In his new three-part documentary series, Altered States, national treasure and husband of my dreams Louis Theroux travels around America to deal with the topics of birth, love, and death.
In the series’ first episode Theroux visits couples in polyamorous relationships, beginning with a terrible example of what ‘polyamory’ can become without communication. The documentary shows a man, Jerry, struggling to keep hold of his wife Heidi’s affections, agreeing for her to have sex with another man. Later in the episode, Jerry’s discomfort at the situation is furthered. After being prompted by Louis, he talks about how he would be happy to engage sexually with Heidi and her lover – but Heidi shuts this down, saying it’s not something that she’s looking for. It became clear that there are unresolved questions not asked by either Jerry or Heidi, leaving the viewer wondering whether these people are really happy in their multi-person relationship.
This episode did however create the one of the all-time greatest images of Theroux, which he then posted onto his Twitter account. Who doesn’t want to see the awkwardly precious documentarian at a sex party? As hilarious at this part of the episode is, it is admittedly one of the only points in the series so far that offers any sort of comic relief – a moment to catch your breath and think about what you’re watching.
The second episode deals with assisted suicide. I made the mistake of watching this in the library, getting a couple of strange looks for bawling. They probably assumed it was dissertation strife. Most people in this episode are suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses and are looking for a more civilised way to die. The most heart-breaking part of this episode is Debra, a woman who lost her husband and now, as she has aged, feels as if she’s losing her mind. She reaches out to Final Exit Network, an organisation that helps her organise her own death. Theroux really presses Debra, wondering why she wants to die – ultimately asking whether it’s because of the loss of her husband. It’s clear that he’s worried she’s making this decision based on her loneliness alone.
No other current documentary maker could have pulled off this exploration of such intense topics: simply put, Louis Theroux has mastered the art of asking questions. I thoroughly look forward to seeing how he will broach the topic of high-cost adoptions in the final part of the series.