Found-Again Friday: Altered States

This week’s Found-Again Friday, like last week’s, is a cheat—though in the case of Altered States, the joke is on me. Twenty minutes into rewatch, I turned to my companion and said with dawning horror, “There’s no point in revisiting this! It’s a Ken Russell movie!”

Why Found-Again? Let me clarify: I have a strange affection for the movies of the late Ken Russell, a man who seemed to share a lot of my offbeat interests—poetry, Pre-Raphaelites, folklore, ballads—but who had a truly funhouse-mirror way of looking at all those things. In his case, I’m pretty sure “batshit” is the clinical term, and if you don’t believe me, revisit the dream sequences in Lair of the White Worm until you do. “Like” or “dislike” doesn’t really enter into it, so giving Altered States a second chance ends up being moot.

Nonetheless, rewatch it I did.

Premise: Academic who believes himself the center of the universe gets temporary endorsement from said universe.

William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, who defies character-naming conventions by being a scientist rather than a Western henchman. He meets a fellow academic, marries, and has a family, all while chasing the ultimate nature of human consciousness. Will a series of sensory-deprivation experiments reveal what he’s looking for, or will they threaten to destroy his life while giving Ken Russell a chance to crank his Symbol-o-Matic up to 11?

I stand by my belief that there’s no point in judging Russell films by normal standards, but Altered States has always drawn my particular ire for having such a rich premise and then Not Living Up To Its Full Potential in a welter of psychedelic hooha. It’s a perfect role for William Hurt, and Blair Brown is excellent as his occasionally estranged wife. In short…

The Verdict? …it’s a perfect example of why the failure of a movie that could, should go right is a hundred times worse than that of one that just goes wrong.

Might go well with: Gothic, Jurassic Park, intoxicating beverages.

 

Next time: More Highlander. Yeah.

J. A.

It reads. It writes. It watches. It researches. It overdoes many of those things!

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