Dermatology in the Cinema

Vail Reese, MD


May 22, 2002

In This Article

Good Guys and Bad Guys

In the recent film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, there is a striking visual difference between the film's heroic and malevolent characters. While the actors portraying the good guys display subtle scars, early male pattern alopecia, or mild acne, the evil characters are in dire need of laser resurfacing for scarring and medical intervention for their severe alopecia (Figure 1).

Evil skin on an evil character. An Orc from The Lord of the Rings. (Collection of Vail Reese, MD)

Dermatologists have spent years wandering the museums of Europe diagnosing lesions in Renaissance paintings.[1] What, then, of a more prevalent art form -- the movies? As a popular form of entertainment, film's familiarity facilitates its use as an educational tool for patients.[2] But what do patients learn about skin conditions from movies?

Since ancient times, physical beauty has been thought to reflect moral decency, and filmmakers use skin abnormalities as a shortcut to manifest the evil motivations of characters. The dichotomy is seen in countless films: clear skin means good intentions; marked skin means immorality.


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