Imperialism, Colonialism, and Nationalist Postcolonialism in the Movie "Dune"

Academic Paper, 2022

20 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Concepts
2.1 Imperialism and Colonialism
2.2 Postcolonialism

3 The Fremen
3.1 Knowledge about the Fremen
3.2 The Oppression of the Fremen

4 The Empire
4.1 House Atreides
4.2 House Harkonnen
4.3 Imperial Army

5 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

For a genre that focuses on the future, the number of narratives in which archaic imperialism holds sway are numerus. Be it the eradication or conquest of a hostile alien race or of a human people of another planet, the conflict usually takes place between an indigenous people and an imperial interstellar power that aims to impose colonialization. In Postcolonial Studies the differences between the colonial force that dictated a certain norm, and the Other is used to justify the exploitation and extermination of a people. An imposed colonialisation of the Other historically has the consequences of a nationalist rebellion against colonial power, which demands a liberation from the oppressive forces. The movie Dune is one example of how science fiction implements the concepts of imperialism, colonialism, and postcolonialism. The interplay between imperialism and colonialism and nationalist postcolonialism can be observed in Denis Villeneuve's movie Dune, which is represented by the different fraction of the empire and the Fremen, the indigenous people of the planet Arrakis.

Although Science Fiction is rooted in future times, it is most often only superficially so. Instead, it is determined by nostalgia which makes the future familiar and easier to understand. “Thus, the future is relegated to mere stage dressing, as the past is obsessively revisited and reconstructed” (Hoagland and Sarwal 2010: p. 9). The movie Dune's Arabic Middle Ages socio­political feudal setting (cf. ibid.) is a good example of this.

In this analysis I will demonstrate how imperialism, colonialism and postcolonialism are constructed in the movie. To do so, I will first address those three concepts in the theoretical part of the work. For the analysis I will be focusing on the different power groups of the movie. Through different sequences of the movie, I will focus on the colonial and imperial oppression of the Fremen and will pay special attention to visual aspects observable in the movie.

The second part of the analysis deals with the different groups of the Empire, how they differ from House of Atreides, and how this difference is the basis for Paul Atreides, the scion of House Atreides and his Fremen allies to dominate and imperialise the Empire in the next movies. The differences between House Atreides, House Harkonnen and the Imperial Army are illustrated by the presentation of their home planets, which are examined in more detail in the analysis.

2 Concepts

Science Fiction beholds our present and future in the light of our past, leading us to get a more accurate idea of what we were and what we might become. Via its narrative, Science Fiction opens up cultural discourses, through which one can discover the knowledge and awareness humanity has of itself. The notion of power formed within the construct of empire is one of Science Fiction's significant and revealing foundation that is worthwhile observing. The function and manipulation of political power and its abuse in Science Fiction reveals how we perceive ourselves and Others (cf. Kerslake p.1-3).

In this chapter I will briefly present the working definition of imperialism, colonialism, and postcolonialism for this paper. These three concepts are the basis of the analysis of Denis Villeneuve's movie version Dune.

2.1 Imperialism and Colonialism

Imperialism and colonialism are forms of domination where individuals or groups have control over territory and/or behaviour of other individuals or groups. In this scenario, there is always an asymmetric distribution of power, thus the powerful group controls a less powerful group. There are two different types of group dominations: the intergroup domination and the intragroup domination. The former refers to a domination process of a culturally heterogenous group. An example for this could be the domination of the English over the Welsh, Scots and Irish, where the cultural differences between the two parties were not very disparate. This form of group domination is not considered to be a form of colonialism or imperialism. The later, the intergroup domination is considered to be one (cf. Horvath 1972: p. 46-47).

The domination of a group that culturally differs from another is a form of imperialism and colonialism. The difference between those two concepts lies in the presence or absence of a significant number of permanent settlers (cf. ibid. p. 47). Colonization presupposes that a large number of settlers migrate to the colonies. An example for this would be Latin and North America where a significant number of settlers permanently remained (cf. ibid. p. 47). Colonialism refers to the geographical domination or a non-geographical one such as economic hegemonies over others. The latter is referred to as neo-colonialism (cf. Gaylard 2010: p. 22). Most of the African and Asian Continent, for example, were imperialised, which means that they were dominated but only a small number of settlers migrated to these continents (cf. Horvath 1972: p. 47).

“Therefore, colonialism refers to that form of intergroup domination in which settlers in significant numbers migrate permanently to the colony from the colonizing power. Imperialism is a form of intergroup domination in wherein few, if any, permanent settlers from the imperial homeland migrate to the colony” (ibid).

