Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Altered States

Year 7, Day 287 - 10/14/15 - Movie #2,173

BEFORE: I set up this order months ago, and now I have to remember what the linking justification was for putting this film after "Flatliners" - I think it was that Julia Roberts was in "The Mexican" with Bob Balaban (last seen in "The Monuments Men").  This one may not be that Halloween-ish - at least "Flatliners" showed kids trick-or-treating - but I'll get there soon enough.

I also could have gone from Kiefer Sutherland through "Dark City" to William Hurt, or from Kevin Bacon through "Loverboy" to Blair Brown - I had options, anyway.  I sure don't want to break the chain now after so much time.

THE PLOT:  A Harvard scientist conducts experiments on himself with a hallucinatory drug and an isolation chamber that may be causing him to regress genetically.

AFTER: Well, if you thought it was weird that college kids in the 1990's got together and played their little suicide games, wait until you hear what the fads were in the 1980's.  I swear this is true, there used to be these things called sensory deprivation tanks, which were these metal tanks full of water, and people would go in there and float in darkness, removing all sensory input so they could meditate or whatever.  I think this film really kicked that practice into high gear, but I doubt that the average person had any type of experience that came close to unlocking the secrets of the universe - more likely everyone just got really pruney. 

There was also this belief in past lives back then, Buddhists and Shirley MacLaine sort of got together and figured out that if people underwent hypnosis or had some dream or vision where they were Napoleon, that meant that they were the reincarnation of Napoleon.  And it was always someone like Napoleon or George Washington that people remembered being, nobody ever remembered being the person who cleaned up after George Washington's horse.  

The film "Altered States" sort of stuck these two bits of junk science together, since scientifically you can't create or destroy matter, that means there are just as many atoms in the universe as they were millions of years ago, so the atoms that make up your body were once part of stars, then rocks and then maybe like a fish or a lizard or something.  And your body is constantly creating cells from the food you eat and, umm, disposing of cells in various ways, so logically we're all part of the vast ecosystem of the cosmos.  What if, by floating in a sensory deprivation tank, and ingesting various, umm, let's say herbal substances, one could get in touch with the "memory" of one's DNA?  What could possibly go wrong?

A whole hell of a lot, it turns out.  Once again, a scientist uses himself as a test subject, testing the limits of his own body.  (But where's the control in the experiment?)  He hangs out with a bunch of Native Americans in Mexico, and drinks or smokes something that makes him go a little cuckoo, and then once he gets in the tank again, there are signs that he's devolving into some kind of simian.  Or, is he just imagining it?  It's difficult to tell.  Perhaps the whole second half of this film is not meant to be taken at face value, and it's all just one big acid trip.  

How else do you explain that a man goes into the tank, and a caveman comes out?  And is he responsible for the damage he does, running around the streets of Boston at night, breaking into the zoo and getting all freaky with the animals?  What about the people who try to catch him, and he knocks them out while defending himself?  Is this all really happening?  

The main problem, as with "Unforgettable" and "Flatliners", is that no real science was applied to the situations seen in the film.  Atoms don't have memories, they just form molecules and stuff.  And DNA doesn't have a memory either, it just knows how to replicate itself, and occasionally mutate.  Memories are a bunch of neurons firing in the brain, the truth is that we don't really know much about how the brain stores memories, except that when the brain dies, those memories are gone.  

The special effects used near the end of the film were ground-breaking at the time, but 35 years later, they just don't hold up - they toggle between terrible and laughable.  But this might be a great movie to watch while on psychedelic drugs, much like "Naked Lunch", otherwise, I say give it a pass.  And I can assure you, absolutely nobody in the 1980's was involved in recreational mutation like this.

Also starring William Hurt (last seen in "Eyewitness"), Blair Brown (last seen in "The Astronaut's Wife"), Charles Haid (last seen in "Pollock"), Thaao Penghlis, with cameos from Drew Barrymore (last seen in "Cat's Eye"), George Gaynes, John Larroquette.

RATING: 2 out of 10 eyes on a goat-headed Jesus

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