Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
What's it about
A young physiologist experiments with drugs and isolation tanks to bring about actual physical regression to an earlier form of human life.
Is it good movie?
This is a very difficult film to encapsulate in this short forum. I saw it for the first time when I was around ten years old. It scared the hell out of me, and watching it now I can see why. I know I didnít understand it then, but it has a lot of bizarre, complex religious imagery, including a vision of Hell. To be quite honest, I donít think I really understand it much more now.
Eddie Jessup (William Hurt in his first movie role) is a Harvard scientist obsessed with connecting to his past. Literally. Through a combination of a drug he got from some Indian tribe in Mexico and an isolation tank, he begins having hallucinations about proto-humans. But those hallucinations become all too real, as he actually regresses to what Iím assuming was meant to be the missing link. As he takes his experiments further, he gets a glimpse back into the primordial soup, which threatens to unbind the very reality all around him.
The regression in the film is a vehicle by which to show Jessupís emotional disconnection from the world. He has an adoring wife and two beautiful children, as well as friends and colleagues who like and admire him, but he canít feel it. He views through the world through the lens of his education, picking apart every scenario, but never living in it. So all of his striving for a connection to the past is actually his striving for a connection to the present. Think Cronenbergís CRASH, but no one has sex with a leg wound.
Director Ken Russell claims to have been 27th choice to direct this film, but I think he did a damned fine job. Heís a man not afraid to linger on an image, and not afraid to be experimental with imagery, even at the possible expense of alienating the audience. He takes a chance with this film, and I think wins. Itís a little surreal, and equal parts abstract and plot-driven, and altogether challenging to the viewer. Love it or hate it, it will leave a lasting impression upon you.
Video / Audio
Video: 1080p, 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 screens. This is one of several of Warner Bros. Blu-Ray reissues of classic films, and they cleaned it up really well. Itís always good when these reissues come with original theatrical trailers, so you get a good idea of how much better the image you are seeing is compared with when you last saw it on video.
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 for English, and 2.0 for the Spanish track. There are also optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. The sound here is good, but attenuated. Normally I watched movies on 8, but this one I had to turn up to 16 in order to hear it. It sounded fine at that point, but I invariably forget, and the next thing I watch is THIS DAMNED LOUD.
The only feature here is the original theatrical trailer. Man, trailers in the early 80ís were boring.
It would be possible to label ALTERED STATES psychosexual, or psychoreligious, but I think that would be a disservice to the film. It examines the bonds between people through the Jungian concept of race memory, and is not afraid to confront the audience with both loud, violent, shocking imagery, and slow, quiet scenes of characters literally blowing away as dust in the wind. I would like to have seen a few special features, though.