In search of the Ultimate Truth, a determined psychiatrist (William Hurt) takes hallucinatory drugs and undergoes sensory deprivation — but when he starts experiencing physiological changes, his wife (Blair Brown) and colleagues (Bob Balaban and Charles Haid) begin to fear for his safety.
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Ken Russell's notoriety should be secondary to his talent. 'Altered States' is a provocative vision of the dangers of scientific genius - in a world where advancement takes precedent and the negligence of risk is a vital variable in the single-minded ambition of an innovator.
1st hour is masterful, the rest is tonally mismatched due to unneeded violence and laden detours of f/x-heavy symbolism being favored over character development. Otherwise, it would be a perfected exhilarating study of the search for life's greatest riddle: its purpose. Unlike what some claim, there's an answer in the end-- it's simply love. And thus, it flips bleak conventions of the genre and time period around.
"Jennifer? Hi, it's Eddie again. Do you think you could maybe stay the night with the kids? Me and my wife are going out tonight and in case we turn into a vengeful cosmic singularity after a couple of Mai Tais I wanna make sure they have a ride to school in the morning. You're free? Really appreciate it."
It has the same flow as The Fly, although the ending was kind of lacklustre. I really enjoyed the surrealist montage and there are moments where it made me think of it as a prequel to Basket Case. Overall, it's fairly entertaining to watch.
(possible spoiler) What a way to say goodbye to the senventies! Some very good moments, of a classic sci-fi, alternative science movie in the first part. And some nice moments of a experimental "drug culture" flick (the expression is from the movie), in the second part, and some very weird alienish frankenstein-like mad scientist meet 2001 space odissey pathos in the final part of the movie. It all clashes, somehow.
Unusually great, given, y'know... Ken Russell. The narrative stretches are played surprisingly straight - with Blair Brown and Charles Haid in particular giving good support to William Hurt's (in his film debut) Jekyll/Hyde egomaniac - but it's those effects sequences, Kenned up to the max, that remind you who's in charge.
It's one of those delightful films that somehow continuously gets derailed but also continuously finds another track. The ride is thus, jarring and not at all the trip you planned but dynamic, frightening and fully entertaining nonetheless.
Had one or two scenes that were among some of the greatest things ever committed to celluloid (the surrealistic drug trips) but unfortunately there was way too much tech-babble and unconvincing character development to keep me completely engaged. If the film had been 102 minutes of surrealistic images, it would have been a masterpiece, at least to me. Overall: glad I saw it, but wouldn't watch it again.