Paul Krugman

Credit…Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures, via Associated Press

Given my delight over “Dune: Part One,” it may seem strange that I didn’t rush out to see “Part Two” as soon as it opened. But life got in the way, so I managed to see it only last weekend. It was, of course, terrific, and I expected no less. Between “Dune” and “Oppenheimer,” we’ve learned that you can, in fact, make three-hour epics that don’t feel overlong and that don’t have you saying to yourself, “Oh no, not more bombastic C.G.I.”

But “Part Two” also startled me in ways somewhat different from “Part One.” Some spoilers ahead, so stop here if you haven’t seen the movie.

What was so great about “Part One” was that the director, Denis Villeneuve, actually got the essence of Frank Herbert’s complex, subtle, culturally syncretic vision, with its mélange of Islamic, ayurvedic and medieval elements. (By the way, “mélange” is an alternative name for the spice of Arrakis.) And he respected audiences enough to leave that vision intact. He simplified the novel in some ways, but in every case I can think of, the simplification improved the narrative flow, while the characters became deeper.

The same is true for “Part Two.” But this time Villeneuve not only got the essence of Herbert’s vision; he arguably got it better than Herbert himself.

On the surface, “Dune” traces out the classic hero’s journey — or in this case, the journey of the hero and his very deadly mother. But as I noted in my newsletter about “Part One,” there’s moral ambiguity at the heart of the novel: The hero knows that if he succeeds in his quest, war and mass slaughter will follow.

After watching the movies, I think that Herbert flinched in the face of that moral ambiguity but Villeneuve embraces the underlying darkness. The novel acknowledges that Paul Atreides starts a terrible war but more or less absolves him from responsibility — and ends with Lady Jessica reassuring Chani that she will remain Paul’s true wife, despite his imperial marriage of convenience. The movie ends with Chani leaving in disgust. And if I’m remembering it right, the last line in the movie is spoken by Jessica — who arguably becomes a monster, exploiting religious fervor for her own ends — who murmurs in satisfaction, “The holy war begins.”

So the “Dune” movies aren’t for people who want happy endings in which the good guys triumph; the ostensible good guys triumph but end up knowingly perpetrating horror. But if you can handle that, what a ride!

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