Saturday, March 18, 2017

Altered States Movie Review

Altered States (1980)
Rent Altered States on Amazon Video // Buy the book
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky (written for the screen by as Sidney Aaron), Paddy Chayefsky (novel)
Directed by: Ken Russell
Starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Drew Barrymore
Rated: R

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

Harvard scientist Edward Jessup (William Hurt) conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that cause his genetic makeup to change.

This is a solid sci-fi story that borders on horror as one man tries to unlock the answers to the universe through hallucinations. As they should be, the hallucination sequences are wild, but this balances that with scientific discussion that, may be babble, but sounds plausible.
The ending was underwhelming. While it perfectly fits Jessup's arc, it's a bit trite. At least it isn't conveyed by exposition.
Watch it.

This is Drew Barrymore's screen debut. She plays one of Jessup's kids.

Jessup is searching for something revolutionary. He thinks hallucinations through sensory deprivation can reveal a great truth about the universe. Jessup sees some trippy imagery like the Shroud of Turin and a many eyed goat juxtaposed with his father while locked in boiler converted to a sensory deprivation tank.

The movie makes a large jump to Jessup having been married a while. The movie makes a point to emphasize that he's crazy. While he is, Jessup is sure there is a key to a deeper understanding of the universe through hallucinations.

He discovers a Native American tribe that uses a powerful hallucinogen that causes a shared experience among them. He visits the tribe and acquires a sample. Combining that with a sensory deprivation chamber, he manages to achieve a heightened vision and what seems to be an externalized experience.

The question becomes can the mind transform matter. Is Jessup hallucinating while out of the chamber or did something happen that's affecting the physical world? Jessup thinks his hallucination is changing his genetic structure.

The ending builds to a crazy moment, but then resolution is a bit of a let down. It could be viewed as a love conquers all trope, but it could also be Jessup realizing that the universal truth he seeks is where he fits in the world. The love he and his wife share has value.

I didn't want a love solves the problem ending. This had hints of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) throughout as Jessup thinks he's obtaining a new form. This stops short of that. While Jessup choosing his wife over universal answers can certainly be argued as plausible, I wish it went in a darker direction.

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