Полина Толмачева
Film critic and marketer
Liberal Arts
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PHILOSOPHICAL CINEMA: Dune and Aristotle. The life’s work of the director Denis Villeneuve

PHILOSOPHICAL CINEMA: Dune and Aristotle. The life's work of the director Denis Villeneuve
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The year 10 191, not our boring vaccinated reality. On a huge screen – the distant planet Arakis, desert, force shields, earthworms and a mysterious spice of melange, which expands consciousness, makes eyes blue, reactions – accurate, the future – a little less dark, and interstellar navigation – possible.

Betrayal, true love, fear of one’s own destiny. Noble heroes are beautiful and athletic. Negative heroes are ugly and overweight. Heroic music, which we have heard many times, but are always ready for it. Complex and impeccably executed graphics. Beautiful, talented, world-famous actors.

It is difficult to buy tickets, side offices and the successful start of the most anticipated film of the year, we will find out very soon. Much, very much depends on the coming weekend. And producers and investors are risking a lot, a lot of money right now.

Well, it’s hard to imagine what is happening with the director Denis Villeneuve. Dune is the work of the famous master’s life. The stakes are high. In general, we have a real blockbuster before us, “cooked” from the right ingredients, the goal of which is to earn as much money as possible in the worldwide box office, and the mission is to save the world of commercial cinema from extinction.

And it is so natural to treat this movie as an attraction that allows us to forget for two and a half hours about everything that worries us here and now, and most importantly, that our world has not very high chances of living until 10,191. You can secretly eat a bucket of popcorn in the dark of a movie theater, wrinkle your nose and turn back to high materials, accessible only to aesthetes and clever people.

It is possible, but it just does not work, because the film Dune is a part of the grandiose epic The Chronicles of Dune, which was first released in the mid-60s of the twentieth century, when Frank Herbert wrote his first novel, and has since developed in a variety of genres and guises.


PHILOSOPHICAL CINEMA: Dune and Aristotle. The life's work of the director Denis Villeneuve
The shot from the film Dune / vokrug.tv


Its influence on popular culture is enormous – Star Wars, which forever changed the landscape of popular culture, what they are worth. But it’s not only that. It is hard to imagine how many people once read these books as teenagers, imagined themselves as Paul Atreides and thought about important things.

However, what is difficult here: The Chronicles of Dune have been translated into 42 languages, and their total circulation is 120,000,000 copies. And again we can say that Dune is just entertainment literature. But it is not at all the case. It is a real epic, in the original, Aristotelian meaning.

Let me just remind you that in the 4th century BC in the treatise Poetics, dedicated primarily to the art of drama, Aristotle categorizes poetry, and it is from this moment that the countdown of the division of narrative art into epic, lyric and drama begins.

Here is what the philosopher says about the epic, “The stories in it, just as in tragedies, should be dramatic in their composition and grouped around one integral and complete action, which has a beginning, a middle and the end, so that, like a single and whole living being, cause it inherent pleasure”.

An epic should be either simple, or confusing, or moral-descriptive, or pathetic. It needs twists and turns and recognition (and characters), and passion. Finally, it must have a good language and good thoughts. Impossible, but probable should be preferred over what is possible, but incredible.

Legends, myths, sagas, songs, epics in the oral tradition. Poems and novels – in writing. Throughout its history, humanity has comprehended its own global experience. And in the twentieth century, fantasy became the best form for an epic.


PHILOSOPHICAL CINEMA: Dune and Aristotle. The life's work of the director Denis Villeneuve
The shot from the film Dune / vokrug.tv


Perhaps, two world wars and disappointment in human nature, which is not helped by either religion, or enlightenment, or the dream of equality and brotherhood, led to the fact that people stopped looking for role models in the past or in myths, and focused on the future or on the otherworldly, parallel worlds, trying to understand, and what can be done “so” to save the world.

The success of SiFi and fantasy literature of the twentieth century repeated the cinema in the twenty-first century, when the rapid development of computer graphics allowed the most incredible stories to be shown on the screen. And the film adaptation of Dune is perhaps the grand finale of the epic tradition. We are waiting for what will happen next.

However, for people who have not read The Chronicles of Dune, all my arguments will remain just words. Because behind the scenes there are many topics and stories that are incredibly important for this book of deep thought and amazing foresight.

For example, that the technocratic path of human development is not so obvious – and now we see a complete rejection of computers in the Dune universe, but the flourishing of eugenics, education, training of people who hone their natural talents to perfection…

It seems that this is a world where it became obvious that the most valuable thing is a person. But no. There is no more humanism there than in our universe, because a person is still seen as a resource and a means to an end. The environmental problem that we are facing right now. In general, the heroes of the saga can be envied – they are able to leave one planet, move to another, more favorable and friendly.

However, this opportunity is not available to everyone, but only to the elite, but representatives of the Great Houses and other powers do not feel at home anywhere, except for their home planets. And it is impossible to turn a house into a blooming paradise, because money, greed, the commercial use of nature inevitably lead to scorched earth.


PHILOSOPHICAL CINEMA: Dune and Aristotle. The life's work of the director Denis Villeneuve
The shot from the film Dune / vokrug.tv


The problem of human emotions, in particular – the mystery of true love, which defies rational considerations and has always been, is and will be the X factor in any story – both global and individual.

The question of our own destiny, cognition of our own nature – and we will recognize ourselves in Paul Atreides, also known as Muad’Dib. No, of course, we have no chances to become emperors of the Universe, and we obviously do not belong to the Great Houses.

But one day each of us comes face to face with himself and shudders, some from horror at the immensity of the plan and the severity of the path ahead, and some from disappointment and boredom.

In general, millennia pass, and the epic remains a form of imitation of reality, as Aristotle said. But instead of hexameter – special effects, instead of gods – fictional characters, instead of the past – the distant future. A story that begins before our eyes, and the end of which we also see. Only the ending in the epic is never happy, even if ours won. The question always arises – at what cost?

And although it looks like there will be plenty of spectators at Dune. I want to tell you, “Don’t miss this moment. Go to the movies. Try to find universal meanings in this undeniably successful, well-prepared commercial cocktail. And decide for yourself what it is: using archetypes to make money or an honest, sincere statement on eternal topics.”

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