‘Dune Part Two’: What Zendaya’s Ending Tells Us About Denis Villeneuve’s Plans for ‘Dune: Messiah’

This story contains major spoilers for Dune: Part Two.

When Denis Villeneuve’s Dune came out in 2021, there was an uproar about the lack of Zendaya. While the actress, who plays the Fremen warrior Chani, was a major part of the marketing campaign, she wasn’t in much of the film, appearing to Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides only as a vision until he meets her in the last 10 minutes. She does, however, get the final word:

“This is only the beginning,” she says.

In Dune: Part Two, Chani doesn’t get the last line of dialogue, but the movie does end on an image of her face. It’s a striking choice by Villeneuve that both enhances the power of his film and marks a divergence from Frank Herbert’s novel. With Zendaya’s emotionally bare performance, Chani becomes the moral anchor of this saga. It ends not on a moment of triumph for Paul—who has now assumed his role as the messianic Lisan al-Gaib—but on her heartbreak and furious anger.

As Chani calls a sandworm to ride, abandoning Paul’s army as they gear up for holy war, Zendaya’s chin quivers and her eyes burn. She’s been betrayed not just romantically but on a deeper, more fundamental level. Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts’ script establishes her as a non-believer who fears the Bene Gesserit prophecy of a Messiah because it’s a way of controlling her people. She trusts Paul and falls in love with him because she finds him “sincere.” On screen, when he drinks the “Water of Life” on his path to winning over the fundamentalist fighters, it’s framed as a rejection of the ideals she thought they shared. He does actually crave power—not just their shared ideal of Fremen liberty from oppression.

By the time Paul announces that he intends to marry the emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), in a strategic match, Chani has already lost her personal faith in Paul’s word. When he asks for Irulan’s hand, you see Zendaya shudder, as if a knife has been further twisted in her back. In Herbert’s novel, this is not how that interaction goes down. Instead, the Chani of the book simply accepts Paul’s choice. Herbert writes: “‘I know the reasons,’ Chani whispered. ‘If it must be…Usul.'” Chani, who at this point in the book has already had and lost Paul’s child, refuses to take the title of “royal concubine,” and Paul reassures her that his marriage to Irulan is just a “political thing.”

The last lines of text belong to Paul’s mother Lady Jessica, who tells Chani that Irulan “will have the name, yet she’ll live less than a concubine—never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she’s bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine—history will call us wives.” (David Lynch shot a version with this dialogue for his 1984 film, but it was released with a more pat ending where it starts to rain on Arrakis, proving that Paul is indeed the Kwisatz Haderach, whose “mental powers would bridge space and time,” per Herbert.)

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