‘Dune 2’ Bene Gesserit and Prophecy Explained: Who Are These Weird Space Witches?

And what do they want?

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Rebecca Ferguson in "Dune: Part Two" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune 2″ greatly expands on the mythology established in the first film. There is more about the mighty sandworms that glide underneath the surface of the desert planet Arrakis, there’s more about the warring planets vying for control of the galaxy and, chiefly, there’s more about the Bene Gesserit – the manipulative force hiding in the shadows.

But who are the Bene Gesserit? And what do they want?

Let’s dig into it but before we do, we simply must issue a hearty spoiler warning for those who have not see “Dune: Part Two.”

Who are they?

According to Max Evry, author of “A Masterpiece in Disarray,” an oral history of David Lynch’s “Dune,” it’s easy to think of them as the “Space illuminati.” We glimpsed them in “Dune: Part One,” with Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother Mohiam, one of the key organizers of the Atreides family’s ascension to rule Arrakis (and a key cog in the machine that led to their eventual destruction). Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is also a member of the Bene Gesserit. She is seen colluding with Mother Mohiam and teaching her son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) how to use “the voice,” a form of telepathic suggestion.

“They have certain powers of prescience and clairvoyance and are able to manipulate people with their voice. They’re also the puppet masters of everything. They’re the real power behind the universe,” Evry explained.

They have no allegiance and are morally ambiguous, engaging in political manipulation and, perversely, cross-breeding, as we see in “Dune: Part Two” when Lady Margot Fenring (Léa Seydoux) is impregnated by psychotic Harkonnen heir Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) before the movie’s bloody climax. (Spoiler: our boy Feyd-Rautha does not make it to “Dune: Part Three.”) They are orchestrating the lineages that will oversee the galaxy. And they’re doing it in the freaky-deakiest way possible. “All that matters is the blood,” Evry said. “They don’t care that Feyd is a sociopath.”

In “Dune: Part Two,” Paul’s mom, Lady Jessica, ascends to the status of Reverend Mother (after drinking the worm juice Water of Life). This allows her greater influence, to stoke the fervor of the Fremen (the native people of Arrakis) and advance the prophecy that Paul is a messianic figure, chosen to lead the planet to an age of prosperity.

What about this prophecy?

The prophecy of Paul liberating Arrakis is, as Evry said, “a lie.” “It’s something that was implanted by the Bene Gesserit a hundred and something years before his arrival. They foresaw his arrival and planted this legend so that when it came true it would feel like a ‘prophecy.’ He’s not a genuine messiah, he’s playing a messiah because his life is on rails,” Evry said.

And much of “Dune: Part Two” grapples with the danger of the “chosen one” narrative that has been repeated throughout the history of storytelling; that it can lead to some very dangerous ideas and even more dangerous realities.

Part of this world’s obsession with utilizing the Bene Gesserit has to do with the history of the “Dune” universe. There was a collapse in society because AI took over and humans revolted against the machines. “In place of AI and thinking machines, humans have had to adapt by becoming incredibly smart and almost supernatural like the Bene Gesserit,” Evry said. “And then the spacing guild who uses spice to travel all over the universe.”

Yes, while there is reference to the importance of spice, Denis Villeneuve has yet to engage with the guild navigators and the spacing guild. Although if you’ve seen David Lynch’s “Dune,” you know that years of being exposed to the exotic spice has some unforeseen side effects …

Why is “Dune” so obsessed with the Bene Gesserit?

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Lea Seydoux in “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Villeneuve has stated that he’s really into the Bene Gesserit. The idea of a shadowy force, just beyond our sight, controlling our daily lives is certainly appealing and also has real world resonance.

Unfortunately, in his pursuit of all things Bene Gesserit, there were some causalities – chief among them Stephen McKinley Henderson, who played Thufir Hawat, who worked for house Atreides. Thufir is a Mentat, which in the “Dune” universe is sort of a living computer. (Remember how they hate computers now?) Henderson actually shot scenes for “Dune: Part Two,” but his scenes were cut. Instead, Villeneuve has stated that he wanted to focus more on the Benet Gesserit instead of the Mentats, which serve similar storytelling functions but aren’t nearly as interesting. Bye Thufir! We hardly knew you!

Maybe there will be some Mentats in the next one? Maybe not.

What do we know about the Bene Gesserit streaming show?

Great question!

If you’re confused, in June 2019, Legendary announced a spin-off streaming series called “Dune: The Sisterhood.” Serving as a prequel to the film series, it would have focused exclusively on the Bene Gesserit. Villeneuve was meant to direct the pilot, based on a script by his “Dune” co-writer Jon Spaihts. It would be run by Dana Calvo.

Since then, though, things have gone down a sandworm pit full of development complications and creative missteps.

In 2019 Spaihts left to focus on the script for the second movie (supposedly). By 2021 Diane Ademu-John had been installed as the new showrunner. In spring 2022 “Chernobyl” director Johan Renck was announced as directing the first two episodes. But around this time last year, the show had been put on “hiatus” after Renck had left the project. Throughout Spaihts and Villeneuve stayed on as executive producers alongside “Dune” keepers of the flame Brian Herbert, Byron Merritt, and Kim Herbert.

The show, now titled “Dune: Prophecy,” is on track to debut on Max later this year and takes place 10,000 years before the events of the “Dune” movies. The show focuses on the origins of the Bene Gesserit and stars Emily Watson and Olivia Williams as two Harkonnens. Travis Fimmel and Mark Strong also star with Alison Schapker serving as showrunner.

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