Too early to call this the discovery of 2024? If we never get another David Lynch movie, series, or short film shot on consumer-grade DV, this is just about our closest proximity to a fresh vision—also one that’s 40 years old, but sometimes we can’t make the choice between what is future and what is past. In researching his recently published A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune—An Oral History, Max Evry gave himself the unenviable task of finding Lynch’s supposed script for Dune Messiah––“supposed” because its only traces are to be found decades-old interviews, often in promotion of a film that caused so much disturbance to its creator he still speaks of it like… well, like a David Lynch character speaks of the malevolent force that hangs over their every moment. Saying he “wrote half a script” in Lynch on Lynch could’ve meant literally anything: a misremembering of writing half an outline, a bluff, or––just some chance––the God’s-honest truth.

It was, in fact, that most literal of possibilities. Digging through Frank Herbert’s archives at California State University, Fullerton last summer, Evry uncovered “a slim folder with a sticky note declaring ‘Dune Messiah script revisions’” directed to VFX guru Barry Nolan, and featuring Lynch’s “half a script”––56 pages with additional annotations from Herbert himself.

Asked for comment in a fascinating profile on Wired, Lynch stated (via an assistant) he “sort of remembers writing something but doesn’t recall ever finishing it,” and––in light of just how much David Lynch hates talking about, acknowledging, or remembering Dune––declined to comment further.

But the devil’s in the details: Lynch’s Dune Messiah would’ve started with a flashback to Dune, just as Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan in 1984, Jason Momoa in 2021) has been killed, with a scene entirely par for the course of his movie’s sounds and images: “his shielded dead body still floats on the floor, humming and sparking.” Enter the only character Lynch especially created for his film, the Baron’s doctor (Leonardo Cimino), who is revealed to have been Scytale, a mercurial figure whose actions drive Herbert’s second novel. (Everet McGill recalls Jordan agreeing to a smaller role with promise he’d have a “breakout character” in later films.) The first ten minutes focus on Idaho’s resurrection into Messiah’s instrumental Hayt figure, action backgrounded by the planet Tleilax, “a dark metal world with canals of steaming chemicals and acids” studded with “dead pink small test tube animals.”

The only full excerpt from Lynch’s script describes a scene that would perhaps require more practical and VFX work than the first film in toto: 

“Scytale’s friends are laughing and wildly rolling marbles under their hands as they watch Scytale sing through eighteen mouths in eighteen heads strung together with flesh that is like a flabby hose. The heads are singing all over the pink room. One man opens his mouth and a swarm of tiny people stream out singing accompaniment to Scytale. Another man releases a floating dog which explodes in mid-air causing everyone to get small and lost in the fibers of the beautiful carpet. Though small they all continue to laugh, a laughter which is now extremely high in pitch. Scytale (now with only one head) crawls up a wall laughing hysterically.”

Evry’s piece goes deeper into Lynch’s deviations from Herbert’s plot: the former’s telling would foreground the Harkonnens––contra the latter’s story, which had no use for them––before eventually curving into the original narrative. (An investigation into the murder that motivates much of Messiah’s plot has, perhaps, foreshadowings of Blue Velvet, which would’ve almost surely been overwritten by this film.) If you know Dune Messiah it’s perhaps more compelling to read his physical descriptions of Paul Atreides’ empire:

“[A] beautiful hot pink room with violet light which is a blend of living room and rubbery surgical room.”

“‘[Gardens] of strange, exotic plants from throughout the universe,’ with a solid gold palace at the center.”

“[The] largest room in the universe, with an approach passageway in solid gold ten miles long, with 800-foot ceilings.”

Curiously, Lynch doesn’t seem too invested in Herbert’s much-ballyhooed hero subversion: the 61 billion deaths sparked by Paul Atreides’ actions is left slightly more ambiguous, or at least not commented-upon, a curious omission it’s speculated could’ve appeared in the second half or simply not factored into this telling.

These peeks into an alternate history are, like Lynch’s Dune itself, equal-parts fascinating, tantalizing, and frustrating. In light of how unlikely it seemed we’d ever know what his Dune Messiah would’ve entailed, though, I’m grateful for this discovery. And as if it needed to be said: game on, Villeneuve.

No more articles