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In David Lynch's 1984 Dune film, the Baron Harkonnen's face is covered with pustules that his private physician attends to frequently. This concept was continued in the game Dune 2000, which based its look-and-feel largely on Lynch's film.

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The Baron was morbidly obese in the book, but there was no mention of him being diseased or infected, nor do I remember any mention of him ever having said boils or pustules.

Has anyone involved the production of the 1984 film explained why this element was added to the character, and/or what the in-universe cause is?

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    in the prequel novels they explain it, but alot of people dont consider those canon – Himarm Mar 1 '17 at 0:55
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    @Himarm - And those post-date the film. The tail wagging the dog, as it were. – Valorum Mar 1 '17 at 1:25
  • I was actually quite surprised to find that the question hadn't already been asked on the site. – Omegacron Mar 1 '17 at 1:31
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    I think the simple answer is "David Lynch" happened to him. – SteveED Mar 1 '17 at 2:58
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    In the prequel novels Baron Harkonnen is poisoned by a Bene Gesserit reverend mother as revenge. The poison is actually a long term illness that destroys the Barons good looks. As others have noted, many don't consider the books canon. I've heard they are based on FH notes and discussions with his son. – Integration Mar 1 '17 at 6:33
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Simple, but speculative answer would be "to make him less likeable".

In the original book Vladimir Harkonnen is just obese. Problem with this is that fat people in the movies usually work as a likeable, clumsy comic reliefs rather than villains and masterminds (which would be even more true for a floating fat guy), but if you cover him with pustules - no one will find him funny anymore.

This also works as a cover for another of his unpleasant trait that has been removed in the movie - he supposed to be a sadistic pedophile*, but displaying it in the movie would give it a much more strict than "PG" rating.

The in-universe reason for his less-than-pleasant look (with pustules or not) is explained in the prequel,

Revered Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam blackmails him into being a father for her child - unfortunately the baby is born deformed and Gaius smothers it in the crib. She asks baron for his "service" again, but this time, he humiliates and rapes her. As a revenge she infects him with a STD that changes his appearance

In the movie he still kills a boy, but his victim is around 16-20, which greatly reduces the evilness of the scene

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    Everyone knows teenagers have it coming. – Steve-O Mar 1 '17 at 4:03
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    Definitely. In the original book, he's a hedonist, but one who takes care of his appearance. Even his obesity is carefully calculated to project a certain image to other people. The Lynch movie was very visually striking, but the Baron's character was reduced to cackling Hollywood ugly evil. And the floating fat guy part still wound up making him look funny. – Dranon Mar 1 '17 at 4:43
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    @Steve-O Movie logic: kill a teenager and you are a bad man. Kill a dog or a child and you are a monster (and movie is facing the "R" rating) – Yasskier Mar 1 '17 at 7:18
  • @Yasskier I get what you are saying but the fact that in the Lynch film he kills the boy by removing a "heart plug" definitely increases the evilness of the character. Heart plugs, for when you just need to drain the blood of your subjects quickly. – Integration Mar 1 '17 at 13:24
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    David Lynch also just loves to fill his movies with grotesque images. – the guest Mar 3 '17 at 12:54
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The Baron Harkonnen did have a disease; shown in the film as boils, obesity, and a lack of mobility which required him to use a suspensor.

His disease was intentionally inflicted upon him by the Bene Gesserit Reverend mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. The Sisterhood used blackmail to coerce the Baron into impregnating Mohiam. Baron Harkonnen Sprung a trap on Mohiam and raped her as punishment for the blackmail scheme. Mohiam dealt a punishment of her own by conjuring a sexually transmitted disease utilizing her stores of biologic memory. This act of rape lead to the conception of Jessica and the Baron's Disease.

Source: Dune, House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson

  • This was added many many years later, largely in response to his depiction in the film, not the other way around. – Valorum Mar 3 '17 at 21:40
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    The lack of mobility / floating harness was in every work/adaptation I've seen. The boils were not. – Radhil Mar 3 '17 at 21:43
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    the OP asked for an in universe answer, your opinion of the new series doesn't DE-cannonize them. The suspensor harness was a result of the disease according to the Brian Herbert books. – RedOculus Mar 3 '17 at 22:00
  • @RedOculus - Which is fine, aside from the fact that the film and the book series don't share the same universe. There are very substantial thematic and technological differences. – Valorum Mar 3 '17 at 22:45
  • Then here is a source within the movie, that proves Disease... Allow me to quote his Doctor. "You are so beautiful my Baron. Your skin - love to me. Your diseases - lovingly cared for for all eternity!" – RedOculus Mar 3 '17 at 23:39

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