Why Lady Jessica’s Litany In Dune Means More Than You Think
After years of waiting, fans finally had a chance to see Denis Villeneuve’s take on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece. The film’s resultant success in theaters and on HBO Max has finally delivered the news “Dune” fans have been waiting for – a sequel is coming.
Villeneuve’s approach to the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is largely faithful to the original 1965 novel “Dune,” which is what made the confirmation of a sequel so important to fans. Rather than make the mistake that David Lynch’s 1984 adaption did and condense the sprawling story into a single film, Villeneuve’s film gives the narrative a chance to establish the fascinating world of “Dune” and explore its complex characters. The cost of that choice is that the first movie only gets about halfway through the book.
In “Dune,” Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is Paul’s mother and partner of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), whose knowledge of the Bene Gesserit’s powers helps guide her son. During critical moments in the film, viewers see Lady Jessica recite the Litany Against Fear, which is just one of the tools the Bene Gesserit uses to influence the world around them.
However, the Litany Against Fear is both a vital part of the mythology of “Dune” and an essential way that Ferguson prepared for the role of Lady Jessica. Here is why Lady Jessica’s Litany Against Fear in “Dune” means more than viewers might think.
The Litany Against Fear is one of the most famous passages in Dune lore
As noted by the Los Angeles Times, one of the changes that Villeneuve made while adapting “Dune” for the screen was abandoning much of the narration and internal monolog that delivers key information in the novel.
However, the one piece of inner narration that did make it into the film is the Litany Against Fear, which viewers hear when Paul is challenged by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) to place his hand in a pain-inducing box. In that scene, viewers see shots of Lady Jessica reciting the Litany Against Fear in full, which is cut with visuals of Paul wincing in pain, possibly mouthing the mantra. The words are meant to soothe the mind during a crisis, and ultimately help Paul endure the excruciating experience.
For many viewers, the new adaptation of “Dune” may serve as their introduction to the famous Litany Against Fear, which includes the lines, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Long-time fans of the series, however, know those phrases as some of the most enduring from the “Dune” universe, as evidenced by the number of tattoos shared on Reddit that feature portions of the text.
Rebecca Ferguson sees the Litany Against Fear as central to Lady Jessica's character
The Litany Against Fear has an enormous amount of meaning for fans of the series, but Rebecca Ferguson found a new connection between the famous phrase and her portrayal of Lady Jessica. As she told IndieWire, this was important because director Denis Villeneuve had “heightened and activated [Lady Jessica].”
While Lady Jessica had taken on a much more visible role in the story told by Villeneuve’s “Dune,” she is rarely at the center of the story. However, Ferguson saw this as a strength of the character rather than an obstacle to portraying her. Ferguson said, “Her rebelliousness, her belief in herself, and her beliefs and her love for Leto are bigger than the quest that she is sent to do.”
One of the most powerful abilities of the Bene Gesserit order that Lady Jessica demonstrates in the film is Voice. With Voice, Lady Jessica can use powerful commands to influence those around her, but doing so requires complete control over her body, which the Litany Against Fear helps her achieve. Ferguson explained, “When she does the Litany Against Fear, it takes time, but she gets to a point where she just lets everything pass over it and through her. That’s her character for me, that’s the core, it’s the stillness.”
This level of seemingly passive control ultimately helped Ferguson see the true strength of Lady Jessica. As she put it, “She can stand in the background and be the most powerful person in the room.”