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Altered States (1980)

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

Director:

Ken Russell

Writers:

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

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
William Hurt ... Eddie Jessup
Blair Brown ... Emily Jessup
Bob Balaban ... Arthur Rosenberg
Charles Haid ... Mason Parrish
Thaao Penghlis ... Eccheverria
Miguel Godreau Miguel Godreau ... Primal Man
Dori Brenner Dori Brenner ... Sylvia Rosenberg
Peter Brandon Peter Brandon ... Hobart
Charles White-Eagle ... The Brujo
Drew Barrymore ... Margaret Jessup
Megan Jeffers Megan Jeffers ... Grace Jessup
Jack Murdock Jack Murdock ... Hector Orteco
Francis X. McCarthy ... Obispo (as Frank McCarthy)
Deborah Baltzell Deborah Baltzell ... Schizophrenic Patient
Evan Richards ... Young Rosenberg
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

In the basement of a university medical school Dr . Jessup floats naked in total darkness. The most terrifying experiment in the history of science is out of control... and the subject is himself See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Spanish

Release Date:

25 December 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Estados alterados See more »

Filming Locations:

Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$174,650, 28 December 1980

Gross USA:

$19,853,892

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$19,853,892
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo | 70 mm 6-Track (MegaSound encoding)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In a 2010 interview with The Arts Desk, William Hurt reports reading the script for the first time while in a Cuban coffee shop. By his own admission, after reading, he "couldn't stop weeping for about half an hour" and he "couldn't stand up for 45 minutes", because the script "was every idea that I had been thinking about. Everything was in this thing." He didn't want to star in the movie himself but really wanted to convince Chayefsky to make it anyway, because "the ideas had to get out". So he "took the script away for two weeks, memorized every word, worked on the entire structure of the entire thing, every scene" and went in after two weeks. Hurt says that "Fifty-nine minutes and 30 seconds later" he stood up and went like, "That's why I think you have to make it. And I'm going." But at that point, Arthur (Penn), Paddy Chayefsky and Howard Godfrey went in a corner and started talking; after they were done, they told him they would have made the movie only if he was in it. See more »

Goofs

During the hallucination sequence in the cave, the pyrotechnic charges underneath the mushroom-shaped rock are visible as it elevates, as is the wire lifting it up. See more »

Quotes

Eddie Jessup: Emily's quite content to go on with this life. She insists she's in love with me - whatever that is. What she means is she prefers the senseless pain we inflict on each other to the pain we would otherwise inflict on ourselves. But I'm not afraid of that solitary pain. In fact, if I don't strip myself of all this clatter and clutter and ridiculous ritual, I shall go out of my fucking mind. Does that answer your question, Arthur?
Arthur Rosenberg: What question was that?
Eddie Jessup: You asked me why I was getting divorced.
Arthur Rosenberg: ...
See more »

Alternate Versions

ABC edited 7 minutes from this film for its 1983 network television premiere. See more »

Connections

Featured in Ken Russell: A Bit of a Devil (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

Voile d'Orphee
by Pierre Henry
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Not just for the FX...
3 December 2006 | by boomaga1See all my reviews

Okay, the character of Dr. Eddie Jessup is kind of a pompous ass, and there are a few groaner moments of, call it, self-importance.

But this movie breaks real ground.

One of my all time favorites.

And I'd like to point out that everyone is crazy about the much-touted and notoriously-expensive hallucination sequences, ...

Of course if you've seen Russel's "Tommy," some of the over-the-top sequences will look familiar and tinged with peculiar British-isms. And then there's the ending - well, it's controversial, that's for sure - anticlimax or not ?

But for me the most electrifying parts are the ensemble cast acting.

In the scene where Blair Brown is trying to cope with the trauma of the events in the isolation tank room, there's a very beautifully conceived long single shot through house windows. Russel needs credit especially for the argument between Balaban and Haid - some of the best acting I've ever seen - character actors hardly EVER get to put this kind of stage-acting energy on film. It stays with me still. They truly seem absolutely furious with each other, their lines overlap, it's absolutely convincing.

Some of the greatest effects of this movie are simply good movie craft - when Jessup first sees the love of his life walk through the door, fantastically back-lit, and the music comes up and cross-fades into the next scene - it's breathtaking.

It's the moments like that, and the very intro of the movie, with the slow title crawl, the deadpan lines read by Balaban, the first shots of Hurt in the tank, the eerie music ... This movie still stands out, still looks good,... and stands superior to other, more recent imaginings of internal hallucination become external.


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