Altered States (1980)

Mind over matter has never been more literal.

1970’s psychopathologist Edward Jessup (played by William Hurt appearing in his first major motion picture) is studying schizophrenia and begins to believe that all states of consciousness are as real as a waking state, begin experiments involving sensory deprivation as a means to find a cure. Later at a faculty party, we meet Emily, played by Blair Brown (Strapless, The Sentinel) and the two vitally marry.

We move forward to the couple, unhappily married with two children when Edward leaves to observe a tribal ritual involving a powerful hallucinogenic drug. Taking this drug Edward receives powerful visions and this inspires him to take a sample home with him and experiment on its effects. Edward learns that the drug becomes toxic in repeated doses and therefore uses his old sensory deprivation chamber to increase the effects while taking his current dose. While under the influence of the drug and isolation chamber, Edward beings to experience extreme effects including the de-evolution of his physical form.

Continuing to use the drug in conjunction with the isolation chamber gives Edward increasingly powerful visions and significantly altered physical appearances. These effects soon wear off; however, the prolonged exposure causing further and further changes.

The story of Altered States chronicles the increasing drug use and devolution of the character of Edward and highlights the risks that he is taking just to see how deep the rabbit hole is. An allegory of the ongoing issue of substance abuse in the late 1970’s the story is based as a warning from the novel of Paddy Chayefsky where substance abuse is a growing concern. The medical observations are unreliable at best and seem as enablement to Edwards drug addiction as he searches for the next great high; lost and unable to see the difference between himself and his patients.

Ultimately what comes out of Altered states is its love story, amongst all the drug-taking and pseudo-science it is the rediscovering of the bond of love between Edward and Emily that finally brings Edward back from the brink as he finally realizes that he has something to live for and she cannot bear to see the man she loves in such torment.

Directed by Ken Russell (Dog boys, Tales of Erotica) the film combines incredible visual effects that help to captivate the viewer with a gripping story.

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