Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980)

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milk114
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 5:38 pm
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#1 Post by milk114 » Fri Jan 28, 2005 7:52 am

I just watched this film and Thirteenth Floor for the first time along with eXistenZ and am still processing it all. In a way I think Altered States is more heavy-handed with its grappling with multiple states of reality but at the same time more "realistic" or plausible because it doesn't use technology or looking outside for answers but turns inward, into the human psyche. It's been a weird week and I just decided that I want to see these three film together and am most impressed with Ken Russell's film (though Cronenberg's work is great fun as well, I'm really not sure Thirteenth Floor is in the same league). The only other Russell film I've seen (many times) is Tommy and if his other films are in any way similar to these two I'll have to hunt them down.

I was wondering what others' responses were to this great film and if there is is anything decent written on it.

THX1378
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#2 Post by THX1378 » Fri Jan 28, 2005 10:12 am

Altered States really is in a class by itself and really can't be compared to eXistenZ or The Thirteenth Floor. eXistenZ and The Thirteenth Floor deal with simualed worlds and reality. In fact both came out around the same time that The Matrix came out and were called ripoffs. But we can talk about that in other posts back to Altered States. Altered States isn't dealing with simualed worlds, it's dealing with parable of the hippies and life in the 60's. It's saying that hallucinogenic drugs and going into a isolation tank can lead us to the truth. But the truth about what? At first I think that Eddie Jessup thinks he has found god through this altered state of consciousness. That using the hallucanagetic mushrooms he like many people in the 60's that used them or LSD thought that they had found the answers to life. But Eddie finds out that he's not becoming at one with the universe. Little does he know that playing god leads to his regression of a primordial form. One of the coolest parts of the film is where he regresses right down to pure engery inside the tank. I never heard why Paddy Chayefsky disowned the film. I know that it's based on his novel and I have a feeling that he disowned the film because it went over the top in parts because of Russell's flamboyance. But thats part of the reason why I think the film works so well. I also think that Chayefsky wrote the book and the screenplay to be against using hallucinogenic drugs. I think he was getting that the fact of look where this will lead you type deal where as Rusell's take on it was that to make up your own mind about it. Did Eddie find what he was looking for? Did he find the truth and become at one with god? The end leaves it pretty much open to all but one answer that his wife's love saves him in the end.

milk114 btw you need to see Rusell's The Devils if you can find it on VHS since there is no R1 DVD let. It's worth seeing because it's Rusell's take on the abuse of power and many other things. Plus I just watched Lair of the White Worm again and I must say that it's the funest of all of Rusell's films. So if you have seen Tommy and States go for these films next.

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Lino
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#3 Post by Lino » Fri Jan 28, 2005 11:58 am

milk114, welcome Russell convert! :)

Actually, Altered States was my introduction to Ken Russell many, many moons ago when I didn't even know who the man was. But it sure made an impression on me, alright! I can still visualize the mind-blowing visuals and remember how good William Hurt's performance was as if I had watched the film last week. It is that intense.

If you're looking for films with a similar theme, why not try Roger Corman's The Trip? :wink: Jokes apart, it's really a good movie dealing with the effect of halucinogenic drugs (namely LSD) on the human psyche and how it alters your perception of things. Quite a ride, I tell you! Just take a look at the trailer.

And afterwards, check this other thread out for info on the state of other Ken Russell's films on DVD

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Polybius
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#4 Post by Polybius » Sat Jan 29, 2005 9:23 pm

Abre los Ojos/Open Your Eyes also came out about that time. All owed some debt to Phillip K. Dick.

Personally, I liked all of the films mentioned, to some degree or another.

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Dylan
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:28 pm

#5 Post by Dylan » Sun Jan 30, 2005 1:36 am

I saw "Altered States" quite a few years ago. I read once that there were over 20 minutes of dream scenes that didn't make the final cut of the film, anybody know if these scenes still exist?

I remember very little about this movie, though the impressive make-up of Dick Smith sticks out pretty well.

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brendanjc
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Re:

#6 Post by brendanjc » Tue Nov 11, 2008 7:54 pm

THX1378 wrote:Altered States really is in a class by itself and really can't be compared to eXistenZ or The Thirteenth Floor. eXistenZ and The Thirteenth Floor deal with simualed worlds and reality. In fact both came out around the same time that The Matrix came out and were called ripoffs. But we can talk about that in other posts back to Altered States. Altered States isn't dealing with simualed worlds, it's dealing with parable of the hippies and life in the 60's. It's saying that hallucinogenic drugs and going into a isolation tank can lead us to the truth. But the truth about what? At first I think that Eddie Jessup thinks he has found god through this altered state of consciousness. That using the hallucanagetic mushrooms he like many people in the 60's that used them or LSD thought that they had found the answers to life. But Eddie finds out that he's not becoming at one with the universe. Little does he know that playing god leads to his regression of a primordial form. One of the coolest parts of the film is where he regresses right down to pure engery inside the tank. I never heard why Paddy Chayefsky disowned the film. I know that it's based on his novel and I have a feeling that he disowned the film because it went over the top in parts because of Russell's flamboyance. But thats part of the reason why I think the film works so well. I also think that Chayefsky wrote the book and the screenplay to be against using hallucinogenic drugs. I think he was getting that the fact of look where this will lead you type deal where as Rusell's take on it was that to make up your own mind about it. Did Eddie find what he was looking for? Did he find the truth and become at one with god? The end leaves it pretty much open to all but one answer that his wife's love saves him in the end.
I just caught this on HDNet, and overall I disliked it. The production was impressive, for sure - the makeup effects were very Cronenburg, the hallucination sequences looked great, the sound design fits well, the editing in the concluding scene with Jessup pounding on the wall is fantastic. The actors did a good job all around with the material, even though it tended to go over the top a bit, especially with Jessup's colleagues. However, I found the movie as a whole to be confused and ultimately pointless. Science fiction is at its best when it's used as a device for commentary, for taking arguments to their logical extremes, but I feel like the film never tried to say anything. The first half is clearly meant to invoke the 60's drug culture as THX stated, as a perhaps misguided attempt at discovering the truth. But, there are never any serious reprocussions for the drug abuse in the film (his divorce might be one, but they get back together), nor are there any true discoveries (Jessup never manages to explain any of his insights to his colleagues). The only reasonable insight I've been able to make is the parallel between a scientist's single-minded addiction to knowledge and substance abuse. The problem with this reading is the whole genetic regression business which really doesn't really work for me at all - is a more primitive existence somehow supposed to be closer to truth? Is Jessup's literal manifestation of mind-over-matter supposed to suggest an ultimate triumph of scientific thought over the physical world? Is there any good way to justify the silly love-conquers-all ending? I think the film was too unfocused to be a successful work of science fiction and I'd pass on it, unless you happen to be on some mind-altering substances at the time yourself.

It looks like the only other Ken Russell film I've seen is Tommy, which also almost crumples under the weight of pretension by the end, but is silly enough to remain enjoyable. I don't think I'll go out of my way to catch anything else anytime soon though.

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MichaelB
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Re: Re:

#7 Post by MichaelB » Fri Nov 14, 2008 5:35 pm

brendanjc wrote:Is there any good way to justify the silly love-conquers-all ending?
I really wouldn't blame Russell for that - notoriously, he was tied into a contract that compelled him to shoot Paddy Chayefsky's script word for word without changing a thing. Which is why he had William Hurt gabbling some of the scientific mumbo-jumbo at maximum velocity, just to get it out of the way.

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