A Psychiatric Perspective on the Movie “Dune: Part Two”


H. Steven Moffic, MD, views the Dune book and movies through a psychiatric lens.


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After reading the original 1965 science fiction novel Dune many years ago, and then watching the movie “Dune: Part One” in October of 2021, I was certainly curious about how “Part 2” would turn out. Part of my curiosity was its richness and depth. Besides the basic entertainment value of the movie, it seemed like it could be analyzed from various perspectives: religion, war, climate, and feminism, among other topics. These topics have their own psychiatric aspects, some of which we will cover in upcoming columns. But whether intended or not, it seemed that the story had a strong basic psychiatric thread throughout, even though there are no psychiatrists or other mental health care characters.

The book was published during the heyday of Freudian ideas in psychiatry. Take one of the essential Freudian theories, that of the Oedipal Complex. That conflict, based on a Greek myth, simplistically has to do with the son competing with the father for the love of the mother. In the book and part 1 of the movie, the father of the main character, Paul Atreides, is killed by the father’s enemy. Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, escape together to the desert and meet the indigenous people, the Fremen. The mother, a member of the cultish Bene Gesserits, is able to reinforce a Fremen prophetic written story of a Messiah coming, and that could be her son. As he reluctantly assumes the role, their forces win a major battle and Paul makes the emperor kneel and kiss his family’s signet ring to avenge his father, who the emperor had just called a weak man because he was honorable.

Freud felt on less secure ground, as he was about women, discussing the related family conflict of a daughter competing with the mother for the father’s love, often called the Electra Complex. Here there is a more limited picture of such a relationship, based on Chani, a Fremen soldier who enters into a love relationship with Paul. Her father believes that Paul seems to be the prophesied messiah to help them defeat their colonial oppressors. I do not recall seeing Chani’s mother in the movie.

Freud started to develop his theories by analyzing his own dreams. Freud’s dream analysis centers on personal conflicts, often unconsciously expressed. Here, both Lady Jessica and Paul have a different kind of dream, prophetic dreams, often part and parcel of the development of religions. To see these prophecies clearly, they must survive the poison of the psychedelic-based Waters of Life. As Paul’s visions become clear, he sees a narrow path to avoid the destruction of billions of people. However, we will have to wait until the promised next film, “Dune: Messiah,” to see the results.

Freud was also known for his symbolism. The sand worms of Dune can be considered to be phallic symbols, and Paul has to learn how to ride the biggest one. Female sexual symbolism may be the caves where the Fremen live or even the large open mouths of the attacking sand worms, though Chani rides a sand worm as the film ends.

So, in Dune we are 10,000 years into the future and our human nature is still getting us into trouble. Both artificial intelligence, banned by then, and stronger psychedelics do not seem to be the answer. What is?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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