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Altered States (1980)
A dream is the key that unlocks the mysteries of the waking world.
Director: Ken Russell
Science Fiction

A research scientist explores the boundaries and frontiers of consciousness. Using sensory deprivation and hallucinogenic mixtures from native American shamans, he explores these altered states of consciousness and finds that memory, time, and perhaps reality itself are states of mind.

Altered States (1980)

A Beautiful Mind

Another director would have been better for this material in my mind. The production is off: the effects, the drama and the love story all fail. But the idea behind the story… the idea, that has power and is enough to keep you sitting through this.

The idea is that certain scientists can at least alter the basic structure of their own minds with a discipline readily acknowledged with physical athletes. That is what happened to Nash, the subject of the dreadful Ron Howard limp retelling of that man’s life. That idea could serve here, with us travelling with Hurt’s character. It would have made a better film I think. The decision here was to emphasise the changes in the actual world inhabited by others by his mind.

Nominally that is a simple matter: he changes his DNA to become something more primitive. But Russell goes further with shaking, blinding light, transference to the wife — all effects on others that don’t make sense in the world Russell himself built.

Even then, the idea has power. A man can shape himself, his vision and his world, if only he could find the right handles. But it almost always ends badly, at least the stories we know.

Balaban once again takes the role of observer of this effect.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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