(Be gentle...this is my first review
) Altered States
Warner Brothers, 1980
Submitted by D-Man THE CHARACTERS
Dr. Eddie Jessup - A flaky, but good looking professor...uncommonly good looking for a man who spends all his time studying science. He's experimenting, out to find the meaning of all existence... or something. Turns into an ape-man, and a freaky one-armed thing in the process.
Emily Jessup - A budding anthropologist who convinces Eddie to marry her, finding him fascinating for some reason. She is constantly both afraid, and intrigued by what he's trying to do. Taken by the force of Eddie's hallucinations, before returned to normal.
Arthur Rosenberg - Bob Balaban (Veteran of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries)! A fellow professor and friend of Eddie's who willingly assists in the experiments, despite them all seeming very whack-job to even the rest of us.
Mason Parrish - Professor of Endocrinology at Harvard Medical School, and the film's designated skeptic/a***ole. Doesn't do much in this film other than criticize and yell.
Hindris Indians - The Isolated Mexican tribe that Eddie meets early on. They start the events that send him on this bizarre ride.
Primal Man - Eddie's devolved self, who escapes from a sensory deprivation tank. Easily the most entertaining character in the film.LESSONS LEARNED
Freaky Mexican mushrooms are the way to learn the meaning of life.
No matter how much he yells, even the hardest skeptic will still let you experiment.
The earliest humans were one-armed lumps of flesh.
Having a bad trip? Just hit the walls and floor repeatedly, and you'll come right out of it.STUFF TO WATCH FOR
25 secs - A guy floating in a tube, wearing a glass bowl around his head, and goggles...Yup...it's a Ken Russell film all right.
4 mins - Wow...Bob Balaban had hair?
11 mins - Eddie says he has a vision of god and Jesus during sex...creepy? Yes, I think so.
14 mins - Whoa! A multi-eyed goat? What the hell?
29 mins - Freaky indian rituals...good stuff!
36 mins - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A LIZARD!
52 mins - Mason acts like he's about to have a brain hemorrhage
56 mins - A very young Drew Barrymore appears. Watch closely.
1 hr 3 mins - Ape man! Best part of the movie.
1 hr 11 mins - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A GOAT!
1hr 24 mins - Eddie becomes a human light and water show...pretty!NOTABLE QUOTES
Mason: "It looks to me like the architecture's somewhat abnormal"
German Radiologist: "Somewhat?...The guy's a f**king gorilla."
Eddie: "The final truth of all things is that there IS no final truth."THE PLOT
Strange does not even begin to describe the kind of movie that is Altered States. This intense, bizarre, and psychedelic piece of work from Ken Russell (Director of the equally odd film version of "Tommy") is one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had in watching a film...as well as mildly amusing.
William Hurt plays Professor Eddie Jessup, an eccentric man who is out to discover...I don't know...but it had something to do with finding the the true origin of life. The film never really makes it clear, possibly because so much of the dialog is a lot of technical, scientific, and philosophic babble that's spoken at an impossible to comprehend speed.
Anyway, Dr. Jessup spends a lot of time studying hallucinations, particularly those caused by a sensory deprivation tank he uses all the time. He's assisted by his friend and fellow professor, Arthur, who's truly a friend to the end when you consider all the freaky stuff he's helping Eddie with.
Eddie then finally gains someone else to share this all with, when he meets up with an advancing student named Emily. Emily is one of those types who knows that a man is unstable and possibly hazardous, but doggone it, she can't help but love the guy...even if he does tend to have visions of God and Jesus during sex...She suggests at one point they get married, and Eddie agrees, despite seeming to have some reservations.
Flash forward some years later, and the Jessups are in Boston now, working at Harvard, and even have a couple of kids to go along with their union (One of them a young Drew Barrymore). But Eddie is still engrossed in his work, and in the process has grown further apart from his wife...in one scene, he finally acknowledges that they'll be getting divorced. (Shocking, I know...)
That is, after Emily goes on her trip to Africa with the kids, and Eddie goes on his trek to Mexico...his goal, to find an isolated tribe of Indians, who employ a hallucinogen, a strange mushroom, in their rituals. The odd thing about this mushroom, is that everyone who takes it, seems to have the same kind of visions, according to the chief anyway.
