Masculinity in Dune, Spartacus, and Lawrence of Arabia
The `epic' genre is a very suitable place to begin the debate about the masculine spectacle in films. Typically, the epic involves a single male in combat with some form of patriarchal authority (usually over several hours of film). The three films discussed here are: David Lynch's Dune (1984); David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962); and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). All three films relate to each other, in that they resonate intertextually. Each of them has suffered the fate of being `cut' in some point of their histories. In relation to this, the author-ity of the male directors will be discussed. As well as portraying the struggles of individual male heroes, these films also address their opponents. The question to be asked is why these villains (Baron Harkonnen, the Turkish Bey, and Crassus), are presented as homosexuals. However, the main concern of this essay is Dune. Of the three, Dune has undoubtedly been regarded as the worst failure (with only Lawrence regarded as a masterpiece). Despite the comments of such critics as Alejandro Jodorowski (1), Dune is admirably suited for the purposes of this essay. As John Alexander writes, `Dune is concerned with male politics, male militarism and male powerplays' (2).
One needs to be quite cautious of employing Freudian or Lacanian psychoanalysis in relation to Dune. This is due to Frank Herbert's use of Greek myth in the fashioning of his novel. Indeed, in the subsequent books, Paul goes blind and exiles himself to the desert. The Oedipus analogy would have been made even more explicit if Ridley Scott had made the film: `He opted for a personal interpretation - Alia was the result of an incestuous relationship between Paul and Jessica' (3). The `Atreides' are doomed by their very name, recalling how Agamemnon, son of Atreus, was murdered by Clytaemnestra, his concubine (4).
This is not quite the tragedy of Duke Leto. It is
his desire for a son (Paul), which leads to his death. `In the Lynch world
desire induces suffering, ` John Alexander writes. Duke Leto Atreides does not
marry his concubine, Jessica, due to his ambition to become Emperor. He must
remain available for a political marriage. Leto becomes `a single character
staring into a sepulchral recess in search of unimaginable horrors' (5),
something which Sean French ascribes to many of Lynch's characters. The Duke
does literally meet his fate by curiously going down a dark stairway -to
encounter a `hunter-seeker' controlled by the traitor Yueh.
Thus Paul's oedipal complex does not directly relate to his father - rather to Emperor Shaddam's attempt to extinguish the Atreide line.
Yet Paul must also overcome the Law of the Mother, as well as the Law of the Father. As John Alexander writes, it is the women in Dune who wield psychic powers with their `weirding way'. Indeed, the Latin phrase `bene gesserit' has long had a place in English legal terminology, providing security of tenure for judges. It is a Bene Gesserit plot to produce a female superbeing - the Kwisatz Haderach - which Jessica usurps by bearing a son for Leto. Paul uses feminine powers in his battle against the Emperor. This is decided when Jessica shames the Fremen leader, Stilgar, by overcoming him: `If you can do this to the strongest of us, you're worth ten times your weight of water' (6).
The vilest of Paul's enemies is the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. He shares a resemblance with one of Vlad the Impaler's ancestors: Count Dracula. As Barabara Creed writes, `Dracula's need to replace his blood at periodic intervals suggests he experiences a form of menstrual cycle' (7). The Baron drinks the blood of young boys. He also represents the female body in being `penetrable' (8) - he is killed by a prick from Alia's gom jabbar. Paul must therefore reject this mixture of masculine and feminine for a more positive one.
This he achieves by taking the `water of life'. It is symptomatic of his `womb envy'. He undergoes the ritual of 'couvade' in the desert, his audience aptly provided by his bodyguard. In David Cronenberg's film, 'Dead Ringers', Eliot Mantle yearns for a time when reproduction could be performed without the need for contact between the sexes, an operation which can only be accomplished by fish underwater. As Helen Robbins writes:
`the nostalgia for the phylogenetlc past of life underwater conceals a nostalgia for the ontogenetic past of life in the womb, for it is the female body that "internalizes the water" through the amniotic fluid that supports prenatal. . . "oceanic" existence' (9).
By drinking the water of life, Paul is able to enter that place where no woman can go, as he warns the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother: `Try looking into that place where you dare not look and you'll find me there staring back at you' (10). So Paul therefore commands the look, the `idea of looking (staring) as power and being looked at as powerlessness' (11). The theme of womb envy is continued in Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert's sequel. In that novel, Paul resurrects his friend, Duncan Idaho, as a clone. Like Victor Frankenstein, Paul plays at being a mother. So, although Duncan is killed very early in the film, his is the only character which survives the sequence of novels, long outlasting Paul.
