The Minor Line In Dune That Means More Than You Think

Denis Villeneuve's "Dune" has taken the cinema world by storm, with moviegoers and fans of the book analyzing every little detail from the sprawling space opera — including a single line from one of the film's final scenes that means more to the story than people may think.

Frank Herbert's original 1965 novel is filled to the brim with subtle intricacies and nuances that made many movie and literary experts believe it was "unfilmable," but Villeneuve appears to have finally cracked the code. His telling of "Dune" currently has an 84% critics rating and 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it a "visual and aural marvel." There's been some negative feedback, but its mainly related to the 155-minute runtime and massive scope of the film, which has left some feeling bored at times. Fans of Herbert's book, however, felt the lengthy telling of Dune's backstory was necessary.

Under the surface of Villeneuve's "Dune" lies an entire galaxy of references and callbacks to Herbert's work, including the important line from the film's finale. The quote comes during a fight between main protagonist Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), heir to the House Atreides, and a Fremen warrior named Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) after he challenges Atreides to a duel to the death.

'Is he toying with him?'

Much like Frank Herbert's Paul Atreides, Timothée Chalamet's version of the character is a fierce warrior who has been trained for years by his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and his father's top fighters, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa). Once on the planet Arrakis, informally known as Dune, Paul is forced to tap into his training and fighting abilities, which are put on display during the film's closing moments in his fight with Jamis. As Paul begins to get the upper hand on the Fremen, it's revealed by his mother that he has never killed anyone before. "Is he toying with him?" asks Javier Bardem's Stilgar, who is the leader of the Fremen tribe. To which Lady Jessica replies, "No. Paul has never killed a man." 

While the exchange may not seem important to most, fans of Frank Herbert's novel have taken to Reddit to share its significance. Specifically, a Redditor named u/thisisntnamman launched a "Dune" discussion about how the minor line "absolutely nailed the whole movie," and countless others said they felt the same way.  

"[Is he toying with him] is an amalgamation of two book lines," wrote u/thisisntnamman. They claimed the combined quotes from the book were "Have an end to it, lad" and "Don't play with him" — both from Stilgar — and then a brief description from Herbert saying, "The crowd in the cavern began to mutter. They think Paul's toying with Jamis, Jessica thought. They think Paul's being needlessly cruel." 

So why are these lines so important that they had to be synthesized for the film's climactic scene?

Toying with him line shows Villeneuve's devotion to source material

As Redditor u/thisisntnamman points out, the "toying with him" line seems like such a minor quote, but it's actually fraught with "major implications." 

"It shows the brutally stark way Fremen live, that Paul's attempts at mercy are instead interpreted as something akin to torture," said u/thisisntnamman. "You immediately get a sense of how harsh a life these fremen truly live." 

Other Redditors agreed, saying the line adjustment was one of the best examples of director Denis Villeneuve using Frank Herbert's source material in the best way possible. "It was a brilliant change for more than one reason," said u/FearTheViking. "Not only does it empower that later line, but it also helps to explain Paul's hesitancy to kill Jamis. It is more than his first kill. He is killing a future where Jamis is his friend and mentor." 

Earlier in the film, Paul had been having visions and dreams about the Fremen warrior — some ending with Paul's death and others ending with Jamis becoming a friend and ally during his time on Arrakis. According to Redditors, the final fight and "toying with him" quote shows the "unreliability" of Paul's prescience or, as u/FearTheViking puts it, "rather the fact that it tends to show multiple possible futures."

"I thought this was a great example of how the film gave weight such weight and importance to these moments in the book," concluded Redditor u/One-Armed-Krycek. "It was a beautiful scene. And one of the saddest for me. Not just in Jamis' end, but in Paul's having to kill him."