After gaining permission, Eddie takes part in the ritual, not letting the bizarre collection of decrepit medicine men and musicians playing weird instruments faze him. He drinks the liquefied mushrooms, and goes on a very strange and intense trip (complete with fireworks!), including a head-scratcher of a moment where he sees Emily laying on her stomach, nude, looking at him as he lays on his side...they both turn to sand, and verrrrrryyyy slowly start blowing away in the wind.
Eddie finally comes out of his trip, discovering that he apparently killed a big lizard in the middle of it all...others would take this as a warning to never use that freaky stuff again, but not Eddie...he takes a big sample of it all the way back to Boston.
We then go back to Harvard, where the new experiments with the mushroom are observed by both Eddie's old friend, Arthur, and mega-skeptic Mason. After coming out of another trip, Eddie realizes he needs to up the ante a bit by finding another Sensory Deprivation tank, like the one he used to use in New York. He feels that combining it with the mushroom might bring on something even more powerful. Lo and behold, he finds a tank in the basement of one building, and utilizes it.
The first of these new experiments already yields interesting results. Eddie talks about seeing the earliest humans, ape-like creatures, and how he's becoming one of them...he even starts making odd monkey noises to emphasize this point. Moments later, he comes out of the tank, unable to talk, and with blood all over his mouth. He quickly writes instructions to have his body examined and X-rayed, apparently claiming that he made the hallucination real, and managed to change his genetic makeup for a brief time.
Mason, of course, scoffs at this idea, and lets his objections be known in a rant that is so ridiculously intense, you swear at some point his head is just going to suddenly pop like a meat-filled balloon. He rushes the X-rays over to a radiologist, but the European doctor only seems to confirm what happened to Eddie.
Meanwhile, we discover that poor Eddie might be in over his head now. He suddenly starts hallucinating in the middle of the night, first seeing his feet become ape-like in the shower, then suddenly seeing Hell outside of his bathroom. Still, he continues, undeterred, even as his estranged wife returns to town, and tries her best to comprehend what it is he's doing. But, she only succeeds in ending up scared of him.
The following night, Eddie returns to the Tank room, alone. He performs another experiment on himself, one that yields very startling results...
What follows is an exciting scene where he emerges from the tank as a big, hairy, primal version of man. He scares off a janitor, and nearly beats a security guard to death with his own baton. He then runs off into the city night, fights off a pack of stray dogs after him, and breaks into a zoo. After boldly fending off some elephants for a drink of water, the Primal Man breaks into an enclosure, and takes down a goat with a rock, before killing and eating some of it.
A security guard finds Eddie, who has now conveniently changed back into his normal self in time to be caught. He spends a little time in jail, before being reunited with Emily once again. Mason returns as well, very curious about everything that's happened, along with trusty Arthur...
Can you believe this? They let him perform the experiment AGAIN! Yes, even devolving into a savage ape-man isn't enough to keep Eddie away from his goal. He takes the mushroom, goes into the tank...and proceeds to go up in a mesmerizing display of blue lights, his flesh stretching to all kinds of strange formations. The tank itself finally blows, leaving him in the middle of a bright, swirling whirlpool, bombarded by all kinds of nondescript, psychedelic imagery straight out of Timothy Leary's dreams. That is, until Emily bravely goes in and pulls him out of it.
The exhausted professor is carried to his home, and placed on his bed. Mason and Arthur have one last screaming match about the implications of this experiment. Emily finally tells them to shut up, and help her check up on Eddie.
We finally reach the climax of this film, when Eddie warns Emily calmly to stay away from him from here on, going on incoherently about the kind of mess he's gotten himself into. It's then that his flesh begins to bubble up again, as Emily pleads with him to snap out of it all. She touches his hand, and suddenly becomes a figure made of what looks like molten rock. This causes Eddie, now a mound of twisted flesh with only one arm, to go on a rampage. He starts grunting and hitting the floor and walls with his fist, apparently fighting his hallucination now.
Amazingly, Eddie does indeed snap himself out of it, back to normal. He then sits near his glowing, suffering wife, and embraces her, making her change back as well. This ending is a bit out of place for this kind of film, but at least it gives us a tasty shot of the girl's nude backside. After that, a simple "I love you" from Eddie, and the film ends.
Altered States is, if nothing else, a very original film. I had misgivings about watching another movie by Ken Russell, because I so disliked his version of "Tommy", but I'm glad I made myself watch it anyway. There's a lot about this film that makes me scratch my head in confusion, but at the same time, it's entertaining enough with other parts to make it at least worth a second viewing, if not more. Plus, it's just so amazing to see Bob Balaban not only with hair, but a beard as well!