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Timothee Chalamet in \"Dune\"
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“Dune” Cast Discusses Growing Up & Dealing With Social Responsibility

Fifty years after Dune’s release in print, the highly anticipated film adaptation, directed by Denis Villenueve of Blade Runner 2049 fame, has taken the world of cinema by storm. The passionate, mythic film dives deep into author Frank Herbert’s universe, complete with terrifying sandworms, all-consuming battle scenes and endless dunes of sand. 

During a virtual roundtable of college journalists hosted by Warner Bros., Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya discussed how their “otherworldly” characters remain human and relatable to the everyday viewer and what they hope the audience gets out of Dune

Chalamet’s character, Paul Atreides, is the central focus of the film. A young man on the brink of manhood weighed down with the pressures of being a royal heir and the daughter of a Bene Gesserit, Paul is plagued with mysterious visions, especially of Chani (Zendaya), an alluring young woman whom he has never met.

Paul has spent much of his life training his body and mind to prepare for his duties as the son of Duke Leto. When he is called to travel to Arrakis, a dangerous, foreign planet, he is forced to confront his “destiny” and to grow up even sooner than expected. 

Although the characters in Dune may face struggles most viewers will never experience, both Chalamet and Zendaya underscore the raw emotionality of the film that many can relate to. Paul is, stripped of his fantastical abilities and royal blood, a teenage boy “struggling with his identity” and “who he is, not only to himself but to his loved ones,” Chalamet said, something that almost everyone has dealt with. 

“In a very dramatic way, this is a coming of age story,” Zendaya said. It is a telling of what it’s like to “feel all these pressures and these ideas of the things that you should be.” 

Both also credit much of the film’s poignancy to Denis Villenueve, whose previous works include Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Villenueve “never loses sight of the human element,” Zendaya emphasized. Though Dune is a mystical sci-fi, Villenueve ensures that human intimacy and relationships are still at the core of the story. His respect for these earthly interactions means that the film is able to reach across generations, touching even those who have never before encountered Paul’s story. 

While the 1965 novel may be decades old, the themes of Frank Herbert’s work, of colonialism and environmentalism, are universal and painfully relevant. “Fighting for what’s right socially, fighting for what’s right environmentally” is important to the characters of Dune but also to much of the younger generation today, said Chalamet. 

This weight of social responsibility may sometimes feel overwhelming. Zendaya described her own experience with dealing with a sense of “impending doom.” 

“It’s like, ‘How do I live and enjoy things and have fun but also care? How do I care and enjoy life? Because, if I care too much, it’s impossible to enjoy anything!’”

Both Chalamet and Zendaya hope that the stories of Paul and Chani resonate with the younger audience that they draw to Dune. Even Paul and Chani themselves have lived vastly different lives but are still able to connect on a deeper, emotional level. 

“If young people can relate to what Chani or Paul are going through…then we really succeeded,” Chalamet said. “It would mean transposing a story from the ‘60s and, by way of Denis’ vision…have it be accessible to a generation that relates in many ways to the qualities of the story.”

The narrative of Dune is ultimately one of family, oppression and betrayal, but the story is not over yet. A Dune sequel has yet to be confirmed, but both Chalamet and Zendaya hope for a continuation of the series and a chance to complete their characters’ stories.

Dune will be released on HBO Max on October 21 and in theaters on October 22.

Rachel is the Co-Campus Correspondent and Editor-in-Chief for Her Campus at UCLA. In her free time, she loves hanging around flea markets and exploring different neighborhoods in LA!
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