Why Paul Atreides is the villain of Dune
Let me just start by saying that clearly I, Professor Metal, do not necessarily believe that being labeled a Villain is a negative thing. I myself carry this title with no small amount of pride. They say that no one is the villain of their own story, but I believe that is only somewhat true; I recognise and accept that I am the villain of everyone’s story and I treasure their fear and respect as I would a valued keepsake. Let me also state that the version of Dune I will be discussing is the theatrical release of the movie, though I will occasionally be referencing things from the book. I will state when this is the case. If you have not seen this movie and/or read the books, I recommend that you do. Spoilers do not apply to something as old or older than some of my Philosophers.
What do we see when we look at Paul Atreides at the beginning of Dune? We see a young man, born into privilege, given everything he could need or want for. He has the best teachers, the best training, the most advanced equipment. He has nothing that he needs to overcome. This alone would mean he could not possibly be the Übermensch, the Over Man, for this is a person (should we even dare demean them with such a title) that is defined by what they have overcome. They are of this world, as contrasted by the other-worldness of the current system. I will not pretend that Nietzsche’s ideas are not a blatant attack on what he calls “the master-slave morality” of the Abrahamic faiths, but I shall be setting this fact aside, as it is not relevant to my discussion.
What we see, shortly after Paul’s arrival on Arrakis, that everything is stripped away from him. All his wealth, his privilege, he is left with literally nothing save his mother, her unborn child, and the basic equipment that is needed to minimally sustain life on this hell-planet. He overcomes these limitations, and we see him come into contact with the Fremen, the indigenous people of said planet. And even then there are challenges he must overcome in order to remain within their world. And overcome he does. Eventually he goes on to lead these people. Then, when he has overcome everything put in front of him, he goes a step farther. He takes the water of life.
Now this… this is a moment that defines what it means to overcome. Every male what has ever done this has died, and done so in the most excruciating of ways. And yet even this challenge Paul Atreides, then called Paul Muad’Dib. Overcomes. We see him lead the Fremen against the Sardaukar Guard. A brief note from the book, as the movie did not touch on this about these people: they were the elite of the elite. They lived on a hell-planet almost as bad as Arrakis, their numbers thinned to 6 out of 13, and they were fanatically loyal. These were not people one should fuck with. And yet the Fremen grow up on a planet where the only thing not trying to kill you are other Fremen, and even that was not always true. On Arrakis, called Dune, in the deep desert, you overcome or you die, your water returned to those what gave it to you.
I feel pretty safe in saying we can see why Paul Muad’Dib is an excellent candidate for the title of Übermensch. He has risen above the society he was birthed into, struggled to grasp onto life and he has won over all. He rejects their morality and substitutes his own. He has the power, he has the will, and he enacts that will upon the Known Universe.
Which gets us to why he’s the Villain. He destroys throughout the known universe the system what people rely on to survive. The system they know and love. The system they are trained to obey. And he tears it all down. Does he feel his system is better? I’m certain he does. I cannot know the mind of a human, fictional or otherwise, that achieves that of which I can only dream. But let us not make the mistake of calling him the Hero. To the Fremen, I’m certain he is. They are as he is, without the old moral system. To the rest of the inhabitants of the Known Universe (of which I imagine there are a great many), he would seem nothing more than a super-powered Villain, come to destroy their way of life. And while many may read this and feel his is not the Villain of his own story, or the story of the Fremen (which, going forward, could be argued to also be his story), he is certainly the Villain of the story of the countless inhabitants of the worlds in which he lives.