According to Horvath there are three types of relationships colonial and imperial powers can have with the people they dominate: extermination, assimilation, and relative equilibrium (cf. ibid.) For this paper we will only take a closer look at these three types of relationships in the colonial sense. The first type of relationship is extermination where a group or population is, in the extreme sense, totally eradicated. Historically this is a rare occurrence, but an example would be the European occupation of Tasmania where the indigenous population where systematically eradicated. The second type of relationship is where a cultural assimilation between the coloniser and the colonised occur. The colonial power provides a “donor” culture which is received by the colonised “host” culture. In this case a vast amount of cultural transfer happens but is limited from “donor” to “host” culture. The last type of relationship is the relative equilibrium, meaning that neither an acculturation nor an eradication of the colonised people occurs. This can happen when settlers and indigenes apart from one another or side by side. Examples of this relationship can be found in the former European colonies of South Africa or Algeria (cf. ibid.).

If one looks at imperialism and colonialism in the genre of science fiction, one can see that this relationship is a complicated one. On the one hand, Science Fiction texts can ignore difficulties that may arise between two groups due to cultural differences or preserve the biases of the dominant culture by portraying another group or an alien race in “such a way as to assuage imperialist guilt or affirm imperialist desire” (Hoagland and Sarwal 2010: p. 7). On the other hand, some Science Fiction texts have been critical of empires and the associated domination of one group or culture (cf. ibid.). It is a genre which emphasis on social and ethical issues (cf. ibid. p.9). Those Science Fiction texts depict Imperialism and Colonialism in a sceptical, postcolonial way.

2.2 Postcolonialism

According to Robert J. C. Young, Postcolonialism tries to implement its alternative knowledge into the power structure of former colonial powers, be it the west or the non-west. Its goals are to change the way people think or act, and to create an equitable relationship between different people of the world (2003: p.7). Imperial and colonial powers were based on anthropological theories, which assume that the people of the colonized world are inferior and cannot persist on their own, thus the patronised people are in need of the paternal guidance and rule of the West. The West argued that the colonies required the rule of the West for their own best interest. In a nutshell, the basis of these theories is the concept of race where whites dominate the non-white races (cf. ibid. p.2-3). Due to the patronisation of other groups or countries the West legitimised imposed colonialisation because it was deemed necessary and beneficial for the colonies.

The colonies themselves contested the rule of the West in the form of active and passive resistances (cf. ibid.). These are the two main aspects of postcolonialism. The active form of resistance historically appeared as a nationalist rebellion against colonialism which demanded an immediate abolition of colonial oppression, often violently so. Many nationalist rebellions led to dictatorship and massive social suffering. From those failed revolutions arose a new kind of postcolonialism which concerned itself with the question of why rebellions against colonialism created neo-colonial regimes themselves. This passive form of resistance tries to find a permanent escape from imperialism and colonialism (cf. Gaylard 2010: p. 27). Compared to the active form of rebellion, this one “tended to be non-reactive and unwarlike, instead embracing satyagraha1 in the belief that there are no goodies or baddies, no imperial centre to react against” (ibid.).

“The days of empire are not over, which is readily acknowledged within science fiction and postcolonial studies (and beyond)” (Hoagland and Sarwal 2010: p. 8). Some researchers suggest that the discipline of Postcolonial Studies does not only concern itself with the time after colonial and imperial powers depart a colony but is also focused on the conditions under imperial and colonial rule (cf. Langer 2011: p.4). Postcolonialism is a controversial term that suggests that colonialism has come to an end. Further the prefix “Post” suggests that there is a specific time or date in which colonies were left by the colonial powers. Such generalisations of former colonies are broad categorical markers which tend to oversimplify colonies and leave out their specific differences. "[...] India's experience as the jewel in Britain's imperial crown and the Caribbean's history of displacement and slavery can be easily subordinated to basic similarities” (Hoagland and Sarwal 2010: p. 8). A specific ending for colonialism cannot be determined due to colonialism's persistent presence, albeit in another form, even after a colonial power depart a colony. The term Neocolonialism has been suggested as a more appropriate term for Postcolonialism (cf. ibid.).

The intersections between postcolonialism and science fiction do not seem immediately apparent at first glance, yet “both are centrally concerned with issues of travel, migration, alterity, other cultures, colonization, empire, power and alternative to imperialism. Indeed, problems of empire and power are central structuring concerns of much sf, just as they are in postcolonialism” (cf. Gaylard 2010: p. 27).

