Part 2” about our fear of fundamentalists and the atomic bomb reveals — Film & Series Rolling Stone

This review contains spoilers.

House Harkonnen and Duke Leto Atreides’ son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) fight for dominance on the desert planet Arrakis. They use different weapons. “The good old artillery!” exclaims Baron Wladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and watches with satisfaction as his admirals unleash a hail of bombs from one of their spaceships on a rock in whose caves they suspect the enemies.

But the opponent has the right answer. “We have hidden nuclear missiles,” Atreides weapons master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) tells Paul. “92 in total, in one depot. Enough to blow up the entire planet!”. The outrage of his indigenous friends, the Fremen, immediately follows. Arrakis is their home. They want to keep their world alive. Halleck cannot understand that. But he understands. “It’s okay!” Halleck tries to reassure her. “We don’t need that many.” And then he says a very nice sentence that brings relief: “Besides, that’s just a figure of speech!”.

Phrase. The armorer is probably right. Even if that only offers small consolation. We humans on planet Earth also use this phrase when we want to describe the potential of all available nuclear weapons and warn: “Enough to blow up the entire planet.”

Of course that’s not true. If all 12,500 nuclear weapons (as of January 2023) in our world were to detonate at the same time, huge craters would be created. The amount of debris that would be thrown into the atmosphere would have a far greater impact. The emergence of global nuclear winter.

But we use the phrase to illustrate the fact that if all atomic bombs are detonated, the existence of all living beings is at risk. In order to explode a planet, you actually need another sci-fi story, the one about “Star Wars,” and the laser cannon built by the Empire and installed in the Death Star, conveniently called the “superlaser.”

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In Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part 2” the houses also fight each other with all sorts of futuristic combat equipment. Lasers in all colors and the very artillery that the ultimately hapless Baron Harkonnen is proud of. But it is the nuclear missiles that make the difference. For Halleck, only three of them are enough for his surprise attack. The gigantic detonation cloud in the desert sand serves its purpose. His fighters use the towering dust vortexes to attack the enemy’s troops on sandworms hundreds of meters high. It is accepted that all people will be within the fallout radius of three detonated nuclear weapons during the battle. Hey, this is science fiction after all.

Director Villeneuve does not stage a heroic narrative. The young Paul Atreides develops from a ready-to-learn newcomer in a strange world, first into a “White Savior” and then into a tyrant. A Daenerys Targaryen unfolding like in time lapse. But the even more interesting figure is the armorer Halleck, who is loyal to him. He obtains the nuclear explosives and hands them over to the indigenous Fremen, a desert people who are portrayed in Villeneuve’s cinematic version of Frank Herbert’s novel as a naive, blindly obedient and sanctimonious Arab caricature. Why do aliens – and aliens are people born on alien planets – have to speak with an Arabic accent? Because they are portrayed as backwards?

Halleck gets the nuclear weapons from the fanatics, who are referred to as fundamentalists in the film. A “horror scenario” in our world too: the military expert, detached from a former great power, gives the previously fragmented fighters of a non-federation of states who sympathize with him the decisive military advantage over the actual great power. This is the fear we have known since the collapse of the Soviet Union: specialist knowledge from the military is falling into foreign hands. Paul finally sends the Fremen to battle “in paradise”. Destination of hope for fighters who know they are dying; and these are usually those who switch off their minds beforehand.

Now the Harkonnen are tyrants who subjugate entire planets. It’s probably a good thing that they’ll be finished off. That’s what films like this thrive on. The “fundamentalist” Fremen simply want to get rid of their occupiers. But the last Atreides, Paul, has long been on the way to becoming a despot. Even if, to restore galactic peace, he marries the daughter of an emperor, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh). Before that he has to eliminate the Baron’s nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), in the archaic ritual of knife fighting (whose home planet Giedi Prime was shot in spectacular high-contrast black and white, like a homage to Panos Cosmatos’ “Beyond the Black Rainbow” or E. Elias Merhiges “Begotten”).

Paul previously greeted Baron Harkonnen with “grandfather”, rammed the knife into his neck and commented “now you die like an animal”. Villeneuve is much more liberated here, much more radical than the Frank Herbert epigone George Lucas, who made his Luke Skywalker feel great pity for his father Darth Vader. Previously, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) already got her “I am your father”-esque moment, although not as effective as in “Empire Strikes Back.”

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and “Dune: Part 2” are two of the biggest blockbusters of the past two years. What does this say about our fear of nuclear war? Both works not only share the commonality that their respective protagonist turns to Florence Pugh over the course of the film. They are also films in which the balance of power between superpowers changes significantly through the use of the bomb.