What an acid trip looks like
26 September 2020
This was a big movie in it's day and I saw it at the cinema but it wasn't as good as the hype. I've started this review with a star rating of 7 - but writing the review makes me think I should downgrade it to 6. Perhaps it's 6.5! :-)

I recently re-watched Altered States as haven't seen it for about 30 years. I had completely forgotten that it is a Ken Russell work. There are aspects of the film that indicate it as obviously Russell - but the story chosen is not.

Other reviewers have mentioned the centrality of the relationship between Edwards (William Hurt) and Jessup (Blair Brown) and the way it finally redeems Edwards. I have to say that I didn't see it like that at all. For me Altered States is about Edwards' search for the primal most inner being; it's literally an acid trip.

Unfortunately - it doesn't add up. The movie is unbalanced. Edwards is unhinged - and Jessop puts up with it for some reason. Then there is the silly nonsense with the magic mushrooms - followed by the trip to end all trips. The visuals consume both the film and the capacity of the viewer. It's exhausting and it isn't the real point.

Actually - it's hard to tell what the point of the film actually is. Sure - Edwards is obsessed - but so what? Sure - there are some amazing visuals - but plenty of films have those. Aside from these aspects the film doesn't seem to have any centre. The "search" in Altered States for the primal first being is fatuous. The portrayal is just too far from credible.

Why then have I given this movie a "7" and not lower? Because it does have impact. When I first saw it at the cinema in 1981 I found it genuinely scary - I thought it was a horror film. The effects are quite good - especially for the early 1980's. It is also quite shocking to watch Edwards' self-willed disintegration.

However - the final assessement of Altered States has to be that essentially it is a vehicle for Ken Russell showing us what an acid trip looks like. Most viewers won't get it.
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