Alice Tate (Farrow) is an upper-class New York housewife, who is been married to wealthy Doug (Hurt). One day, she has a brief encounter with Joe Ruffalo (Mantegna), a handsome jazz musician. She finds herself attracted to him, and her mounting guilt for these feelings manifests itself in a backache. She is referred to Dr. Yang, an Asian herbalist in Chinatown, who gives Alice ancient herbs that make her undertake a mystical odyssey of self-discovery.
This film features examples of:
- Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Alice gains a deeper understanding of her life thanks to Dr. Yang's herbs.
- Literary Allusion Title: To Alice in Wonderland, as the titular Alice finds out what things are like when she's not around, her personal "wonderland".
- Plot-Inciting Infidelity: The plot is kickstarted when the married Alice falls for Joe. Later, it is revealed that Alice's husband Doug has been having affairs, too, and when she goes to his office party to confront him, she sees him kissing a colleague.
- Whole-Plot Reference: The film is a loose reworking of Federico Fellini's film Juliet of the Spirits, both being about a middle-aged wife with a neglecting husband dealing with repressed sexuality and having visions of people and things from her past, the difference being the methods the protagonists use to achieve their deeper understanding being slightly different (Alice through drugs from a herbalist, Juliet through a psychic who opens a sort of psychic door on her).