Altered States

December 25th, 1980


Altered States

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Still of William Hurt in Altered States

A Harvard scientist conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that may be causing him to regress genetically.

Release Year: 1980

Rating: 6.7/10 (12,265 voted)

Director: Ken Russell

Stars: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban

An American researching different states of consciousness with the aid of mind altering drugs and an isolation chamber begins to experience disturbing physical changes in his body that point toward an evolutionary regression.

Writers: Paddy Chayefsky, Paddy Chayefsky

William Hurt - Eddie Jessup
Blair Brown - Emily Jessup
Bob Balaban - Arthur Rosenberg
Charles Haid - Mason Parrish
Thaao Penghlis - Echeverria
Miguel Godreau - Primal Man
Dori Brenner - Sylvia Rosenberg
Peter Brandon - Hobart
Charles White-Eagle - The Brujo
Drew Barrymore - Margaret Jessup
Megan Jeffers - Grace Jessup
Jack Murdock - Hector Orteco
Francis X. McCarthy - Obispo (as Frank McCarthy)
Deborah Baltzell - Schizophrenic Patient
Evan Richards - Young Rosenberg

Taglines: In the basement of a university medical school Dr . Jessup floats naked in total darkness. The most terrifying experiment in the history of science is out of control... and the subject is himself

Release Date: 25 December 1980

Filming Locations: 168th St. Broadway, New York City, New York, USA

Opening Weekend: $174,650 (USA) (28 December 1980) (3 Screens)

Gross: $19,853,892 (USA)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

One of the few films to be released theatrically with the "Megasound" sound system format. Megasound was a movie theater sound system created by Warner Bros in the early 1980s. It was used to enhance the premiere engagements of a handful of Warner features. Theaters equipped for Megasound had additional speakers mounted on the left, right and rear walls of the auditorium. Selected soundtrack events with lots of low-frequency content (thuds, crashes, explosions, etc) were directed to these speakers at very high volume, creating a visceral effect intended to thrill the audience.

Anachronisms: The introductory story is set in 1967, but exterior shots of the streets shows a VW Rabbit and a Plymouth Volare, both 1970s cars.

[First line]
Arthur Rosenberg: The tank itself was unusual in that it was vertical, and looked like an old boiler.

User Review

Above all, a love story


It's been a quarter century since I first experienced Altered States, Ken Russell's take on Paddy Chayevsky's novel of the search for a common bond between all of us, the ability to love. I personally don't care if Chayevsky disowned the movie or if Russell resented him for it or how many angels you can set on the head of a pin, for that matter. Altered States is a harshly beautiful and intellectual movie based on a book with the same adjectives.

I'm not going to praise the fine performances, the dazzling special effects, or the painful, emotional epiphany that the lead character, Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) experiences as he fights his way past the roadblock of pure intellect. I want to praise Altered States for its emotional and intellectual message of the power of love to embrace us all and heal our wounds.

Altered States is not for the weak of stomach or the easily offended. The imagery is disturbing and, at times, repulsive. There are scenes of blasphemy that I know have put off Christian friends of mine. But the central idea of a commonality, a kinship that humans have with one another and the danger of setting oneself apart to avoid the pain of interacting and loving is, I believe, supremely satisfying at both an intellectual and emotional level.

Altered States isn't one of the very best films I've seen, but it surely has been a source of joy for me. And if it doesn't turn your crank--or turns it the wrong way--then find your joy in another film or other media . . . and remember to love.


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