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Dune director’s bad experience with drugs helped shape one vital scene

Denis Villeneuve used his own personal experience with drugs to help craft one of the most important Chalamet scenes in the 2021 science fiction movie Dune.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune

The universe of Dune is, quite literally, fuelled by drugs. When author Frank Herbert created his story in the ’60s, he decided that the plot of Dune would center around the now-famous Spice Melange.

A naturally occurring substance found only on the planet Arrakis, Spice (once ingested) unlocks parts of the mind, extends life, and allows its users to see visions of the future enabling space travel. Its incredible properties make the drug the most valuable in the galaxy, and the whole battle over Arrakis, between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, is caused by a desire to control Spice production. Famously, ‘He who controls the Spice controls the universe.’

In Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune movie, the first real look audiences get at Spice comes in the stunning scene in which a Sandworm attacks a Spice harvester deep in the Arrakeen desert. Paul Atreides lands on the surface in order to help coordinate the rescue of those aboard the harvester, and as the chaos erupts around him Spice is brought up to the surface and fills the air.

Inhaling the Spice, Paul Atreides experiences hyper-sensitive visions of the future, losing himself in the present and nearly being consumed by the worm before being saved by Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck. Check it out below:

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It’s a vital scene in the film (which was among the best movies of its year), showing the fantastical properties of the drug while also being a thrilling sequence and the first proper introduction of the enormous Sandworms. And, a crucial part of Villeneuve’s inspiration for it came from his own experience with drugs; a bad one.

“The truth is that one thing that helped me tremendously to direct Timothée is: my son had cooked a banana cake a few months before we shot the movie, and the banana cake was very ‘spicy’ and I had the worst bad trip of my life,” the director explained in a conversation at the DGA.

“But it tremendously helped me, it sounds stupid, but it’s good to experience things yourself sometimes. That bad trip, on marijuana, deeply helped me to direct Timothée in the visions, to explain to him the state I was looking for,” he continued, “And, strangely, when I mentioned the banana cake experience to Timothée, he got it! Here’s the truth. Don’t try this!”

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck in Dune

While the experience of marijuana and Spice Melange is probably very different, it’s a reminder that even the best science fiction movies need to be grounded in reality, with relatable reference points. When the Dune 2 release date does eventually arrive (having just been delayed to 2024), if the sequel follows the direction of Herbert’s book audiences will get a much closer look at Spice, which plays a larger role in the second half of the story.

Until then, if you want more Dune you can read our Dune review for a refresher, and learn about the upcoming Dune The Sisterhood release date. Or, see why Patrick Stewart still loves the first Dune movie, and why Villeneuve was in love with the naked Baron Harkonnen.

For more sci-fi greatness, you can also keep up to date with the new Star Wars movies, the Star Trek 4 release date, and all the new movies yet to come this year too.