3 The Fremen

Although the key conflict on the planet Arrakis occurs between the Fremen and the Empire, the movie Dune puts more emphasis on the conflicts that occur in the Empire and shows comparatively little of the Fremen. This reflects the little knowledge the Empire as a whole has of them. The narration of the movie, concerning the Fremen, is restricted so that the viewer is limited to Paul Atreides range of knowledge. This form of narration creates curiosity, surprise, and further mystifies the Fremen and thus engages viewers interest in them (cf. Brodwell, Thompson, Smith 2017: p.88).

3.1 Knowledge about the Fremen

Everything the viewer knowns about the Fremen either comes from documentary films which Paul watches or from Duncan Idaho, a member of House Atreides who was ordered to establish contact with the Fremen in order to strengthen his house's position of power, and who spent a month with them. Only through the meeting with Stilgar, a leader of a Fremen village and at the end does the protagonist come into real contact with the Fremen although he constantly sees glimpses of them in his visions.

The first time Paul is studying the Fremen, happens after he remembers a dream, he had in which he saw a Fremen girl, Chani (00:05). A blurred close-up of Chani's profile is shown where the sun's rays at first hide her face. Even after the sun is not blocking the observer's view of her, one can still not see her clearly. She is wearing a headscarf and is looking straight ahead to the left side. The colour scheme is determined by earth tones, orange and yellow which represent the most prominent colours of Arrakis.

Compared to Chani's and Arrakis' warm colours, the Houses belonging to the Empire are mostly shown in dark and cold steely colours, and whites. During the documentary the Fremen are constantly shown in warm earth tones whereas Paul's room and his clothing favour cold shades. Throughout the movie one can mostly identify the Fremen and imperial power groups by the colour of their clothing. This colour scheme is consistent throughout the movie but changes when Paul and his mother Jessica flee from the Harkonnen's and Emperor's assassination attempt. During their escape they don the Fremen's brown, grey stillsuits to be better adapted to the desert. The change of the settings' and clothing's colours can support a narrative development (cf. Brodwell, Thompson, Smith: 2017, p.117). In this case it indicates the change of Paul's and his mother's loyalty. The empire's betrays leads to Paul and his mother cutting ties with them and joining hands with the Fremen. Thus, making them part of the nationalist rebellion against the colonial rule of the Empire.

Paul's power of precognition is only now starting to manifest. Him seeing a blurred vision of Chani who represents the Fremen, shows that his knowledge about the Fremen is not accurate enough. It is no wonder that Paul starts to study the Fremen in the next scene in order to get a clearer picture of them (00:05:42-00:06:55). One can see Paul reading a book while a portable projector illustrates the planet Arrakis, and a male voice can be heard that presents information about the Fremen. Through simple switches from one image to the next the narrative is punctuated by different images. The narrator of the documentation film presupposes that the Fremen prefer to live in remote places of the planet. This narration is supported by the image of Paul reading a book in which the Fremen's stillsuits are described, and an image of three Fremen in stillsuits sitting and standing in the desert of Arrakis in front of rocks. The assumption that the Fremen prefer to “inhabit the remotes regions of Arrakis” (0:06:00) is not true since they are in constant conflict with the colonial power, and even endeavoured to win back the city occupied by the colonial powers after the Harkonnen left the planet. Further, the documentation only provides shallow information about the indigenes of Arrakis and is more focused on the Spice, the drug that is harvested on Arrakis. The short informational part about the Fremen in this documentation ends with the narrator saying that “Little else is known about the Fremen, except that they are dangerous and unreliable” (00:06:19-24).


1 Satyagraha is a concept that was used by Mahatma Gandhi to show a determined and non-violent resistance against the British imperialism. By observing a non-violent mind, the practitioners of satyagraha gain insight into the nature of an evil situation (cf. Britannica 2021).

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Imperialism, Colonialism, and Nationalist Postcolonialism in the Movie "Dune"
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Anglistik)
A History of the Future: Science Fiction in American Culture
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Dune, Movie Analysis, Science Fiction, Imperialism, Colonialism, Postcolonialism, Fremen, Atreides, Harkonnen, Empire, Paul Atreides, Denis Villeneuve
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2022, Imperialism, Colonialism, and Nationalist Postcolonialism in the Movie "Dune", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Nationalist Postcolonialism in the Movie "Dune"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free