Dune: A Mystical Film About Human Nature
Psychotherapist Ajay Khandelwal reviews new release Dune, starring Timothée Chamalet and Zendaya
I was sitting in Leicester Square IMAX, on my second bag of popcorn, having drained my free rose, when the mic was passed to me.
I said, “This is a question for all the cast. It’s a dream-like mystical film. At its heart is a prophetic dream. Did you have any dreams whilst making the film, and if so could you share them?”
There was laughter in the audience, perhaps a bit of unease. The congenial director, Denis Villeneuve, suddenly became coy. Timothée Chalamet became uncharacteristically reserved. His screen mother (Lady Jessica)– played by the actress Rebecca Ferguson – bellowed – “I’m not telling you my dreams!” Zendaya smiled, but didn’t help me out.
When the mystical psychoanalyst James Grotstein was a was a medical student he “witnessed” a dream in which an angel asks, “Where is James Grostein?” Another angel replies, “He is aloft, contemplating the dosage of sorrow upon earth.” This dream was indeed prophetic because he went on to be an analyst, and spent his career contemplating the suffering of his patients.
For Grostein, he did not have the dream, rather the dream “had” him. His lifelong experience of reading and thinking about dreams made him curious about where dreams come from. Who directs them, who experiences them, where does the cast come from, who is the audience?
He often referenced the ancient Assyrians who believed that dreams were the language of the gods, that the gods spoke to each other through human dreams, and that humans were forbidden from attending to them or remembering them. Dreams were a form of celestial eavesdropping. He found such musings much more fitting to describe the dream world than the simplistic brain scans of neuroscientists.
For Grostein it would be hubristic to try and reduce dreams into an ordinary language of science, or even psychotherapy. For him, dreams are revelations of an ultimate or ineffable reality that choses when and how to show its self to humans (Hewitt, Legacies of the Occult, p. 79-81).
There is a quality in the film Dune, where Paul Atreides dream does not belong to him. It is bigger than that.
In Dune, the central dream, experienced by Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet) prefigures everything of significance, the war, the loss of his friend, and his future love affair and destiny. Time and space are collapsed into series of haunting images.
Similarly, Carl Jung had a series of prophetic visions and dreams in 1913, just before World War 1, which he writes about in his memoir, Memories, Dreams and Reflections.
"… I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realised that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilisation, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about an hour…. Two weeks passed; then the vision recurred, under the same conditions, even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasised. An inner voice spoke. “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it”
Similarly, Paul Atreides, the hero/anti-hero of Dune “witnesses” his dream. It tells the story of his life and the downfall of a whole civilisation.
He is a unique man, the product a eugenics programme, he is able to both fight, and intuit, inhabit both his masculine and feminine aspects, and is able to identify with the ruling class and the exploited Fremen people.
He is born into privilege, but he gives it up to fight with the Fremen (the exploited inhabitants of planet Arakis).
In Dune there are no computers. Civilisation is carried forward by humans and their minds. Paul Atreides has the ability to suffer pain in greater doses than any human before him. Therefore he has the ability to dream a big dreamer than anyone before him.
He is welcomed by the oppressed Fremen people as a Messiah. In 1982 I was an extra in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was an Indian slave, liberated by Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). As I watched the Dune, I wondered if Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) was another modern re-incarnation of Indiana Jones? I don’t think so. I’m not sure if the late Mr Grotstein ever went to the movies – he was a serious-minded man – but I think he would have said that there is some ineffable about the film, and it reveals some hitherto hidden aspects of ultimate reality.
Ajay Khandelwal is a verified welldoing.org psychotherapist in London and online