Dune – Part One (2021) – Comprehensive Review

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Dune (2021) is a new adaptation of the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert. Dune has a pretty large cult following and is often credited as the inspiration for other movies of the genre including Star Wars and The Matrix. It should also be noted that this is only part one of a two-part movie that will cover the plot of the first book and it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger without much being resolved. From a purely cinematic standpoint the movie is cinematographically impressive with stunning visuals, a well-composed score, and excellent acting.

That said, this is definitely one for older teens and adults. While it wasn’t particularly graphic, there was a LOT of violence. The movie is also very slow moving and has a complex plot that isn’t likely to be particularly interesting to younger viewers. It’s also over 2.5 hours long and is fairly heavy with almost no light-hearted moments to break up the seriousness, especially after the initial introduction of the characters. Another thing to note is that the sound mixing is a bit uneven — the action scenes are extremely loud compared to dialogue-heavy ones. This can easily be adjusted when viewing at home but if you’re seeing it in the theatre, it may be an issue for those who have sensory sensitivity.

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

This movie does not directly relate to foster care or adoption. However, there are some themes that foster and adoptive families may find relatable. Paul and his family move to a new planet that is extremely different from what they’re used to. They have to adjust not only to a new environment but also adapt to living alongside an indigenous culture. Adjusting to new and unfamiliar environments is something foster and adoptive children experience frequently as they change homes and/or schools, sometimes even moving to an entirely new community or even country. With these moves come new customs or rules that children, like Paul, have to learn in order to thrive in their new environment. Paul also has to deal with the loss of his father during the movie and ends up alone in a new and dangerous place with just his mother, with whom he has a more tumultuous relationship.

Discussion Points:

  • Respecting Different Cultures
    There are a number of different Houses that make up the population of the empire in the movie, though we only get glimpses of most of them.  The story focuses mostly on the Fremen, and indigenous people who live on the planet Arakkis, and House Atreides, who are sent to rule over the planet. The Harkonnen previously ruled there and spent their entire tenure at war with them. Duke Leto Atreides believes there is a better way and he’d like to form an alliance with them instead. He goes in with an open mind and requests a meeting with a representative. The duke allows him to keep his knife during the meeting, despite normal safety procedures, because the knife is sacred to his people. Later, the representative spits on the floor and at first the duke’s men are outraged believing it to be disrespectful, but it turns out that in their culture it is a ‘gift of body moisture’ and is a sign of respect. He agrees to not hunt them or trespass in their homes. Comparing the way these two different groups treat the Fremen is a great opportunity to discuss the importance of respecting other cultures and those who are different from us. This can also be a lead-in to talking about how your children’s culture might differ from your own; whether that’s in terms of their race, ethnicity, religion, or other beliefs or traditions they might have had with their birth families.
  • Adapting to a New Environment
    When Paul and his family move to Arakkis it is a very different place than what they’re used to on their home planet. The climate is much hotter and more dangerous than what they’re used to and as such they must learn strategies for how to survive. At first this includes special suits that protect them from the harsh elements and staying out of the sun when it’s hot. Additionally, they must learn how to coexist with the indigenous population and adapt special movement patterns to avoid the sand worms. These skills become even more vital later when their city is attacked and Paul and his mother are forced to survive as nomads in the desert. This can be used as a way to talk about adjusting to new environments, something that children in foster or adoptive families have experienced at least once. Talk about strategies for how you can help ease the stress of transitions and help them feel comfortable in their new environment.
  • Caregiver Relationships
    Paul’s father is extremely supportive of him. Since he is the only son of Duke Leto, Paul is expected to take over leadership from his father eventually. And while his father is training him for this duty and encourages him to prepare for it and keep an open mind, he is also supportive of what Paul wants. When Paul says he isn’t sure if he wants the throne his father says, “You’ll still be the only thing I ever needed you to be…my son.” This is a great example of how a caregiver can be both encouraging and supportive when their child’s desires and goals may differ from their own. On the other hand, Paul’s mother is part of a religious order called the Bene Gesserit. As part of this order, she believes that Paul is The One, a messiah figure with a very specific destiny to fulfill. She is somewhat forceful in the way that she pushes him towards this path, including allowing him to be abused by a religious leader of the order as part of a ‘test’. Talking about Paul’s relationships with his parents, both positive and negative, may be a good way to lead into a conversation about your kiddos’ own relationships with caregivers. Youth may have trouble articulating what makes someone a good caregiver, especially if they don’t have many positive experiences to draw on. This conversation can also be a good way to get some insight into what children are looking for in a caregiver relationship and how you can best provide for their needs.

