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Altered States (1980)

A Harvard scientist conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that may be causing him to regress genetically.



(written for the screen by) (as Sidney Aaron), (novel)
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Miguel Godreau ...
Dori Brenner ...
Peter Brandon ...
Charles White-Eagle ...
The Brujo
Margaret Jessup
Megan Jeffers ...
Grace Jessup
Jack Murdock ...
Hector Orteco
Obispo (as Frank McCarthy)
Deborah Baltzell ...
Schizophrenic Patient
Young Rosenberg


It's the late 1960's. Just for a lark, graduate student Eddie Jessup, known for being unconventional, brilliant and slightly mad, conducts experiments with an isolation chamber, using himself as the subject. His experiences in the chamber cause him to hallucinate, much of the imagery being religious-based despite he not being a religious man. Seven years later, he is a respected full professor in the Harvard Medical School. Believing he has lost his edge and has fallen into an unwanted state of respectability, Eddie decides to resume his work with sensory deprivation, this time using hallucinogens, specifically untested ones used in mystical Mexican rituals, to enhance the experience of being in the isolation tank. After initial tests, he claims he entered an alternate physical and mental state. Although unbelieving of Eddie's claims, his colleagues Arthur Rosenberg and Mason Parrish, as well as Eddie's wife, Emily, who is in her own right a respected academic, are concerned for ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


When he heard his cry for help it wasn't human See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

25 December 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Estados alterados  »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$174,650, 28 December 1980, Limited Release

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| (MegaSound encoding)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Ken Russell has alleged in interviews that he was the 27th choice for director stating that the Warner Brothers studio only hired him after 26 other directors had passed on the project. See more »


During the party scene right before Eddie arrives, Arthur is getting ice from the bathtub and the toilet seat is up. But a moment later in the next scene, the toilet seat is down. See more »


Eddie Jessup: The purpose of our suffering is only more suffering.
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Spoofed in Kamillions (1990) See more »


Voile d'Orphee
by Pierre Henry
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User Reviews

A flawed but sentimental favorite
29 November 2002 | by See all my reviews

Altered States is not everything that it could be, and that's because director Ken Russell was more interested in assaulting the viewer with a series of startling (by 1980 standards) images than he was in exploring the stories subtext. Eddie Jessup is a scientist so introverted and afraid of human connections that it's not enough to abandon his family, he also has to further deprive himself of any and all stimulation, performing sensory depravation experiments on himself to attain better understanding of "ultimate truth." Jessup proclaims himself to be an atheist, but the visual content of his hallucinations reveals him to be a man who's more at war with God than a man who disbelieves. His descent into a more primal state of being is an obvious metaphor for how easy it is for a man with commitment issues and fear of intimacy to turn completely inward, leaving the real world behind. Some of what the character says early on about family and love make his motivations clear... Jessup is a man shattered by his father's death and unable to accept the vulnerability of the human condition. A viewer has to really work to absorb and enjoy these metaphors, though, as Russell never slows his onslaught of special effects. The movie also suffers from smart but unrealistic dialogue and ham-fisted performances from some of the principle characters (watch Blair Brown's over-the-top breakdowns in the last act). Altered States isn't the total package, it doesn't combine the visceral and the philosophical as well as movies like Jacob's Ladder or Natural Born Killers. But it's better than most of today's equivalent movies (Donnie Darko, etc) that want to stimulate and provoke the viewer and don't quite pull it off.

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