Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has finally arrived, along with its stacked cast of Hollywood’s most handsome faces. Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya! Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac! Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem!
But there’s a dark secret hiding behind those beautiful faces. A secret that Dune, as faithful an adaptation as it is, has simply dumped. Or perhaps eliminated. Voided, maybe.
Regardless, I call this cowardice.
This you must remember, for the breadth of Dune’s two hour and 35 minute runtime. Whether you’ve got your butt in a theater, or nestled softly into the cushions of your living room couch.
Everyone in Dune poops their pants
Any cinematic adaptation of Dune has a lot of on-the-page visuals to translate to screen, but the most human of these might be the ever-present stillsuits, garb of the desert-dwelling Fremen tribes.
Stillsuits are less a product of fashion, and more of necessity. The climate of the planet Arakkis is so harsh that an unprotected human body will die of exposure in a matter of hours. The technological miracle of the outfit is that it captures all of the moisture a human body produces and renders it back into drinkable water.
All of the moisture.
[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains mild spoilers for Dune (2021).]
In Villenueve’s Dune, Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) explains their function as she adjusts the fastenings of Duke Leto and Paul’s suits.
“A stillsuit is a high efficiency filtration system. Even this early in the morning, you wouldn’t survive two hours without one of these. It cools the body. It recycles the water lost to sweat. Your body’s movements provide the power. Inside the mask you’ll find a tube to allow you to drink the recycled water. In good working order, your suit won’t lose more than a thimbleful of water a day.”
It’s almost identical to a scene in Frank Herbert’s original Dune, in which the planetologist Liet Kynes does all this and instructs Leto and Paul to breath in through their mouths and out through the suit’s noseplugs, to allow even the moisture of their breath to be recycled. He also says: “With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won’t lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day.”
But there’s an aspect of stillsuit function that Kynes mentions in the book that is not mentioned in the movie. Even the book only really mentions it that one time. But this fact about stillsuits is unforgettable.
It sounds in the background of Dune like a faint high-pitched whine in a beautiful concert hall.
“Urine and feces,” says Liet Kynes, “are processed in the thigh pads.”
Urine and feces are processed in the thigh pads
Most characters in Dune are not Fremen by birth, but on Arakkis they adopt the stillsuit as a matter of survival. The cast of Dune is absolutely stacked with actors known for their Hollywood clout and for being easy on the eyes. I think it’s vitally important that we appreciate the movie, and those actors, for that. It’s also vitally important that we remember that everybody in it is, canonically, pooping their pants on the regular, as a matter of social custom.
When Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica spend an overnight in the desert in their neat water-wicking tent, they aren’t squatting in the sand to pee. When Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho gets back from living among the Fremen, he’s also been living without a toilet. And when Zendaya’s Chani leads that raid against the Harkonnen harvesters?
As Fremen born to the desert — they’re all doin’ it in their pants every day.
And that’s what the boundless freedom of science fiction is all about.