The Taser's Edge

Altered States (dir. Ken Russell)

It’s just possible I’m not mad, you know!  I’m asking you to make a small quantum jump with me!  To accept one deviant concept: that other states of consciousness are as real as our waking state and that that reality can be externalized!

So shouts the incredibly young and painfully handsome William Hurt’s character, Dr. Eddie Jessup, near the climax of this mixture of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Carlos Castanedas’ collected works, and a 1980s Hollywood drama.

Check out the trailer:

I sought out Altered States because I am in love with Paddy Chayefsky, screenwriter of this and Network, one of my favorite films.  If you have one memory of the 1994 film Quiz Show, like I do, you’ll remember that Chayefsky also won an Academy Award for writing 1955’s Best Picture, Marty.

Unfortunately, Chayefsky disowned this movie without even waiting for a final cut.  Actually, while it may not have met his expectations for his screenplay and novel (which I can believe is pretty good) of the same title, Altered States is decent sci-fi.

The basic plot has Hurt’s Dr. Jessup seeking out a Central American psilocybic tincture which, when combined with a few hours in a sensory deprivation tank, draws not only his consciousness but his genetic and physical makeup backward to before the first thought in the universe, along the way de-evolving Jessup into a pre-human hominid lifeform.  This, of course, has some medical ethics problems as well and it creates a strain on Jessup’s marriage.

To get to the point, if you like science fiction (Z, B, I’m talkin’ to you), you will probably like this movie.  But if you will get turned off by some cheesy special effects (co-Holly-ugh), save your time.

Value added (especially for those totally uninterested in this movie): Looking further into the history of psychedelic drugs used medically, it turns out that in the early 1980s, fellow ex-cons and political enemies Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy became friends and did a debate tour together.  Really.  It was made into the documentary, Return Engagements.