Vulture is recirculating its coverage of Dune in celebration of the epic’s long-awaited release on HBO Max and theaters.
The first time I tried edibles, I had a vision in which a pair of harpies reminded me that one day I would die. The second time I tried edibles, I hallucinated a never-ending procession of animals emerging from a black hole. The third time I tried edibles, I saw palm groves bursting into flames, a lifeless desert becoming a maw of death, and most amazing of all, a blue-eyed Timothée Chalamet. But that was okay, because I was at a TIFF screening of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, and all of those things were supposed to happen.
Why was I seeing Dune high in the fourth-largest city in North America? First, because many of the Dune reviews out of Venice mentioned that its grand scale and vivid imagery made it an ideal movie to see stoned. Second, because since weed was legalized in 2018, roughly 87 percent of Toronto storefronts have turned into cannabis shops. And third, because I was joking when I pitched this story and did not expect my editor to actually say yes. But I was bored and lonely, and had managed to snag a ticket for an IMAX showing, so why not?
As you may have been able to tell from my first paragraph, THC and I are not exactly close friends. Our relationship is closer to the kind you’d have with an overbearing colleague, or a not-especially beloved uncle. For this reason, having ventured into a basement dispensary on King Street, I decided to go with a comically unintimidating choice: a pack of pink, fruit-flavored gummies, the type of drugs you might feel comfortable giving a child. I ate one about an hour before the movie started, which also happened to be 30 seconds before I read the bit on the packaging informing me that the drugs could take four hours to start working. With my luck, I’d get super high just in time for the closing credits, and wind up giggling like an idiot over the name of prop painter Clare Baybutt.
Luckily, that wasn’t the case. The gummies may have kicked in during the drive to the theater, or maybe I was simply traveling down the most relaxing highway in Canada. Once Villeneuve showed up to give a brief bonjour, things were percolating. I knew this because his Quebecois purr produced a deeply pleasurable ASMR tingle up and down my arm — a physical sensation the filmmaker had never given me before, even though I did like Sicario. (I would’ve liked it more if they’d told us whether Ario got better.) It all got even more intense once Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Lady Jessica in the film, came out to do a charming little double-act with Villeneuve. I don’t know what it was, but something about the contrast between their voices — his velvety growl, her European lilt — produced an oil-and-vinegar effect that had me absent-mindedly stroking my own palm.
So, I was definitely high by this point.
And then it was time for the movie! There is a complicated space plot that I will get into later, but for the purposes of a high person, this is what Dune is about: SPACESHIP GO WHIRRRR, CANNON GO BOOOOM, ORCHESTRA GO BRRRRAAWWRRRRRR. It takes place on a planet where the rhythmic hum of machinery has become a matter of life and death, which means that, at multiple points, the movie is literally vibing — and my high ass was vibing right there with it.
In another development my weed-addled brain found immensely entertaining, everything in this movie is either incredibly big or incredibly small. There are sand worms the size of the train that was the size of the Chrysler Building, and a capital ship that resembles a gigantic floating urethra, while the most dangerous weapons are tiny floating darts that flit through the air like malevolent hummingbirds. The same holds true for the cinematography, which alternates between intense close-ups and grandiose wide shots that make all the people look like ants. It’s also the case with the cast: Our protagonist is Chalamet, who in an important step for representation is Hollywood’s first action hero with Avian Bone Syndrome; the baddie is Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen, the long-awaited answer to the question, “What if Humpty-Dumpty, but evil?”
Here’s what I knew about Dune going in: It was based on an acclaimed novel, people wear straws up their noses, and at some point, somebody says, “The spice must flow.” But this leaves a lot that I was unprepared for. For instance, one thing they do not tell you about Dune beforehand is just how much of the story is devoted to sci-fi bureaucracy. Which elites have import/export rights in which provinces? What are the specific bylaws governing a leadership transition? If someone wants to lodge a complaint, which regulatory body must they contact? One minor character is introduced as a member of one organizational hierarchy, but turns out to be simultaneously holding an important position in another org chart (a reveal that reminded me of certain sleazy elements of New York politics). I found this all enthralling, but that might be the gummies talking.
Another thing reviews have neglected to mention about Dune is that every few minutes, the movie’s plot stops for a series of perfume commercials featuring Zendaya wandering around the desert. According to Villeneuve, these interstitial segments had been specially filmed on IMAX cameras for the enjoyment of viewers like us. Again, I suspect a more sober-minded viewer could find these moments slow, confusing, repetitive, or even all three. I couldn’t look away — and not just because the screen was big enough that I literally couldn’t.
And then, like this blog post, the movie just … ends. It’s a thrilling callback to the genre cinema of my youth, when films like Kill Bill and Matrix: Reloaded would stop in the middle of the story with no warning and you’d have to wait a year to get the resolution. Except with Dune, the gap will be even longer: The sequel hasn’t even been greenlit yet. (Villeneuve used a significant chunk of his time before the screening to pitch us on Dune: Part Two, in the hopes that the theater was secretly crawling with Warner Bros. execs.) Once the credits started to roll, I was thrust back into the Canadian night and wandered around a deserted Exhibition Place looking for the car that would take me and my colleague/unofficial babysitter back home. It had been four hours. The gummies had definitely worn off.