Cautionary Points:

  • Scenes of War
    The film opens with scenes of the Harkonnen fighting over Spice with the Fremen. Later we also see the Compound that houses the Atreides family attacked by bombs and the Sardaukar army as they invade Arakkis. During these scenes there are numerous explosions, bombs and missiles as well as hand-to-hand combat involving soldiers wearing battle armor and helmets which cause them to look frightening. Prisoners are also lined up and beheaded.
  • Violence and Peril There is a lot of violence throughout the movie including shooting, explosions, throats being slashed, Sand Worms attacking, etc. For the most part, it’s not particularly gruesome or bloody but there is a lot of it. Towards the end of the movie Paul engages in a duel to the death and kills ones of the Fremen.
  • “The Voice”
    Paul and some of the other Bene Gesserit have a power referred to as ‘The Voice’ which allows them to compel others to do as they wish. For the most part we only see this power used by the main hero against the bad guys but for some children the idea that a person can be controlled or forced into actions by another might be very upsetting, especially if they have been abused in the past.
  • Caregiver Allows Child to be Tortured by Religious Leader
    Paul’s mother is part of a religious group called the Bene Gesserit. One night she takes Paul to meet with the Reverend Mother and tells him it’s to tell her about his dreams. She also gives him the instruction to ‘do everything she tells you’ and then leaves him alone with her. This woman uses The Voice on Paul forcing him to kneel before her. She then forces him to complete a test where he is told to put his hand in a box that causes extreme pain and holds a poison needle to his neck explaining that if he takes his hand out of the box, she will kill him. She also tells him that his mother is standing outside the door and knows what’s going on and won’t let anyone come help him even if he called out for help. His mother is shown to be listening and it’s clear that she is upset about what is happening but does nothing to intervene. This scene is disturbing because of what the Reverend Mother does to abuse Paul in the name of ‘testing him’ but it is made infinitely worse by knowing that his mother makes the choice to let it happen. This is likely to be extremely upsetting for children who have been abused, especially if they had a caregiver. Sometimes in an abusive situation a caregiver who is not the abuser may know about the abuse but not be in a situation to do anything to stop it. Or they may not be aware of it but a child may believe that they know or be told by the abuser that the caregiver knows and doesn’t care. This scene is likely to be extremely triggering to those youth who have experienced similar situations.
  • Loss of a Parent
    Duke Leto is attacked by the Sardaukar during the attack on Arrakis — it occurs on screen but is very brief. It turns out he is still alive but he is sent to the emperor as a suicide bomber and dies in the explosion he sets off.  Paul finds out from a vision and has an explosive reaction of grief. Seeing Paul’s reaction to his father’s death may be upsetting for children who are processing a recent loss of their own.
  • Abduction
    During the Sardaukar attack Paul and his mother are kidnapped. Paul wakes up on an aircraft where both he and his mother are restrained. Paul is able to use The Voice to convince the abductors to let them go and the scene doesn’t last long and neither of them are severely hurt physically by their captors. However, the scene may still be upsetting to children who have experience kidnapping themselves or other types of abuse involving being restrained.
  • Mention/Threat of Rape
    While no character is actually sexually assaulted, the men who abduct Paul and his mother have a conversation where they discuss that they would like to assault Lady Jessica and have plans to do so. None of this ends up happening as Paul and Lady Jessica escape but the conversation might still be triggering for those who have experienced or witnessed sexual assault.

About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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