Paul Atreides, the character played by Timothée Chalamet and Dune’s powerhouse, bears a suspicious resemblance to other movie heroes. It is not by chance that Paul completes a cycle already worn out by superhero franchises and other such arguments. Frank Herbert’s Dune is the dean of a type of science fiction story that has become traditional in the genre. And its adaptation reflects it.
But beyond that, the now classic story is the summary of the hero’s path reinvented in hundreds of possible variations. Specifically, Paul is one of the most powerful and detailed incarnations of the heroic idea as it has been conceived in literature for centuries. In Villeneuve’s version, the idea reaches a new level and manages to create a powerful premise that adds interest to the story. Paul Atreides is the hero and protagonist of a complex story of power, tradition and a legacy of considerable importance.
It is also a tour of the way we understand science fiction today. And how Herbert’s influence has remained clear and precise throughout the history of science fiction in recent decades. Thanks to Dune, sagas of the scope of Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe have found their place.
Dune, with all its timeless air and ability to bring together hundreds of different ideas about power, it’s the open door to some kind of mighty hero. One that supports the threads of multiple stories that converge on her figure. For better or for worse, Frank Herbert’s work has become a way of understanding the metaphor of good versus evil. And do it through a figure capable of embodying the idea in a total way.
‘Dune’, old ideas in a splendid new format
A hero who still does not know what he is begins a journey to find his power. Meanwhile, a complex political scheme is going on around him and makes the whole journey even more complicated. By the time the hero finally discovers his full potential, and faces the past, has become a symbol. One so important that the entire story in which it stars gravitates around it.
Do you think we’re talking about Luke Skywalker or his father, Anakin, Captain Steve Rogers? Or Marvel’s newest hero, Shang-Chi? Actually, if you saw Dune you will have recognized the story of Paul Atreides.
Or rather, that grand scheme of the hero’s path that gives the character an almost mythical character. It is a clever mix of ideas through which Herbert built a character that summed up the heroic. Dune – published in 1965 – turned the myth of the predestined man who meets an extraordinary destiny into something entirely new.
In addition, it opened the doors for Paul Atreides to be the origin of a new way in which the powerful is conceived. If until then heroes used to depend on their context and build on broader ideals, Dune created something new. So powerful and transcendent as to create a new form of superhero that endures today.
Of course it is an insistent idea in pop culture. The mythologist Joseph Campbell insisted on more than one occasion that man has been telling the same stories since the beginning of time. An idea that in the cinema seems to be more evident, substantial and intriguing than in any other artistic medium. Time and again, the idea of the hero going through all kinds of pain and anguish to achieve redemption becomes an expression of faith and an allegory of hope.
The first stop on a long journey to heroism
The perception of how Frank Herbert built a character for all ages is more evident now with Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune. A close example is the evolution of Steve Rogers from his comic to film version. Although in the first stories Captain America was the prototype of the all-round patriot, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a symbol. And one that embraces the idea of the good man who must face circumstances and the loss of everything he knows to create something new and powerful.
It is also, with its tragic loss of life, love and context for the common good, something that Dune already analyzed in a contemporary way. Herbert served as an example for the way in which Captain America went from being a patriotic symbol to a universal one. The prototype of the leader who must protect his own grew stronger as Steve evolved on screen.
The same could be said of the slow but steady growth of DC’s Batman, who from an ambivalent figure became a symbol of transition from the heroic. Bruce Wayne, essential antihero, is also the reflection of a more elaborate point about the fight of good and evil. Something that Herbert delved into during much of his work and inherited current pop culture.
So is Luke Skywalker, who represents the man struggling to reconstruct his past – and his personal history – but rather the symbol of hope. George Lucas assumed Campbell’s monomyth from the ideal perception of the allegory about good and evil. The young Jedi traverses the map of his life in search of meaning and also meditates on the power of the will in search of the common good.
In the end, the heroes of Marvel, DC and the Star Wars saga have in common come from the classic archetype. But also being part of the great idea that Frank Herbert delved into Dune. Paul Atreides was the first in a series of heroes whose power comes from a long and painful evolution. Until then, the Campbell myth had more to do with tragedy and drama. With Dune he acquired a new rank that endures to this day.