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How The Box In Dune Really Works

Several of the year's most exciting film moments appeared in Denis Villeneuve's successful new science fiction blockbuster, "Dune" — including the first appearance of the sandworms and House Atreides' massive arrival on planet Arrakis.

However, perhaps the single most tense scene of the movie was the test given to Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) — the head of an ancient order of witches. His mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), also of the Bene Gesserit order, can only stand behind the door as Paul is offered the deadly exam.

Paul must place his hand inside a small box as the Reverend Mother places a deadly Gom Jabbar needle at his neck. "Remove your hand from the box, and you die," she tells him. It sounds simple enough, but Paul feels wrenching, agonizing pain once he puts his hand inside the object.

But how exactly does the box work, and what does Paul's endurance prove about him? Here's more about the Gom Jabbar Test For Humanity which proves crucial to the story of "Dune."

Paul is being tested to see if he's a messiah of the Bene Gesserit

The Reverend Mother's test determines the strength of Paul's will and how much pain he can withstand without reacting. The box is actually empty and the Mother is using nerve induction, generating Paul's feelings of discomfort to discover his abilities.

Part of this is that the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood has been working for generations to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit and the messiah of the universe. The Reverend Mother ordered Jessica to produce a daughter to reach this goal, but she bore a son instead, Paul, out of love for Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). Now the Mother is testing Paul's willpower to see if he is the Kwisatz Haderach.

Paul, at first, can't endure the pain but uses a Bene Gesserit mantra ("I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer") to calm himself down until the exam is over. Having withstood the test longer than anyone, the young Duke Atreides just might be the messiah the sisterhood has been searching for all this time.

You can currently stream "Dune" on HBO Max.