A film adaptation of Dune, the 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, is going to debut in theaters this December 18th. With its last theatrical release in 1984, director Denis Villeneuve is updating the epic for a new generation, focusing more on the politics found in the book, or more specifically, the ever present theme of exploitation, for as with any good sci-fi, it has a comment to make about our own world.
Set in the far future amidst a feudal interstellar civilization where noble families control planetary fiefs, Dune follows Leto Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis. While the planet is an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland, it is the only source of melange, or “the spice”, a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. Leto is forced to become the planet Arrakis’ governor, but faces opposition from the Fremen – the planet’s indigenous population – and this is where its theme of exploitation is explored.
For Oscar Issac, the actor that will be playing Leto Atreides, Dune‘s relevance to the real world is powerfully clear:
It’s about the destiny of a people, and the different way that cultures have dominated other ones. How do a people respond when it’s at the tipping point, when enough is enough, when they’re exploited? All those things are things we’re seeing around the world right now.
From Nestlé using child labor in their Ghana and Ivory Coast-based cocoa farms to Apple providing the people of Zhengzhou, China with conditions in their factories so poor that many workers have allegedly attempted to commit suicide, exploitation of far away lands is unfortunately still a very real problem. While we may no longer be living in the days when nations hostilely took land and subjected the local populace to forced labor, you could make the very real argument that imperialism is still alive and well, just reformed to fit with our modern moral sensibilities.
Science fiction is the genre that holds a mirror up to contemporary society, and while Dune covers a wide variety of themes, from the decline of empires to the dynamics of gender, arguably its most important theme is its commentary on capitalism unchecked by moral conscious.
Featured image via Nerdist