Subjectivity in Film, in Light of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune
Written by Meghety Sazian and Adrian Darwent - Contributors
Ever since the release of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, I have had mixed feelings about the book-adapted film. My first impression of it was relatively positive, but the more I thought about it, the more questions I had. Did I like it because it was visually breathtaking, or because it stars Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya? I began to question what actually contributes to a film’s popularity and praise.
Generally, before a film’s release, the only thing we know about it is who acted in it, who directed it, and some fragments of a story line, all scavenged from the scarce details that we find thrown together in a trailer. About two months ago, I knew nothing about Dune. I am a fan of Zendaya and Timothee Chalamet, so when I heard about their roles in the movie, it immediately caught my attention. Zendaya and Chalamet became the reason I wanted to watch the film. I was not alone in this matter: People on all social media platforms started talking about the film’s release. Whether they knew anything about Dune or not, people were hyped for it. These two actors being the main characters gave the film more of a chance to be adored. In the end, fans will be biased, as they’ll generally love anything that their favourite actors are in. It gave the film some leverage towards success. But were these famous actors the only factor behind the film’s widespread praise?
I wanted to read the book and understand the Dune universe before viewing any adaptations. I quickly fell in love with it. The storytelling, the world-building, the characters, the imagery. The book was a page-turner. That’s where my speculations about Villeneuve’s Dune began to arise. I wanted Villeneuve to do the book justice, justice to the characters, to the story. I wanted to see how he would capture each moment; The reputation of that book was on the line! That gave me more than a reason to go and watch it. Pairing that with David Lynch’s adaptation, a lot of people shared the same mindset: Anything even slightly better than the previous Dune would’ve satisfied the viewers and the lovers of the book-- and that’s what Villeneuve did! Villeneuve’s Dune did not complicate the book, nor did it scare people away with the visuals. Dune’s questionable predecessor gave Villeneuve’s adaptation the social expectations it needed to succeed.
By the time I finally watched the film, others who’d watched it were already preaching about how good it was. Naturally, I came in with somewhat grand expectations. Ten minutes in, I was captivated by the sound design and gorgeous visuals. Paired with the special effects and conventionally attractive actors as the film's protagonists, the film mesmerized me. I could not look away. I left the cinema still thinking about it and how visually beautiful it was. At that moment it was obvious to me: the film was incredible. It was incredible for reasons beyond its casting and marketability. However, it took me taking a genuine interest in the franchise and looking beyond what others had to say to figure this out.
The type of public hype for Villeneuve’s Dune can be seen surrounding the release of a lot of other films. We see people raving about them, be it because of their gorgeous cinematography, or the famous actors playing in them. As a result, we don't always think of criticizing films ourselves, defaulting us to ‘liking’ them. My difficulty in finding out how good Dune really is comes from this overarching, inevitable bias we get from the herd mentality around interpretations of well-known movies or criticisms of art in general. You feel out of the loop when everyone praises something that you originally thought was mediocre, and it’s hard to avoid bias when social media displays similar, piggy-backing opinions of art everywhere.
Ultimately, everyone’s interests and tastes are different. The most important thing to note is to stay true to your taste. Interpret a film for what you see while watching, and don’t be afraid to use your own judgement. Remember: No film is objectively good, nor objectively bad. Subjectivity is the nature of art.