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Dune: What “Fear is the Mind-Killer” Actually Means

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The Dune Trailer came out only yesterday. It was grand enough to blow all our minds away. The Atreides Family is coming back with a vengeance. Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi/fantasy saga is getting yet another live-action adaptation. Directed by Dennis Villeneuve, the new Dune movie is slated for release in the near future. The trailer has broken many records, gaining millions of views in the span of a few hours. Dune’s trailer has a scene where Timothée Chalamet, the actor who plays the lead hero Paul Atreides in the film, says the iconic line: “Fear is the Mind-Killer”. Anybody here knows what the statement actually means? Let us enlighten you if you are just as clueless as the rest of the folks.

dune 2020 paul fear is the mind killer

The movie is based on the 1965 science fiction novel series written by Frank Herbert. The Book series has the same name as the movie. It tells us the tale of a young man named Paul, who is the son of a nobleman named Duke Leto Atreides. Leto is played by Oscar Isaac in the movie. Isaac’s character is charged with taking command of the planet of Arrakis, the source of a mysterious substance named Spice. Spice is the substance that keeps empire running. It’s various mystical properties help in unlocking deep space navigation and travel, extending human life-span, as well as grant a certain sect of human beings with supernatural powers.

dune 2020 bene gesserit

One of the many prominent factions in the Dune Universe is the Bene Gesserit. For centuries, the organization of the Bene Gesserit has used the powers granted by consuming Spice to gain incredible influence and power within the confines of the Empire. The Bene Gesserit is a powerful player that likes to work from behind the scenes. From childhood, young girls with special attributes and traits are taken in by the sisterhood and then trained in all forms of mental and physical disciplines. In the end, the Bene Gesserit turns them into human weapons. Using these femme fatales, the Gesserit has enhanced their influence far and wide. Each member of the Bene Gesserit is taught how to access the powers granted by using Melange. While others consider the art to be magic, only the Bene Gesserit know that using Melange is a science not understood by many.

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Among the many powers that the spice Melange grants a Bene Gesserit member are – the ability to access the genetic memory of their ancestors, the power of total control over the voluntary and involuntary parts of their body, the ability to become human lie-detectors via the act of intricate observation, and the power of manipulating people mentally as well as physically using just their voices. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. These are just the tip of the enormous iceberg that represents the Bene Gesserit’s many spice powers.

dune 2020 lady jessiva rebencca gergusson

The Bene Gesserit has a network of operatives and agents placed within the ranks of powerful noble houses. Lady Jessica, the mother of Paul Atreides and wife of Leto Atreides, is a Bene Gesserit. The character is played by Rebecca Ferguson of Mission Impossible fame. From her very birth, Lady Jessica was trained rigorously in a rather deadly form of discipline. Her extensive amount of training made her immune to all human emotions, a trademark Bene Gesserit trait. When a Bene Gesserit member comes face to face with mortal peril, they recite litany the order has developed against the element of fear. To tackle the powerful emotion of fear, the incantation of “Fear is the Mind-Killer” was developed. The four words you here in the trailer are only a part of a larger litany of verses.

dune 2020 bene gesserit paul

In the original Dune novel series by Frank Herbert, it goes something like this:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert

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The greatest and most powerful emotion within the human psyche is the emotion of fear. It makes us do things in a split-second, things we would never even dare to if we thought things through. The power of fear makes us recoil and retreat, and that defines our fate for all our mortal lives. To overcome this primordial instinct, the “Fear is the Mind-Killer” incantation is used. A Bene Gesserit has the power of having total control over her psyche and thus the emotion of fear can never overwhelm her. By winning over one’s fear, a person remains rational, calm, and ready to pounce on the real enemy. It helps paint a clearer picture and a better strategy.

dune 2020 bene gesserit fear

The Bene Gesserit believe that whoever remains under the control of this human emotion is bound to fail and will always remain trapped within a vicious cycle. Creatures bound by fear stagnate and can never evolve. Lady Jessica teaches this incantation to Paul Atreides, her son, so that he could pass a particularly painful Bene Gesserit test. The words that made her formidable are now the weapon Paul Atreides will use to decimate his enemies in the upcoming battle.

dune 2020 reverend mother mohiam paul test

In the trailer’s few final scenes, Reverend Mother Mohiam is seen making Paul go through a test. While testing him, she remarks that: “An animal caught in a trap would gnaw his own leg to escape. What will you do?” This is very similar to the original line she delivers in the book series. Both represent the ardent Bene Gesserit philosophy of conquering their element of fear. “Fear is the Mind-Killer” is more than just a line. It is the core of everything a Bene Gesserit will ever learn. To become formidable, you have to believe yourself to be. Is Paul Atreides strong enough to win his fight against fear? Or will he fall to the machinations of the Empire??

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Dune draws a lot of parallels with works of science fiction fantasy fiction. Star Wars also possesses the idea of the Force and to become one with the Force, you have to let go of all materialistic attachments and emotions. The “Fear is the Mind-Killer” philosophy bears a heavy resemblance to discipline that is prevalent in many other classics of similar nature.

Written by Bibhu Prasad Panda

With a Bachelor's in Engineering and a Master's in Marketing and Operations, Bibhu found a love for writing, working for many different websites. He joined FandomWire in July 2020 and worked his way to his current position of Content Strategist. Bibhu has been involved in operating and managing FandomWire's team of writers, diversifying into varied, exotic fields of pop culture.