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.
Ken Russell climaxes all over the mainstream psychological thriller with insane, inspired, hallucinatory, manic, schizophrenic, visual fireworks! Russell and Chayefsky get up to all kinds of original sin and monkey man shenanigans. The movie is so beyond the pale of good taste or refined aesthetics that it becomes a kind of pretentiously compelling, intellectual, orgiastic trip. Russell is a visually ravenous madman!
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.
"I was in that ultimate moment of terror that is the beginning of life. It is nothing. Simple, hideous nothing. The final truth is that there is no final Truth. Truth is what's transitory. It's human life that is real. The moment of terror is a real and living horror, living and growing within me now."
The ending kind of ruins it all, but the crazy montages were amazing and completely out there, and the evolution/biological transformation/degeneration/wtf aspect wasn't too shabby either. Russell seems to enjoy getting all mental with his films, which I appreciate.