Duncan's role is a casualty of the cuts which
occurred between the theatrical and video releases. Another whose role is
eclipsed is that of the Imperial Ecologist, Dr. Liet Kynes (most importantly as
the father of Paul's concubine, Chani). In one of his scenes which remains,
revealed a taboo against touch. As he attempts to check the stillsuit of the new ruler of Arrakis, Kynes is warned back by Gurney Halleck. In response to Kynes' being physically checked, his Fremen bodyguard react likewise, ready to fight those who had touched their master. As Lynne Segal sees it, such an army as the Fremen must be on constant guard against effeminate behaviour, especially in themselves (12). This might explain why the Baron is quite so odious to them. Paul therefore has to prove that he is a man. The rite of passage provided by them is that Paul must ride the Shai Halud, the Great worm. Segal reports the views of Ray Raphael:
`Such initiations always work, since, if they make the grade, men invariably know they are real men. All males thereby secure an enhanced sense of self-worth in traditional initiations' (13).
However, there is a danger in such homophobia: namely, that it is only misogyny in disguise (14).
This can be countered by the fact that women are prevalent in the Fremen army. They are even present in the Atreide army, something which is missed by John Alexander in his discussion of gender roles on Caladan (15). At first sight too, the sandworms could just be seen as huge phallic symbols, However, a sandworm does provide the means of disposing with the Baron. The phallic is combined here with `the toothed vagina - a recurring motif in primitive mythologies; the vagina that castrates' (16). Paul's other weapon is the
`weirding module', a sonic weapon which can rip apart the
Emperor's Sardaukar supertroops. This technology is directly related to the
`Voice', the main weapon of the Bene Gesserit, taught to Paul by his mother,
Jessica. Paul's use of this feminine device becomes so powerful that he can
kill with just words. Thus the chaos caused by fall of the house Atreides is
vanquished, for Paul is `a symbiosis of the two opposites' - masculine and
feminine - `his wholeness is the means by which harmony can be restored' (17).
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Dune owes a great deal to Lawrence of Arabia (and to Spartacus). To some extent, Dune is a postmodernist film. For instance, David Lynch's habitual alter ego, Jack Nance of Eraserhead fame, plays a character called Nefud. Lawrence provides Prince Feisal's miracle by crossing the Nefud desert and attacking Akaba. It may even be that Herbert's original novel was influenced by David Lean's film. Alexander states that Herbert researched the Bedouin extensively in his creation of the Fremen (18a). One of the reasons why there is such reliance on the Bene Gesserit and the `human computer' Mentats in Dune is due to the Butlerian jihad which destroyed mankind's reliance on computers and machines (18b). Throughout Lawrence, it is constantly emphasized that the Bedouin have a disliking of modern technology. Indeed, their inability to cope with generators and telephones leads to the destruction of the United Arab Council. Fate drives Lawrence to death on a machine.
It would be very difficult to apply Laura Mulvey's
methods in a discussion of Lawrence, due to the fact that there is an almost
complete absence of women in this film. The Bedouin women are hidden behind
barriers of cloth. Indeed, the only women who actively draw attention to
themselves are the nurses from the Red Cross. Ironically, it is there in the
Turkish military hospital, that Lawrence finally achieves
his desire to become invisible. Only this is a rather palpable defeat for Lawrence. It is
`an anatomy of modern male womb envy, laying bare its origins in men's anxieties about creativity, and especially about controlling, keeping, and getting credit for their productions' (19).
Lawrence plays at being a mother. It is his desire to give birth to a whole nation. Yet he is all that is left of the Arab Council in the Turkish hospital. The council has responsibility for the hospital, so Lawrence tries to run it by himself. Compared with the efficiency of the nurses, Lawrence's efforts are in vain.
Like Paul Atreides, Lawrence is illegitimate. As
Alain Silver writes, `For the Bedouin such a lack of heritage is tantamount to
a lack of being' (20). This seems unimportant in Paul's universe, where much
emphasis is placed on the possession of the ducal ring in the role of securing
legitimacy. Both Paul and Lawrence, like Saul on the road to Damascus, are
reborn by being renamed. Sherif Ali recommends El Aurens (surely a metaphor of
the sun), to Lawrence. Stilgar gives Paul the name of Usul, which signifies
strength. Paul then chooses his manhood name. Unusually, he identifies with the
moon, which is traditionally associated with women - Muad'Dib is the mouse
shadow on the second moon of Arrakis. By doing this, Paul acknowledges his
feminine side (and mice have been known to scare women - the Bene Gesserit). It
is symptomatic of Lawrence's tragedy that he
chooses a masculine name.
