Altered States

08/15/2015 08:17

Film: Altered States

Year: 1980

Director: Ken Russell

Writer: Paddy Chayefsky

Starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown and Bob Balaban



This film begins looking at something called an isolation chamber. It looks like an old boiler and there is a man inside of it, he is played by William Hurt. We get a little voice-over about what is going on and what the chamber is supposed to do. In a nutshell, it is chamber that as the name says, isolates the person from all stimuli. There is water inside of it and they wear a helmet to ensure they can breathe. The voice-over tells us that it was used for a study, but the teacher is now using it on himself.

Hurt asks the person who is recording the data what he saw during his time inside of the chamber, the other guy is played by Bob Balaban. We learn that Hurt started to cry while he was inside as he relived his father’s death. He also had a religious experience.

Balaban throws a party at his apartment and we see a woman that he is speaking with, she is played by Blair Brown. When Hurt shows up, she is interested in him immediately. They hit it off and she ends up taking him home. While they are making love, Hurt gets entranced by a heat lamp and he ends up telling his story to Brown. He was highly religious as a child, which is rare because he is a man of science, as were his parents. He loses that though when his father dies.

Hurt goes back into the isolation chamber and we see one of the first vivid hallucinations. It is shown to us as a montage. There is his father in a hospital bed, religious icons and fire.

Brown shows up at Hurt’s work to tell him that she is going to be teaching at Harvard like he is. She asks him to marry her and with come coercion, he agrees. We jump ahead where they now have two children, one of them a young Drew Barrymore, and are getting a divorce. Brown is going to live in an Africa for a year. Hurt is going to Mexico to investigate a Native American tribe that uses hallucinatory mushrooms.

While in Mexico, the tribe of Native Americans allows him to drink the broth they create from the mushrooms. He goes into a trip that is even more vivid than the ones in the isolation chamber. This time he witnesses the Native Americans doing a tribal dance, sparks, lava, scenes of hell and there is a scene of him and Brown sitting at a white table enjoying food. There is also a snake that attacks Hurt. When he wakes up, there is a dead lizard and they are saying that Hurt did it. He doesn’t think he did, thinking the Native Americans are playing a joke on him.

Hurt takes some of the broth back with him. He wants to use it while in an isolation chamber to see what the effects and what he can see. He meets up with Balaban and another colleague, Charles Haid. Haid doesn’t want them messing with the isolation chamber, but he steps aside as they go about their experiment. Haid’s big issue also is they don’t know what is in the broth and doesn’t think Hurt should be putting it into his body like he is.

Despite the warnings, he uses it inside the chamber. Balaban and Haid keep contact with him while he is inside, but some time goes by until they can’t reach him. That is when they hear animal noises come from it. When they open it up, there is blood around his mouth and he can’t speak. The last things he said before this happened was that he was eating a goat in his hallucination. They run tests and learn that he did revert to being an ape.

Soon after Brown returns from Africa and Hurt meets her at the airport. He takes her and his children home. While they are talking, Brown lets us know that baboons eat meat and Hurt is interested if she has recorded any of their calls. He wants to compare it to the sound he made. He also freaks out, thinking that Brown doesn’t believe him. She does agree to look at the data.

Hurt continues to feel changes, but he wants to see what will happen if he goes back inside. Against what everyone wants, especially Haid, Hurt goes back into the isolation chamber by himself. He uses the broth when he does. Hurt emerges as an early human/ape like creature. He runs amuck, almost killing a security guard and killing a baby sheep.

Will Hurt stop the changes he is experiencing or is it too late? What will happen if he continues along the path he is going? Will he discover the ultimate truth or will he learn that there isn’t one? Can he stop before he loses himself?

I have to say that this film is pretty solid. The film deals with altered states of conscious of the mind. I really like the hallucination scenes. They break the film rule about not having more than two montages and that is what they use for these scenes. I thought they really get a deeper meaning across with the images they use. Some of the scenes are also quite creepy. The acting is great in my opinion and the story is pretty solid as well. I really like that this is a man on a journey for the truth and he is so stuck on that that he does not connect with humans. The effects are good for the time period it was made.

The only thing I didn’t really care for was that the film is really nothing more than a love story. Doesn’t ruin the film per say and I actually really like how this one ends. Another issue is that it is classified as a horror film, but there isn’t a lot of horror in it.

I would recommend giving this one a viewing. It is a horror film, but it isn’t overly scary. It is scarier to see the images he witnesses and what he is going through to get the truth. The story is solid, the acting is great and the montage sequences are well done to get their point across. Truly is a journey and I would say if this sounds good to give it a viewing.


My Rating: 6 out of 10