We first see Prof. Sharpey, a well-regarded research scientist at Oxford, looking dazed on a train station platform. In a train compartment, he still seems out of it, and eventually he throws himself off the train and is killed. It turns out that government agent Hall (John Clements) suspected him of being a spy, and Sharpey had a satchel full of money with him on the train, so Hall questions Sharpey's colleague Longman (Dirk Bogarde); the two had been working on sensory deprivation experiments where a subject is immersed in a tank of warm water and shut off from all sight, sound, and touch for hours at a time. Longman believes that rather than espionage, Sharpey was behaving strangely because of the "reduction of sensation" trials. One scientist, in filmed testimony, was heard in the tank babbling about seeing angels, and Longman himself says their experiments are concerned with "physics of the soul." Longman agrees to be put in the tank himself so Hall can observe, but Hall colludes with Longman's friend and assistant Tate (Michael Bryant) and the two attempt to brainwash Longman just to see if it can be done. When he comes out of the tank in a weakened mental state, they plant a hypnotic suggestion in his mind: that he finds his wife repulsive and has never really loved her. Six months later, unfortunately, the brainwashing has worked too well.
Don’t let the title or advertising fool you—this is not a movie about recreational drugs, and though technically it could be considered science fiction, its traditional sci-fi elements are minimal. It winds up being a cross between "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Manchurian Candidate"; an interesting if stagy marital melodrama, fueled by the brainwashing experiments. Though the set-up is plausible, what is not plausible, and comes close to ruining the movie for me, is that Longman's friend Tate would not have realized in six months time that the hypnotic suggestion had worked. The last third of the film, set at a drunken party at which all the principal figures, including Longman's pregnant wife (Mary Ure) and his current mistress, come together, is basically a long night's journey into day in which the damage that the experiment has done finally comes to light. This whole thing winds up feeling misguided—either more personal backstory or more science-fiction (at times it feels like an early version of ALTERED STATES) might have make things gel better. Bogarde is a bit too intense, though Bryant and Ure are fine. Not particularly believable or compelling; though not awful, this can be skipped. Pictured are Bogarde and Bryant. [TCM]