Altered States

Synopsis: It's the late 1960's. Just for a lark, graduate student Eddie Jessup, known for being unconventional, brilliant and slightly mad, conducts experiments with an isolation chamber, using himself as the subject. His experiences in the chamber cause him to hallucinate, much of the imagery being religious-based despite he not being a religious man. Seven years later, he is a respected full professor in the Harvard Medical School. Believing he has lost his edge and has fallen into an unwanted state of respectability, Eddie decides to resume his work with sensory deprivation, this time using hallucinogens, specifically untested ones used in mystical Mexican rituals, to enhance the experience of being in the isolation tank. After initial tests, he claims he entered an alternate physical and mental state. Although unbelieving of Eddie's claims, his colleagues Arthur Rosenberg and Mason Parrish, as well as Eddie's wife, Emily, who is in her own right a respected academic, are concerned for Eddie'
Director(s): Ken Russell
Production: Warner Home Video
  Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 5 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
102 min

The tank itself was unusual

in that it was vertical...

...and looked like an old boiler.

Inside the tank,

the subject wore a heavy glass bubble.

You would have thought the whole

contraption uncomfortable to say the least.

It was, however, effective.

Of the 23 students tested,

only two found the experience unpleasant.

Some even called it exhilarating.

A number of students hallucinated.

Dr. Jessup found the encephalographic

evidence especially interesting.

And one Saturday afternoon,

in April 1967...

...he decided to try

the experience for himself.

Arthur. Hey, Arthur.

Are you there?

Can you hear me, Arthur?

Arthur, answer me.

Is that it? You want me

to come in and get you out?


I want to get a look at those EEG tracings.

All right. How do you feel?

Not bad.

I hallucinated like a son of a b*tch.

A variety of dream states,

mystical states.

A lot of religious allegory,

mostly out of Revelation.

You were in there close to five hours.

- Lt felt like an hour.

- 'd like to try that myself sometime.

You should. You'll like it.

Did we have any communication?

Oh, sure. L kept checking you out

like you told me to.

How'd l respond?

Very orderly.

At one point you were crying.

You mean actually crying?

You were sobbing.

There were tears on your face.

When I asked you what was going on... said you were re-experiencing

your father's death.

- Did you make notes?

- Lt's all there.

I'd like to try this again next week.

Do you think you could make it again

next week?

What are we looking for?

I don't know, yet.

There's really very little literature

on this kind of research.

There's some good people in the field,

Tart, Ornstein and Deikman...

...but most of it is radical-hip stuff,

drug-culture apologias.

Obviously, the first thing to do

is set up some sensible methodology.

Study these experiences

under controlled conditions.

It won't interfere with the work

we're doing with Hobart.

What are we getting into? A new

sensory deprivation? solation studies?

Where will we be going

with the tank stuff?

We're not writing up a grant.

Strictly bootlegging, for kicks.

As long as we've got

the use of this tank...

...let's play around with it.

Let's find out where it takes us.

It's fascinating stuff, Arthur.

I think we ought to get into it.

I didn't even know they had one of those

isolation tanks at New York Hospital.

Must be some guy

in the psychology department...

...doing sensory deprivation studies.

What's Jessup doing with it?

You've got me. He's been taking students

out of his classes and testing them.

He's been doing this

for three, four months.

- Did you know...


...Jessup was into this stuff?

- Not until you told me.


- What do you want, honey?

How long are you going to let it ring?

It's okay, I'll get it.

He's the last guy

to be screwing around...

...with anything as flaky

as altered states of consciousness.

Well, let's face it.

Jessup is pretty flaky himself.

That's him.

Arthur says you're very shy.

He wants me to draw you out.

Draw me out?

That doesn't sound like Arthur.

Well, what he actually said was

you were a high-handed, arrogant prick.

A little nuts, but brilliant...

...and that if l ever got you talking,

I would find you fascinating.

That sounds more like Arthur.

He says you're doing some work

at Payne Whitney.

- Yes.

- What sort of work?

Toxic metabolite stuff, replicating

Heath's and Friedhoff's strategies... find maverick substances

specific to schizophrenia.

We're chasing our tails. What do you do?

I'm a physical anthropologist,

sweating out my dissertation.

- Where?

- Columbia.

Holloway and that bunch.

You're kind of young for a Ph.D.,

aren't you?

- 'm 24.

- That's still pretty good.

I didn't get my Ph.D. until

I was 25 and I'm supposed to be a whiz kid.

I'm a whiz kid, too.

Anthropology seems to attract

good-looking women.

So you don't think schizophrenia can be

reduced to a single etiological agent?

I'm not even sure it's a disease.

You think madness is simply

another state of consciousness?

There's a body of evidence

to support that.

You don't like to talk

about your work, do you?

As a rule, no.

I've always been interested

in interior experiences.

Especially religious experience.

The reason I'm working

with schizophrenics... that religious experience

is so significant in schizophrenia.

There's only so much

you can do with animals.

Monkeys can't tell you what's going on

in their consciousness.

You need human beings for that.

You're not allowed to ablate humans,

you can't stick electrodes in their skulls.

I have to use some kind

of trance-inducing technique.

The isolation tank

seemed the least risky. Listen...

... I'd like to go home with you tonight.

Would that be all right with you?

I've got a roommate.

We'll be confined to the living-room couch.

What's wrong

with the living-room couch?

You tend to slip off a lot.

I'm sure we'll manage.

Yeah, I'm sure we will.

So whenever you want to go there,

you let me know.

- How about right now?

- Heh.

What are you thinking about?


Jesus, crucifixions.

As a rule, do you usually think about...

...Christ and crucifixions

under sexual stress?

When I was 9 years old,

I used to see visions.

Visions of saints and angels,

even Christ himself.

Of course, I don't do that anymore.

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Paddy Chayefsky

Sidney Aaron "Paddy" Chayefsky was an American playwright, screenwriter and novelist. He is the only person to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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