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Jacob's Ladder (1990)

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Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam War veteran attempts to uncover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusions, and perceptions of death.


3,214 ( 329)
3 wins. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Anthony Alessandro ...
Hospital Receptionist
Doug Barron ...
Group Leader


New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Although his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain. Written by Jean-Marc Rocher <rocher@fiberbit.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer's nightmare is that he isn't dreaming.


Drama | Horror | Mystery


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

2 November 1990 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dante's Inferno  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office


$25,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$7,500,760, 4 November 1990, Wide Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to director Adrian Lyne, most of the dialogue in the opening scene between the soldiers was improvised on set by the actors themselves, especially the conversation between George (Ving Rhames) and Jacob (Tim Robbins) about masturbation. See more »


The fortuneteller scene at the party switches between Jacob's left and right hands. See more »


Jacob Singer: They weren't human.
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Crazy Credits

The credits roll over a grainy black and white photo of Gabe and Jacob crossing the street together. See more »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Invasion USA (1994) See more »


Written by Renaldo Benson (as R. Benson) / Al Cleveland (as A. Cleveland) / Marvin Gaye (as M. Gaye)
Published by Jobete Music Co., Inc. (ASCAP) / Stone Agate Music (BMI)
Performed by Marvin Gaye
Courtesy of Motown Records
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Devilishly Impressive
12 September 2009 | by See all my reviews

Adrian Lyne's, Jacob's Ladder, is the freakishly twisted tale of Vietnam war vet, Jacob Singer, who, after being ambushed in Viet Cong by an agent orange assault, returns to his home town in New York City only to suffer from extreme post-traumatic hallucinations. The hallucinations become increasingly bizarre as Jacob struggles to overcome the painful memories of his son (played by Macaulay Culkin) who was killed while he was in the war.

Lyne uses seemingly ordinary images to evoke the fear and sickness that Jacob suffers with, from vapid shower curtains and naked spines, to the grotesque slab of meat inside a refrigerator—all induce a sense of estrangement and insanity. Later he uses more horror-styled elements: coiled reptilian tails, saber-tooth's, convulsing heads built on paint bucket shakers, etc.

The nonlinear style cuts back and forth between Jacob's present life in NY and his former life in Viet Cong. At times, flashes of a later life (i.e. an afterlife) appear on screen that seem to foreshadow his inevitable fate. Jacob begins to see literal demons infiltrate his perceptual awareness, haunting and tearing at his soul, causing him to sink lower and lower into the depths of madness as he struggles to let go of his memories and embrace death. But are these demons real, or are they simply figments of his hallucinatory imagination? Along the way, he shares multiple conversations with his guardian angel chiropractor, Louis (Danny Aiello), who imparts very peculiar, almost preachy wisdom to Jacob to help him calm his hellish nightmares.

Quoting from Meister Eckhart (the master of Negative Theology), he says: "Eckhart saw Hell too; he said: 'the only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they're not punishing you,' he said. 'They're freeing your soul. So, if you're frightened of dying and… and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.'"

Most of the time, the viewer is unaware of where the story is headed. It's like an LSD trip gone seriously wrong and without that backup friend to soothe or provide remedy. It's also somewhat reminiscent of C.S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters," very self-aware of the macabre and forces you to ponder uncomfortable subjects. The film is one of my favorites, as it merges the gap between the two worlds we exist in—the dark one and the light one—not to forget exposes the two voices that exist inside us all—the devilish one and the angelic one. A must see for the spiritually intune!

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