation series of books by Asimov. But it seems to me that one could argue that it could just as easily, and perhaps even more so, have been a reference to this movie. Let us not forget the cogent point that the movie came out in 1984, shades of Orwell/Blair here and the ushering in of Big Brother via the police state actions following the activity of the "foundation" or "base" and the attack on 9/11. Food for synchonistic thought.
There is a certain prescience here since the Fremen come to terrorize the forces of the empire in much the same way we are led to believe that Al-Qaeda does to the US
This movie can be seen as a model for the elite plans for world domination as well as the secret societies plans for the fulfillment of their goals of "perfected man". The various ways that is done are by the various routes one can take and what "brotherhood" to which you belong.
There is even a monopoly that runs all commerce, or seems to. That is CHOAM. The galactic Wal-Mart.
Now let us tie it all together shall we. Ancient man and his interaction with the gods that live among us showed how through the superior genetics of hybrid offspring one could achieve the greatness of demigods and heroes. Analogous to the highly evolved people of the Dune movie, the Reverend Mother, Paul, Jessica, Guild Navigators, etc.
Ultimately the gods left or went into hiding leaving us on our own to develop or atrophy on the vine. To preserve the knowledge of the ancients and the magic of the gods there were formed secret societies and mystery religions.
Analogous to the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, etc.
This knowledge is used by some to try and control the population and push us into a direction they want us to go and this is precisely what we see in this movie.
International banking and commerce are part of the equation of control as depicted in the movie by CHOAM.
Through the "weirding way" and the evolution that the spice enhances along with exotic technology and drugs and a millenias long eugenics program the end result is the reverse apotheosis of the "super being" back to the genetic pureness of the "golden age". This is the goal of the secret societies and the mystery religions.
The David Lynch movie is one of those movies that really resonated with me and it was probably the most highly symbolic of movies to me and was only replaced when "The Matrix" came out. The SciFi miniseries was also good but the movie was it for me.
I might pick this movie up again in the future for more discussion.