Lawrence and Paul have an important symbolic relationship with the moon. As Barabara Creed writes, `A number of myths from ancient cultures associate woman's monthly bleeding with the full moon' (21). There is a full moon on the night that Lawrence receives a savage beating in the Turkish garrison. The only time that Paul bleeds is after drinking the water of life, which strengthens him, as he is finally able to secure all feminine powers. Lawrence cannot cope with his weakness:
`So while the feminine may be dispatched in the insouciant bravado of masculine endeavour, it will always return to haunt the conquering hero' (22).
It is Lawrence's fatal flaw that he chooses to battle with the femininity within himself.
Lawrence very much resembles Creed's conception of the werewolf:
'Once transformed he feeds on the blood and flesh of others - presumably to replace his own blood which is at a low ebb. Like the woman with her menstrual cycle, the werewolf replenishes his blood monthly and is reborn monthly' (23).
Thus, like Saul, Lawrence goes mad on the road to
Damascus. Unlike Saul though, Lawrence spreads evil as he massacres the
retreating Turkish column. In a curious juxtaposition, Lynch reveals a jubilant
Alia on the final battlefield of Arrakis. It is no accident that Lawrence
chooses the Turk as an enemy. They symbolize femininity for Lawrence. That is
why he can spare no sympathy for the Turks facing an onslaught
from the explicitly phallic British artillery guns. Creed also notes that another motif for the werewolf (along with the moon), is the pentagram, an Egyptian symbol representing `the underground womb' (23b). Both moon and pentagram are present on the Turkish flag, bathed in the red of blood. As Lawrence himself says, `Didn't you know? They can only kill me with a golden bullet'.
In Spartacus, Claudia and Helena select the gladiators in `a parodic reversal of the many movie scenes in which a group of men ogle... women on display' (24). A similar scene is presented in a much more perverse way in Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence is feminized by the look of another man, the Turkish Bey. In a further twist, the mouth of the Turkish Bey appears as a fetish, just as it is pouting with desire. Lawrence feels he has no option but to lash out, for he believes that the Turk has seen the creature that Lawrence despises within him. Of the three heroes discussed in this essay, Lawrence is the only homosexual - something which he feels is incompatible with his status as a military hero. In the words of Colin MacInnes, he sees it as `a crippled state of being' (25). `The perfect body is never exhibited unclothed' (26); the Turkish Bey strips Lawrence to reveal his abject flesh wound -
`The imperfect body bleeds. .. Within the imperfect body
dwells the irrational man; unpredictable and imbued with feeling' (27).
Dryden of the Arab Bureau warns Lawrence that `only gods and Bedouin get fun out of the desert' However, Dryden is contradicted by Prince Feisal: `No Arab loves the desert'. It is fortunate for Paul Atreides that he becomes a god. Lawrence, on the other hand, continuously blasphemes. He believes that he can break the Law of the Father with impunity: `Nothing is written'. Not even after he has been proved wrong, when he is forced to execute the man he rescued from the Nefud desert, does Lawrence stop his blasphemy. Everything Paul does is supported by the Law of the Father, as Stilgar notes when Paul rides the Shai Halud: `Usul has called a big one. Again it is the legend'. At the end, Lawrence is reborn as an English Colonel. Yet he is introduced here as an inverted reflection on General Allenby's desk. This could be Lawrence's epitaph:
`In Lacan's view, the ego's mastery of the environment is always an illusory mastery, as a result of the way it is formed at the mirror stage, and the human subject will continue throughout life to look for an imaginary wholeness and unity' (28).
As Feisal says, referring to the newspaper headline of
Lawrence's last victory: `Illusions can be very powerful'. Lawrence takes the
road away from Damascus, his automobile pushing Bedouin off the road in the
process. Ominously, he is overtaken by a speeding motorcyclist.
In Spartacus, the hero asks `Are we animals or Romans?' The same binary opposition is present in Dune. Paul is most offended when threatened by a poisoned gom jabbar: `Are you suggesting that a duke's son is an animal?' he asks of the Reverend Mother. With The Beast Rabban, the Harkonnen are explicitly presented as animals. The Atreide and Harkonnen are also divided in the way that they treat animals: Rabban eats the raw flesh from a cow, whilst Gurney Halleck goes to the trouble of saving Leto's dog during the Harkonnen assault on Arrakis. The Harkonnen control the look of the inhabitants of their home planet, Geidi Prime. Those in the immediate vicinity of the Baron are often blinded, and have their ears removed. Geidi Prime is symbolized by a huge feminine icon. This is the Moloch imagined by the hero of Metropolis, signifying that all within are far more animal than human (such as the Morlocks in Wells' The Time Machine). It is nothing less than the Sphinx with whom the hero must battle.
