In 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu. Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun.
Composer and pianist Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey) attempts to overcome his hedonistic life-style while repeatedly being drawn back into it by the many women in his life and fellow composer Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas).
After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally kills his wife, and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.
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
Ken Russell has alleged in interviews that he was the 27th choice for director, stating that Warner Bros. only hired him after 26 other directors had passed on the project. See more »
During Arthur's narration of his report on Eddie's early experiments, he states "A number of students hallucinated." It would not pass academic standards for a doctor to write a report and neglect to mention a more specific number of test subjects whose experiences are so pertinent to the study overall. See more »
He doesn't love me. He never loved me. I was never real to him. Nothing in the human experience is real to him.
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ABC edited 7 minutes from this film for its 1983 network television premiere. See more »
It's been a quarter century since I first experienced Altered States, Ken Russell's take on Paddy Chayevsky's novel of the search for a common bond between all of us, the ability to love. I personally don't care if Chayevsky disowned the movie or if Russell resented him for it or how many angels you can set on the head of a pin, for that matter. Altered States is a harshly beautiful and intellectual movie based on a book with the same adjectives.
I'm not going to praise the fine performances, the dazzling special effects, or the painful, emotional epiphany that the lead character, Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) experiences as he fights his way past the roadblock of pure intellect. I want to praise Altered States for its emotional and intellectual message of the power of love to embrace us all and heal our wounds.
Altered States is not for the weak of stomach or the easily offended. The imagery is disturbing and, at times, repulsive. There are scenes of blasphemy that I know have put off Evangelical friends of mine. But the central idea of a commonality, a kinship that humans have with one another and the danger of setting oneself apart to avoid the pain of interacting and loving is, I believe, supremely satisfying at both an intellectual and emotional level.
Altered States isn't one of the very best films I've seen, but it surely has been a source of joy for me. And if it doesn't turn your crank--or turns it the wrong way--then find your joy in another film or other media . . . and remember to love.
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