"Altered States" represents the best kind of Science Fiction film; one that is tense, scary, intelligent, sad, dramatic, and even beautiful. This is a film that seems to understand, all too well, that fascination itself is an art. It takes special movies - special stories - to fascinate an audience looking for an intellectually stimulating good time. "Altered States" might as well be something special. It is a cinematic experience that takes us to hell and back; and we enjoy it regardless of the flashy lights, the loud and distorted sounds, and the vibrant colors. All of those things might have annoyed a general audience, but it's hard to be annoyed by a film when you're so deep into discovering it.
Eddie (William Hurt) is a scientist bent on discovering how "altered states of mind" might lead us further into discovery, as well as our own understanding, of the universe and our role in it. Throughout the film, Eddie subjects himself to the psychological torture of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. He also experiments with sensory-deprivation, which takes place inside a flotation tank. He is assisted in these experiments by a fellow friend and scientist.
Eddie's life, as a father and a husband, has grown distant from the beginning. It has only gotten worse since he started toying with hallucinogenic "medicine". Eddie's wife leaves him and takes the children (although Eddie was the one who thought of divorce to begin with). This gives Eddie even more time to experiment, which doesn't do him a whole lot of good.
The trouble with Eddie is that he has one fatal flaw; addiction (to these experiments). He keeps taking the drugs, he keeps going in the tank, and he soon gets hooked on the visions he is having. I imagine it is fun to discover and interpret the things he is seeing, but soon, the line between reality and, well, hallucinogenic imagery, is crossed. In a few solid sequences of lovably icky "body-horror", Eddie's mind becomes a slave to the altered states he has been so gleefully visiting.
I can imagine that the Acid culture will enjoy this one. It is a psychedelic, visually interesting acid trip, told through cinematic technique and technology. I like when a film forces me to give up my mind for a little bit, although this is an "acid trip film" that has a story to it aside from just the images. Adapted from Paddy Chayefsky's novel, the film deals with its scientific themes as it should; smartly, and whilst being aware.
Is it a perfect film? I'm not quite sure. All I really know is that I, as a movie-goer, had a powerful and rather unique experience with the film, and therefore I could seriously dig it. Yes, I admit; I loved this movie. It offers what only an imagery-fest of a movie can; A LOT of interesting and one-of-a-kind imagery. If you see this film, then I warn you; you might not see another like it. It is a movie that was daring for its time, uncommonly intelligent for its time, and surprising for its time. It was positively received at the original time of its release, to my surprise, and I can imagine that now, even more will be able to appreciate "Altered States" for what it truly is; art. It features one of William Hurt's best performances, some of the most insane images I've seen in some time, and it's one of the best science fiction films I've seen in a long, long time. And yes, that means a lot.
The experience is overwhelming, and the visuals are bat-shit insane. The visuals are not so much consistent, but they are none-the-less crazy whenever they show up. Hell, even now, they are impressive and imaginative; perhaps even nightmarish. This is pure movie-making at its near finest; where a filmmaker expresses their vision through images rather than mere symbolism. Don't go into "Altered States" looking for a meaning; go into it looking for a movie.
So if you like Science Fiction, and if you enjoy a good acid-surrealist joint, pop this one into the DVD player and allow it to steal your mind for an hour and forty minutes. Perhaps I have said some misleading words about it already, but hey, what am I here for anyways? Misleading you is what I intended to do all along. I cannot tell you what to expect out of a film such as this; I cannot tell you WHY you should see it. Some movies exist just to be seen, and boy, does this one deserve to BE seen. As of now, I think I've said enough.