Reflections on Jodorowsky's Dune • Trellick

Reflections on Jodorowsky's Dune

September 2021

Jodorowsky's Dune, a documentary about a failed 1975 project to film Frank Herbert's Dune, got me thinking about the tradeoffs of undertaking projects in a visionary mode.

The Visionary Leader

In my career I've worked closely with some visionary leaders, and studied others from afar, and I have mixed feelings about the style.

Without question, a visionary leader can inspire fierce loyalty and motivate people to do better work than they would have otherwise. Jodorowsky would tell his people "you are my spiritual warrior", and he considered the project a personal mission to awaken the minds of humanity. To those who bought into the project, that sense of focus and certainty must have been intoxicating for a time.

This certainty is both the biggest strength and the most common downfall of visionary leadership. If the leader and their team aren't able to agree on pragmatic compromises between the pure vision and the mess of the context in which they're trying to execute it, the project is almost certain to fail.

It's hard to know for sure, but the documentary makes a case that it was Hollywood's mistrust of Jodorowsky to deliver such an ambitious film on budget that prevented it from getting the funding to progress beyond preproduction. If he had been more willing to compromise on scope and perhaps his own role, would it have been possible to bring at least some version of his vision to light?

Things Worth Failing At

The failure of the project to get beyond pre-production must have been devastating at the time for those that had poured their efforts into it. However, the documentary, as well as articles like this one by Tim Maughan, pick out the ripples that this effort created in the world:

One of my goals is to work on things worth failing at; even if the project fails, will it have been worth the changes it helps bring about in its team and the rest of the world? In the case of Jodorowsky's Dune, it certainly looks like the effort was worth it in the end.