The fighting rituals in Dune and Spartacus are
worthy of comparison. Indeed, Paul's training in arms on Caladan does bear a
remarkable resemblance to that undergone by the gladiators at Capua, with
`enough phallic weaponry to send Freudians into sensory overload' (29). When
the gladiators fight in the arena, they are denied subjectivity: `The
gladiators have no score to settle. . . their combat has no
narrative point for them' (30). Thus Spartacus is able to achieve what Lawrence could not: invisibility. Crassus desires to discover the identity of Spartacus, unaware that he has already seen him. Indeed, Crassus perversely displays very little interest in the contest between Spartacus and Draba. The gladiators are eroticized by their lack of clothing. They are a spectacle to be looked down upon from the audience which is placed above them. In contrast, Paul is never eroticized as feminine in his knife fights; he remains fully clothed. His main opponent is Feyd Harkonnen, who seems fated to lose because he has already been eroticized in an earlier shower scene. Feyd almost condemns himself to death by his fetish for rubber/leather. The one knife fight which does contain a narrative point for Spartacus is the one he has with Antoninus.
In Ina Rae Hark's discussion of masculinity in
Spartacus, she conjectures that Spartacus `distrusts. . . masculine power'
(31). Spartacus thus turns to Antoninus as a role model of non destructive
masculinity. However, Antoninus sees his talents as magician and poet as a sign
of feminine weakness; hence his attempt to become a warrior. Antoninus does not
completely succeed, for Spartacus is able to overcome him to spare him from the
cross. To kill for such a reason proves that Spartacus is no longer an animal
(neither combatant are is eroticized here). However, as Hark
notes, `While Spartacus allows its protagonists to oscillate among all these positions, it cannot imagine a space in which such binarism collapses' (32). Of these three films, Dune is the only one in which such binarism does collapse.
Indeed, Hark answers her own question:
`What might this alternative masculine space look like? It would be a place where Antoninus could sing his songs without forfeiting his manhood and his life' (33).
Such a place is provided for Gurney Halleck in Dune. He is first introduced on Caladan carrying a musical instrument, signifying his role as Paul's music master. Gurney is comfortable in his sexuality, and is able to oscillate between his masculine and feminine sides whenever the situation demands it. Gurney explicitly demonstrates this when Paul shows a lack of interest in being tested: `Not in the mood?! Mood's a thing for cattle and love play... not fighting'. In a direct comparison with Spartacus' and Antoninus' fight, it can be seen how each combatant is penetrated. Antoninus wounds Spartacus, but Spartacus kills his musician friend. At first, it appears that Paul has similarly defeated Gurney by penetrating his shield. However, unbeknown to Paul, Gurney has also penetrated his shield, and almost threatens to castrate him. Due to Gurney's masculine/feminine equilibrium, he is the only one of the Atreides' attendants to survive. By doing so, Gurney provides an invaluable role model for Paul, who must also
acknowledge the feminine within himself.
There is a more direct comparison between Paul and Spartacus:
`Because the script wants to maintain Spartacus's purity, his character never achieves a convincing sexual identity, which means that the pregnancy of Varinia borders on an immaculate conception' (34).
Paul and Chani's relationship is dealt with even more
briefly, especially in the video release of Dune. Hark notes that Varinia
`makes Spartacus her new master' (35). This is puzzling, for one would have
thought that Varinia would want to release herself from bondage, from being
treated as a commodity to be bought or sold. The fact that she decides who to
sell herself too is not really all that liberating. Although, at the end of the
film, Crassus resumes ownership of her, yet refuses to violate her: `I don't
want to take you. I want you to give. I want your love Varinia'. Varinia has
become a person in Crassus' eyes as she is indissolubly linked with the
signifier Spartacus. Crassus is not immune to the kind of masochism which Nancy
Friday found in her survey of men's sexual fantasies (36). Crassus' masochism
even extends to his homosexual desire for men, seen in the infamous snails and
oysters seduction of Antoninus (who has a similar reaction to Lawrence).
