[Ed. note: This piece contains mild spoilers for Dune.]
Early in the term of dune, something strange is happening. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) casually ponders how much money the Emperor must have cost to send an envoy to his home planet Caladan. In response, his henchman Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) rolls his eyes back into her sockets until only the whites are visible, and when he rolls them back down, his tattooed lips can spit out the exact cost of money for the entire production.
Director Denis Villenueve dune has so much to explain over the course of its term that it never describes exactly what just happened, but the readers of dune The book will have a pretty good idea: Thufir Hawat and David Dastmalchian’s Piter De Vries are Mentats, the human computers in the world of Dune.
Why does Dune need human computers? Don’t they have normal computers?
Dune’s lore is long, deep, and strange. That is, tens of thousands of years before the events of dune, human society was drastically changed by a seismic war against artificial intelligence called Butlerian Jihad. In the years that followed, mankind vowed never again to create machines that could do the work of the human mind. It was even enshrined in the prevailing religion of the galaxy: “You should not build a machine in the image of a human spirit”.
No, there are no computers in the world of Dune – not even calculators. Instead, complex calculations are done by people called mentats, who are specially trained to be really smart.
Yes, it turns out the only thing stopping us from being as good at math as we are at computers is getting the right education.
Why do Mentats have lip tattoos?
Mentat’s lip stain is one of dune‘s most impressive character graphic, a visual cue that all Mentats share – that is dune, after all – drugs. Mentats habitually drink “the juice of Sapho”, a kind of hyper-coffee that increases their mental acuity by twice or more. Of course, Sapho is addicting and eventually has the side effect of making a user’s lips obviously red.
Donald Mowat, Head of Hair and Makeup on dunePolygon said the “wine-stained lips” of the movie’s Mentats were among the most difficult elements to create.
“That’s ridiculous,” Mowat said of Zoom. “I spent a week with that. I honestly lost my mind for a minute. ”
On the recommendation of a member of his team, he decided to look to the 1984 David Lynch adaptation for inspiration. “I’ve tried. I toyed with the idea of blackberries, their color, wine stains. And I said, ‘It just looks like a kid who drank Kool Aid.'”
Mowat was already working on designing tattoos for other character classes in the film, such as the Fremen and Sardaukar warriors.
“That made me think, ‘Why does that have to be a stain? Why can’t it be a symbol the color of wine? ‘ I always thought of blackberries, black currants, dark. And that’s how this little piece came about. ”