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Is Dune’s Paul Atreides evil?

The film examines Timothée Chalamet's character more closely

USA.  Timothée Chalamet  in the (C)Warner Bros. new film: Dune: Part Two (2024).  Plot: This follow-up film will explore the mythic journey of Paul Atreides as he unites with Chani and the Fremen while on a warpath of revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. Facing a choice between the love of his life and the fate of the known universe, he endeavors to prevent a terrible future only he can foresee.  Ref: LMK106-J10537-160224 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Me
Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two. (Warner Bros.)

Dune: Part Two is delighting filmgoers and dominating the box office, but the tale of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is a complicated one and has had viewers questioning how they should see him.

The film and its 2021 predecessor adapt Frank Herbet's iconic novel of the same name, which tells the story of Paul Atreides from his family's takeover of the desert planet of Arrakis, to their massacre at the hands of the Harkonnens, to his rise as the Lisan al Gaib of the Fremen people.

Read more: Everything you need to know about Dune: Messiah

But while some might see Paul as a hero, Herbert never intended this to be the case as has been explained by director Denis Villeneuve when he reflected on his approach to the character in his films. Let's examine this idea in more detail, but be warned this article contains spoilers for Dune: Part Two.

Is Paul Atreides evil?

Timothée Chalamet in a still from the trailer for Dune: Part Two (Warner Bros.)
Dune: Part Two sees Paul Atredeis bring the Fremen forces to his cause, but it is for his own selfish reasons not to gain their freedom. (Warner Bros.)

Paul is an anti-hero in Dune, and should be seen as such when watching the movies even though he is the protagonist. This is not to say he is pure evil, but neither is he a good person as is evident by his actions in the film that ultimately leads him to becoming the leader of the Fremen, and embracing the Muad'Dib prophecy rather than shun it.

Speaking with Screen Rant, Villeneuve said of Paul: "When Frank Herbert wrote the book, and then when the book came out, he was disappointed by how people perceived Paul Atreides. At the time, he felt that people were talking about Paul as a hero, and for him, he was an anti-hero.

"He was a dark figure. The book was a warning for him about a Messianic figure. And for that, he wrote Dune Messiah to correct [that] and to make sure that people understood his intention.

"I knew that story. I had the benefit of having read Dune Messiah, so I wrote Part Two having that in mind. That is why Chani's character is slightly different in my adaptation than in the book, and it helped me to bring the initial intention of Frank Herbert to the screen."

USA.  Timothée Chalamet  in the (C)Warner Bros. new film: Dune: Part Two (2024).  Plot: This follow-up film will explore the mythic journey of Paul Atreides as he unites with Chani and the Fremen while on a warpath of revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. Facing a choice between the love of his life and the fate of the known universe, he endeavors to prevent a terrible future only he can foresee.  Ref: LMK106-J10537-160224 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Me
Director Denis Villeneuve wanted to make it clear that Paul Atreides is an anti-hero in Dune: Part Two, to fully share Frank Herbert's vision for the character. (Warner Bros.)

In Dune: Part Two, Chani (Zendaya) is constantly questioning the Lisan al Gaib prophecy, criticising colonisation and telling her people that the prophecy is being "used to enslave" them.

Villeneuve also uses visual cues to signal to viewers that Paul is no longer a good person when he drinks the Water of Life and becomes the Muad'Dib. How, you ask? It's simple, Paul begins to wear a black cloak.

Read more: Dune Part Two review: Timothée Chalamet shines in masterful sci-fi epic

As is explored in Herbert's Dune series, particularly Dune: Messiah, Paul's conquest of the Known Universe leads to the Muad'Dib's Jihad. During this campaign Paul and the Fremen attack millions of planets until all bend to Paul's whim.

This leads to the deaths of 61 billion people, the sterilisation of 90 planets, and the eradication of most other religions. Thus showing that Paul is really a villain.

Is Paul Atreides the one?

USA. Rebecca Ferguson in the (C)Warner Bros. new film: Dune: Part Two (2024).  Plot: This follow-up film will explore the mythic journey of Paul Atreides as he unites with Chani and the Fremen while on a warpath of revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. Facing a choice between the love of his life and the fate of the known universe, he endeavors to prevent a terrible future only he can foresee.  Ref: LMK106-J10537-160224 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media
Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, the Bene Gesserit spreading the Lisan al Gaib prophecy amongst the Fremen to ensure Paul's success. (Warner Bros.)

Dune: Part Two sees Paul become the Kwisatz Haderach, a being able to bridge time and space whom the Bene Gesserit have been trying to bring into being for centuries through careful manipulation of bloodlines and family trees. The group used their influence to plant seeds of a "prophecy" amongst other nations so that when they succeeded in bringing the Kwisatz Haderach into the world they will be accepted.

This comes to light in the film when Paul becomes accepted as the Fremen's prophesied saviour, the Lisan al Gaib. However, no matter his initial intentions to help the Fremen, once he takes this mantle Paul becomes the villain because he is willing to use them for his own selfish desires — revenge and power.

Dune: Part Two ends with Paul convincing the Fremen to join him in his "holy war" for the empire, where he plans to decimate his enemies in order to become Emperor. As such he is a villain, and Dune: Messiah examines how and why this is the case, and the dangers of having messianic figures.

Is Paul Atreides a Harkonnen?

RELEASE DATE: March 1, 2024. TITLE: Dune: Part Two. STUDIO: Warner Bros. DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve. PLOT: Paul Atreides unites with Chani and the Fremen while seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. STARRING: TIMOTHEE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides, AUSTIN BUTLER as Feyd-Rautha. (Credit Image: © Warner Bros/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
It is revealed in the film that Paul Atreides is related to Baron Harkkonen on his mother's side. (Warner Bros.)

Yes, it is revealed in Dune: Part Two that Paul is related to Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) on his mother's side. When he drinks the Water of Life Paul learns of his heritage as he is able to see all who have come before him, and realises his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is the daughter of the Baron.

Read more: Josh Brolin on Goonies 2, Jonah Hex and falling in love with Austin Butler on Dune

This is why, in the film, Paul refers to the Baron as his grandfather when he kills him, and calls Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) cousin before they fight.

Why did the Emperor give Arrakis to Atreides?

DUNE: PART TWO, (aka DUNE: PART 2, aka DUNE 2), Christopher Walken, 2024. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
Christopher Walken as Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. (Warner Bros.)

The answer to this question is simple, the Emperor (Christopher Walken) saw the Atreides family as a threat and wanted to find a way to eliminate them without getting blood on his hands or risk a large-scale war. So, he gave the family control of Arrakis, the source of the empire's Spice production, with no chance of them succeeding in their rule by making sure they had few resources.

The Emperor also pushed for the Harkonnen family, who had previously ruled Arrakis, to eradicate the Atreides family. In the end, Paul and Lady Jessica's survival lead to the Emperor's downfall, as is depicted in the movie.


Dune: Part Two is out in cinemas and IMAX now.

Watch the trailer for Dune: Part Two