Within the hallowed realm of major Hollywood films, there are historically three age brackets for women: girlhood, mom, and sassy grandma. And perhaps due to the constraints of these brackets, another time-honored cinematic tradition lies in completely forgetting how numbers work in relation to child/mother ages and pushing a woman into a bracket for which she is not quite yet physically mature enough. There are arguments to be made about the fairness of this practice to the actors involved, but this is not one of them. Today, I am on about the unfairness of this Hollywood tendency to me, an audience member, trying to figure out how old all these people are supposed to be.
Dune is the most recent to carry on this tradition, as its star Timothée Chalamet is 25 years of age, per his IMDB page, yet Rebecca Ferguson, who plays his mother, is 38. Óscar Isaac, who plays Papa Dune (okay, fine, Duke Leto Atreides), is also a bit too young for the daddy role, as he is just 17 years older than his onscreen progeny. All this math took me time to do! And though I had time aplenty for the three hours I spent with this film last night, I did not necessarily want to spend it counting on my fingers how many 1983 is from 1995.
Listen, this is the part where I confess I have not read Dune and welcome the deserved shrieks you shall all shriek in the comments. But my colleagues who can and do read tell me that Baby Dune (a.k.a. Paul Atreides) is meant to be around 20 years old in the books, and thus Timothée is playing younger, which is fine! Still, the problem remains that Chalamet, while still bonny as the dew-kissed petals of a morning rose, does not look like a teenager anymore, and casting young-ish people to play his parents does not make Chalemet seem like a teen, it simply causes one to wonder why his parents were children at the time of his birth. And while Isaac may look a bit strange playing father to a person who looks like he might be a younger half brother by way of dad’s third wife, Ferguson presents a problem of a Wilde/Styles nature in that during the scene from the film (spoiler alert) where the two of them change into little desert onesies on a rock, it seemed, momentarily, as if they might bone.
Again, I have not read Dune! Does the space Jesus boy, chosen one of the desert, canonically have weird sexual tension with his mother? If so, I stand corrected, and this casting, coupled with that scene was tonally perfect. It is also possible that space parents are very young within this series, and again, I am begging forgiveness for not knowing what I do not know.
There also remains the possibility that Ferguson is following in the footsteps of Winona Ryder as Zachary Quinto’s mother in Star Trek (along with countless others before her) by being an actor firmly out of the girlhood zone that audiences may still—miraculously according to traditional Hollywood wisdom—want to bone, thus making her old enough by geriatric casting standards to play mother to a child she would have birthed in 7th grade. Ferguson, and Isaac, and the young Chalamet all played their respective ages just fine, as their actual job is to pretend to be whatever a script says they are. However, being forced to remember math and time while watching a movie about butthole worms terrorizing a hallucinogen mine seems like a waste of audiences’ limited attention spans.