134 user 85 critic

Altered States (1980)

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



(written for the screen by) (as Sidney Aaron), (novel)
4,752 ( 127)

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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »


Cast overview, first billed only:
Miguel Godreau ...
Dori Brenner ...
Peter Brandon ...
Charles White-Eagle ...
The Brujo
Margaret Jessup
Megan Jeffers ...
Grace Jessup
Jack Murdock ...
Hector Orteco
Obispo (as Frank McCarthy)
Deborah Baltzell ...
Schizophrenic Patient
Young Rosenberg


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 ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


When he heard his cry for help it wasn't human See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

25 December 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Estados alterados  »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$174,650, 28 December 1980, Limited Release

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| (MegaSound encoding)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The producer was upset that Warner Bros. decided to shove the film into the Christmas season rush rather than wait until the spring when he there would be less competition for that kind of film. See more »


The recording which Emily listens to of Eddie's first drug induced tank trip isn't the same as the original dialog. Some of the wording is changed and the loud primal "grunt" which alarmed both Mason and Arthur has been replaced with a sound much more resembling that of a monkey. See more »


Eddie Jessup: So the end was terrible, even for the good people like my father. So the purpose of all our suffering was just more suffering.
See more »


Light My Fire
Written by Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek
Performed by The Doors
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User Reviews

I enjoyed watching one man's search for himself
25 September 2002 | by See all my reviews

I beg to differ with the negative review that I saw at this movie's page. I enjoyed William Hurt's manic portrayal of one man's desperate search for truth. Granted, it's a selfish, often self-flagellating journey that quickly becomes nihilistic in the extreme, but it's not so much the journey, it's the destination, n'est ce pas? He finally does find his truth and redemption, and I was quite relieved to see it happen after all the pseudo-scientific mumbo-pocus that was used to bring us to the brink of destruction/enlightenment along with Dr. Jessup. Jessup's angst and subsequent travail of self-destructive discovery in an attempt to find the "meaning of it all" is such an apt metaphor for anything we humans use as a substitute for love and acceptance, vulnerability and trust to give meaning to our lives, i.e., alcohol abuse, drug abuse, eating disorders, quack/fundamentalist religions, UFOlogy, psychic quackery, et al. Name your poison! It's the same manic, self-deceptive, self-destructive pursuit that we find reproduced here in stunning, eye-popping detail, and which consequently finds resonance within me as a movie viewer. I could go on and on about the archetypal symbolism that Director Ken Russell used as well, but these paradigms and icons of American culture, and some of it's darker elements seem all too familiar as we share Dr. Jessup's descent into madness. The biblical imagery in particular was most disturbing, and yet strangely familiar. All of the over-powering devastation of Dr. Jessup's ordeal gives a wonderful sense of simple beauty and grace to his redemption and his discovery of that universal human truth: love.

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