tagReviews & EssaysAcid and Primal Consciousness

Acid and Primal Consciousness


Part 1

Most people know what an isolation tank is. The first, according to my reading, was built by the Samadhi Tank Company. These tanks are also known as flotation tanks. The subject floats because of magnesium salts placed in the water. In the beginning, a clinical physician name of Eddie Jessup(William Hurt) is in a tank that in the movie was a copper pill-shaped vessel where Dr. Jessup floated in a type of diving suit that permitted him to breathe. Next in the movie, Jessup goes to a party and meets Emily, an anthropologist with a Phd. like Jessup himself. Both have doctorates in science, Jessup's particular field is schizophrenia. The two doctors leave the party and make love on the couch. Eddie Jessup acts rather strange, and it isn't the last time. The doctor talks about being at his father's bedside in the hospital. Jessup is depressed by the death. Apparently the physician is himself suffering from a chemical imbalance. Weeks later, Dr. Jessup takes another tank trip in the copper tank, where he sees a goat, and this is definitely a vision from Revelations. There is no mention of the doctor taking hallucinogenons at this time, but that is not ruled out. Tank trips can make the subject have visions or hallucinations without the use of psychedelics. The next time we the doctor he is with other doctors. Jessup got his wish, and we see a young woman taking some type of drug similar to LSD. Emily meets him there and basically proposes to Jessup herself, not wanting to wait around anymore. He says yes.

Part 2

Jessup and his wife are living in Boston, years later, and run into Dr. Rosenberg and his wife. Rosenberg comments on all the clothes on the bed in the master bedroom. He thinks Emily is a lousy housekeeper. But the truth is the Jessups are are divorcing. Rosenberg downgrades Jessup, telling the other doctor how lucky he is to have Emily. By this time, Jessup has opened up to Rosenberg about his idea about Central America. They all go out to eat, and I believe that the scientist from Central America is in The Godfather.In Central America, Jessup persuades his guide(also a scientist), to ask the "brooker" to be included in the ceremony. I could not find this word, not sure of spelling or orignin. Like a chieftain, he presides over the native ceremony. The Indians all drink some of a mixture that has powerful psychedelic properties. The important thing to remember is that this real ceremony takes place where these Indians live, and as a group.

Part 3

Eddie Jessup drinks some of the mixture after a fearful experience where he thinks the brooker is going to douse his hand in the soup. After that, Jessup leaves the ceremonial cave and goes outside. He sees a Komodo dragon, and the dragon becomes Emily in all her glory. Then the sands blow over them. Jessup is obsessed with finding out more about the potent mixture, and also has his estranged wife on his mind. Eddie, with the blessings of the chieftain, takes the substance back to Boston with him. Burly endocrinologist Dr. Parrish becomes interested in the experiments, and fusses out the two other doctors for legal violations. The drug has not been tested by any authority. While the three doctors are in a different tank room something strange happens to Eddie in the tank. Parrish knows something essential to Jessup's tank trip, but he isn't saying.

Part 4

Jessup has found a tank at the university and is anxious to try it out, taking a tank trip and taking some of the psychedelic mixture. But before that happens he has a lovemaking session with one of his students. While with her, the doctor's muscle tone goes through tremendous changes. Not bewildered, the doctor is in fact delighted that he is going through physiological changes. Not long after, Emily, comes back from Africa. The two appear to be on decent terms. But after an argument with Emily about the tank experiments, Jessup takes off and goes back to the tank room in the basement of the school. There, something terrible and wonderful happens. Emily and Dr. Parrish look in the doctor's various haunts and find Jessup in jail.

Part 5 and Epilogue

In the final tank trip of the movie, the tank room goes through a wild metamorphosis, all caused by the tank trip Jessup is having. The doctor is saved by another doctor, his wife. It is very dramatic how this happens. The other doctors take Jessup home and Emily appears to go through shock. One of the lighter parts of Altered States is when Parrish, the endocrinologist, blows up at Rosenberg and Jessup, stating all his credentials and is total disbelief of what Jessup confirms as reality. Parrish thinks Jessup has had a TIA in an earlier trip where Jessup has blood all over his face. So, if you do not get anything else meaningful out of AS, you see the closeness and the bonding between the three doctors. Bob Balaban has been in some very popular movies, including Close Encounters of The Third Kind. I heard his say in an interview that people, fans have approached him and showed more interest in Altered States than any other movies he has done.

If you've never seen this cult classic, you will see that the story is superior to the effects. The movie is controversial today. Some people say it sucks, some love it. There is much to be desired here, because it is phenomenological, and at the same time no other movie is like it. There is a lot of discussion on the web about the book, by Paddy Chayefsky, and the writer's disillusionment about the movie. This happens a lot. I have read the book, but the movie keeps one interested. I have seen it many, many times.

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