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
The film was released on Christmas Day, 1980. 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 »
[Discussing his father's death, and its impact on his thinking]
I haven't told anyone this in ten years. I'm telling you now because I think you have a right to know what kind of a nut you might be getting mixed up with here.
Arthur was right. You are a fascinating bastard.
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Bizarre cinematic head-trip that is far better and more entertaining than anyone could guess from a description. I put it on my Netflix queue without realizing it was directed by Ken Russell. If I had seen that earlier, I would have avoided it. Thankfully I didn't. It contains everything that is good about Russell, that is, his crazy imagery, and none of the bad stuff. That is, it's not an enormous bore. The script was written by Paddy Chayefsky, based on his own novel. Not the writer you would associate with horror or sci-fi, which is the proper genres to which Altered States belongs. He disowned the film before he even saw a cut of it, despite the fact that Russell was contractually obligated not to change a word of the script. The greatest asset of the film is the fantastic acting. William Hurt makes his screen debut as a mad scientist, a Harvard professor, actually, who is experimenting with sensory deprivation, mixed with some choice hallucinogens. He hopes to lose his modern mind in the sensory deprivation tank and regress to a primitive state. Unfortunately, some mushrooms that he finds in Mexico help him regress not only mentally, but physiologically. Blair Brown plays his estranged and worried wife, and Charles Haid and Bob Balaban (love the Balaban!) play colleagues who help Hurt do his experiments. The plot is silly, but it's legitimately eerie and frightening, thanks to Russell's surprisingly excellent direction. The film ends up in territory very reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I thought it all worked pretty well. Drew Barrymore makes her film debut at age 5, and also keep an eye out for John Larroquette.
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