Friday, 19 February 2016

Glasgow Film Fest. Altered States.


Before heading to my second movie of the festival, I had to go up to the Glasgow Film Festival press office to collect my ticket, along with the tickets for the rest of the films on my list. If this wasn't already exciting enough, I also got handed a press pass that had my name on it. "Freelance" was printed right underneath that. I could only describe it as surreal and I done my best to surreptitiously put it around my neck, as if trying to make it seem like it was there the entire time. 


Off I popped down to The Old Hairdressers, the venue for the movie, which is a pub with minimum lighting (thanks to the fairy lights and candles scattered throughout) down a little lane near Central Station. I got there about an hour before the movie started, got a pint, and read my book. Yes, I read my book. By candlelight, no less. It was really quite peaceful and I'm happy to report that I wasn't the only one reading. A girl across from me was also reading her book, and a guy sitting right behind me. It was nice and I had to actually keep reminding myself that I was there for a movie. 

I can't say I'd heard anything about Altered States prior to the Glasgow Film Festival, but I was intrigued after reading the synopsis. The film boasts some instantly recognizable faces in William Hurt (who will be in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War), Blair Brown (who played Nina Sharp in one of my favourite shows; Fringe), and Bob Balaban (who appeared in one of my favourite movies; Close Encounters of the Third Kind), so there was obvious pull for me to go.

It was the most bizarre movie I've ever seen in my entire life. That isn't hyperbole, I really mean it. It was weird, trippy, crazy, terrifying and, quite frankly, nuts. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) is a scientist at Harvard who has a reputation for being unconventional in his ideas and his methods. He's been experimenting on himself by trying to analyse his hallucinations while in an isolation chamber with the goal of confirming for sure that schizophrenics are not actually ill, but experiencing a new state of consciousness. 


Eddie has been micro-dosing himself with hallucinogens and spending time in a deprivation tank, but these hallucinogens are untested and only obtainable from a tribe in Mexico. His hallucinations have been religious in nature, to which he makes the point of saying that he's not a particularly religious man, and finds it curious. The curiosities continue when he starts to experience a vision of witnessing the first men hunting, and even more so when his third party viewing to this changes to have him included in the group of hunters. We experience this all through Jessup's description of what he is seeing as he floats, off his face on this mysterious drug, in the sensory deprivation tank. When he comes out, he has physically changed. As Dr Wissenschaft (George Gaynes) puts it when observing Eddie's X-Ray results; "This guy's a fucking gorilla!" Eddie's physiological changes become more apparent as the movie continues. His arms start mutating in front of his eyes, his abdomen shifts in a painful fashion, and Eddie is fascinated by it. These are not the actions of a mentally healthy man.


At this stage, I thought that it surely couldn't get any weirder. Oh how wrong I was. Eddie has another go in the tank, unsupervised this time, and the changes are more drastic. He exits the tank as an actual neanderthal man. Shorter, hairier, hunched and agile, he beats a security guard with clubbing blows, before escaping out into the city. There, he gives into the basic desires of the early man: To get through the night. He needed to eat, drink, and sleep and he does all three. Much to the misfortune of a mountain goat in the zoo. 


Here's the thing, Altered States doesn't give in or conform in any way. It's relentless in it's assault on the viewer's eyes and psyche. I think it might be amazing and terrifying if the viewer was on acid or some other mind-altering substance, but as a sober viewer (less that one pint I bought) I was quite uncomfortable. What I can say for the film is that it was an existential roller-coaster ride that seemed to span millions of years, the idea was pretty huge. Also the sound was pretty great. While Eddie was on a bad trip, the vibrations came through and reverberated through my rib cage. This was owing to the fact that the Glasgow Film Festival, along with Matchbox Cineclub at The Old Hairdressers pulled out the megasound, which is a form of surround sound that envelops the viewer. It's no surprise that the movie was nominated for best sound at the 1981 Oscars, losing out to The Empire Strikes Back, AND RIGHTLY SO! Sorry. I just love Star Wars.

Until next time...

"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible" - Alfred Hitchcock

1 comment:

  1. Movies are the best way to see a story with the the so experienced actors nowadays
    i enjoy reading so many Noticias de Cine.

    ReplyDelete