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Lessons from movies – Dune (2021)

Lessons from movies – Dune (2021)

Phil Steventon


Reading time: five minutes

It might surprise you to know that there are plenty of lessons we can take from popular movies, whether for work or life. It turns out that not only do they entertain us, and provide good escapism, but some can offer excellent lessons if we look closely enough.

I'm going to look at some movies in this series of articles, starting with the 2021 blockbuster Dune, which is based on the 1965 sci-fi novel of the same name by Frank Herbert.

Short synopsis

The fictional desert planet Arrakis is the setting for most of the movie. The unseen Emperor of the Known Universe ordered House Atreides (the protagonists) to replace House Harkonnen (the antagonists) as stewards of the planet to oversee the mining of the movie's plot device, the ‘spice’.

The indigenous population of Arrakis, the Fremen, have been traumatised from the off-screen rule of the Harkonnens and are untrusting of the new stewards. Where the Harkonnens governed using malevolent brutality, House Atreides sought to build an alliance with the Fremen as they knew the Emperor feared the popularity of Duke Leto Atreides, the head of the House, and sought to betray him and destroy the House.

The Duke’s fears came true and the capital city Arrakeen was attacked by Harkonnen soldiers supported by the Emperor’s military force, the Sardaukar. Paul, the duke’s son, and Jessica, the mother of his son, escaped into the desert and sought refuge with the Fremen with whom the duke had sought to ally. The Fremen saw their value and accepted them.

Part two is expected to finish the second half of the story that makes up the 1965 novel where we see the coming of age of Paul and the eventual fall of House Harkonnen (hardly a spoiler, read the book!).

What can we take away?

There are two quotes that we can learn from during the exchange between Duke Leto and the Fremen leader Stilgar around the second act of the movie where House Atreides is establishing its stewardship of the planet.

"I know you've suffered at the hands of the Harkonnen. Name what you want. If it’s in my power to grant, I'll give it and ask for nothing."

A ‘carrot’. An olive branch. An offer with no desire to receive anything in return. Sounds good, right!

But Stilgar has no interest in what the Atreides have to offer. He just wants them to leave their Sietches (homes) alone and leave them be after they’ve harvested the spice from the desert.

Leto’s response? "I cannot promise not to travel into the desert if duty compels me. But your Sietches will be yours forever, and you will never be hunted while I govern here."

Making this offer and asking for nothing in return doesn’t give Leto or House Atreides anything of tangible value – realistically, the Fremen don’t have much of value anyway, nor the need for it; the most valuable commodity to them is water. He is making the offer because he wants to earn the respect and trust of the Fremen and to show that House Atreides will govern with respect instead of brutality. Basically, “we’ll do what we’re here to do, we’ll leave you in peace, and that’s it”.

Why does this matter?

House Atreides is new to Arrakis. They are unproven and not trusted by the indigenous Fremen. Not unlike us when we first started off in our work lives.

When we begin our careers, we are unproven. We need to find ways to show that we can be trusted even with the most basic of tasks. And, often, we might have to work for free or do things to add value and not receive anything in return.

Often voluntary work is the way to go here, such as at a legal advice clinic, a branch of Citizens Advice, or a short work placement in the summer. Short-term document review roles that are advertised through job search platforms, LinkedIn and organisations such as Flex Legal or Lawyers on Demand are also decent places to cut your teeth and build up your expertise and, in turn, peoples’ trust in you.

I started my career volunteering for a couple of charities supporting victims and witnesses of crime through the criminal justice system and the criminal courts in the West Midlands. The expectations of me, other than to carry out my expected duties, were that I would:

  • be open-minded as to the training I’d receive;
  • be a helpful and friendly face of the organisation for service users; and
  • do the best job I could.

I improved my customer service and communication skills, and gained a real appreciation for the work I might do and how that might impact a service user’s life. I also worked with some great staff and volunteers, while building up trust and worth with them and other employers. Arguably, had I not done this I probably wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today – that is, considering the final part of my pre-qualification training and what I want to do with the rest of my career!

Any hire comes with risk and employers are incredibly risk-averse, particularly us lawyers who are trained to find and advise the path of least risk for us and our clients. So by taking opportunities to do work for others on a voluntary basis, your risk will decrease and your value and expertise will increase over time, making you a much more attractive investment prospect to employers.

These are great chances to show people what you can do and show that you are capable of learning, training, and being trained.

There are plenty more movies and television series that offer hidden lessons for us and our careers, so check back to see further instalments of this series on LawCareers.Net’s blogs. You can also read other articles from me via The Neurodivergent Lawyer.