The gladiators are feminized in their role as commodities. Indeed, Hark postulates that Spartacus was probably raped by
his Roman masters (37). Segal writes that `Lacan draws upon Levi-Strauss' analysis of kinship in which women are defined as objects of exchange' (38). Thus Lawrence deliberately offends his greatest ally, Sherif Ali, by offering him money to participate in the attack on Damascus. Spartacus is betrayed by the Silesian pirates when they accept Crassus' bribe. Lacanian psychoanalysis also illuminates Spartacus' rebellion and defines his aims: `Human subjectivity and human sexual identity... are produced simultaneously, as the child enters language:the symbolic order' (39). The slave rebellion begins when Marcellus forbids Spartacus to talk in the kitchen. Crassus fears Spartacus due to his attainment of the symbolic order. By refusing to reveal Spartacus' identity, the defeated slaves signify that they are ready to die in the name of man, rather than any abstract notion, such as Rome. Muad'Dib is a name which comes to haunt Emperor Shaddam. It is this Muad'Dib who will take his daughter, Irulan, as wife in a loveless political marriage (with all Paul's desire reserved for his concubine, Chani). With this ritual exchange of women, the story of Dune ends
There is another dimension to the masculinity of these films, and that is related to their male directors. Robbins compares the production of a film with the birth of a child, thus making these men prone to womb envy (41). This could be why the directors insisted on a final cut to their films (despite the little difference it would make according to Roland Barthes). Those who do not get the final cut (opportunity to castrate?), tend to disown their films, as Lynch did with Dune, and Kubrick with Spartacus. However, the Director's Cut of Lawrence was not initiated by Sir David Lean, but by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Perhaps Scorsese and Spielberg were motivated by a sense of lack. In order to gain mastery over the world, men feel obliged to fill in the gaps: `the visibility of the phallus predominates over the black hole of the female genitals' (42). Unlike Paul and Lawrence, Spartacus is not symbolized by the moon; rather, he wants to know how the moon orbits the Earth.
It is a matter of opinion as to whether Lynch failed as a director in regards to Dune. The film does have its admirers though, shown by the fact that a Dune computer game was released eight years after the film (and has been joined by a sequel). Perhaps one day, if such games
become the art form of the next century, they too may attain a place in Cultural Studies (what happens when you go beyond identifying with a character, to actually playing their role?). Perhaps we are not able to cope with the story of Paul Atreides, with its idea of the perfect equilibrium of the masculine and feminine within us, with the blurring of their attendent binary oppositions. And, beyond film studies, there is the question of how men are presented in real life. One could, for instance, explore other binaries such as these:
Paul/Saddam versus Shaddam/Bush, with oil in the place of the spice melange. Perhaps we in the West are not ready to stomach such a story. For us, it's quite impossible to see Saddam as hero.
(1) Alexander, John, 'The Films Of David Lynch',
(2) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.76.
(3) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.77.
(4) Rieu, E.V. (ed.), 'The Iliad', (London,1985) p.461.
(5) French, Sean, `The Heart of the Caven', Sight and Sound,
(Spring 1987 Vol.56) p.101.
(7) Creed, Barabara, `Dark Desires', Screening the Male,
(London, 1993) p.123.
(8) Creed, `Dark Desires', p.118.
(9) Robbins, Helen W., `More Human than I am alone',
Screening the Male, (London, 1993) pp. 139-140.
(11) Dyer, Richard, `Don't look now', Screen, (23,3-4,1982)
(12) Segal, Lynne, 'Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities,
Changing Men', (London, 1990) pp.18-19.
(13) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.131.
(14) Segal, 'Slow_Motion', p.16.
(15) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.82.
(16) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.86.
(17) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.83.
(18a) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.85.
(18b) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.80.
(19) Robbins, `More Human', p.136.
(20) Silver, Alain and Ursini, James, 'David Lean and his Films', (London,1974) p.177.
(21) Creed, `Dark Desires', p.123.
(22) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.114.
(23a) Creed, `Dark Desires', p.125.
(23b) Creed, `Dark Desires', p.124.
(24) Hark, Ina Rae, `Animals or Romans', Screening the Male,
(25) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.17.
(26) Alexander, 'David Lynch' p24.
(27) Alexander, 'David Lynch', p.24.
(28) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.86.
(29) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.153.
(30) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.155.
(31) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.162.
(32) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.169.
(33) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.169.
(34) Nelson, Thomas Allen, 'Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Head', (Indiana,1982) p.57.
(35) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.162.
(36) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.213.
(37) Hark, `Animals or Romans', p.162.
(38) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.85.
(39) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.84.
(40) Cut from Video Release.
(41) Robbins, `More Human', p.136.
(42) Segal, 'Slow Motion', p.85.
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Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean 1962.
Spartacus, Stanley Kubrick 1960.
Metropolis, Fritz Lang 1924.
The Time Machine George Pal 1960.
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Bulloch, John and Morris, Harvey, 'Saddam's War', London, 1991.
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Pratley, Gerald, 'The Cinema of David Lean', London, 1974.
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