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Oddly enough, what I want to say is that "Jacob's Ladder" is one of the only movies about Viet Nam that I can watch. I was in high school during the Viet Nam war, and had my share of friends and friends' parents go there and die, or come back changed. However, there is so much more to "Jacob's Ladder" than Viet Nam. It is an intense psychological drama, a descent into madness, a realization of truth, and an ascent into clarity. I am not going to write a SPOILER - you can read dozens of reviews on this database that will spoil it for you. What I do not understand are the comments that it is confusing. I do not find it confusing in the least. The answers are all there. I first saw it in 1990, and I understood it then. I just saw it, again, in 2008, and all the answers are still there. Maybe you have to pay attention; you know, press pause when you go out to the kitchen for a tasty beverage. "Jacob's Ladder" is on my Top Ten All Time Best Films List.
Here's a borderline-surrealist horror film with religious and polemic
military undertones regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the
treatment of psychologically unhealthy veterans.
Jacob Singer (played well by Tim Robbins) has sustained subtle psychological damage during a combat tour in the Vietnam War. Years later he is living in New York City, employed as a Postal Worker (despite having a Ph.D) and abiding a contented existence with his girlfriend, when he begins to see strange creatures inhabiting his surroundings. The disturbances take their toll on his mental health and begin to create problems in his love and social lives. Soon he is haunted by his dead son, conspiracy theories and terrifying trans-dimensional trips. Jacob segues in and out of waking reality, trying to come to grips with what happened back in the war.
The actors in the film all do a good job and the pacing of the film is solid too. Jason Alexander and the guys playing Jacob's combat platoon are pretty good, so it's too bad we don't see more of them. I found the music to be surprisingly affecting and haunting, which was a pleasant surprise. It was not one-dimensional either, providing a certain amount of variety appropriate to the scenes. Despite the borderline "horror" element of the movie, it has a decent share of uplifting moments too. It is not a completely bleak "gorefest", though it may not be entirely heart-warming either. The biblical references were a bit hokey for me, but they do provide thematic resonance with the story by the end.
Perhaps the significant shortcoming of "Jacob's Ladder" is the non-concrete ending, which feels more like an easy way out for the film-makers than something open to the audience's interpretation (though it is presented that way). The script was apparently written by the same guy who did "Ghost", though this is the better film of the two. Similar motifs appear here as in Ghost: demons whisking people to hell, life after death, true love. It's also amusing that of these two films written by Bruce Joel Rubin, the director Adriane Lyne directed "Jacob's Ladder", considering he works primarily on romantic thrillers.
"Jacob's Ladder" is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in cinematic pop-surrealism, psychological and ethereal horror, suspense, military trauma or bittersweet love. It's a genuinely inspired movie with fine performances from the cast, but it will not sit well with viewers looking for a concise ending wrapped up in a neat package. I had no trouble concluding the story, but I wonder if my own conclusions were the same as the directors.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the most amazing movies. I don't think many people will understand this movie or get its meanings with one viewing. I have seen this movie at least three times and after three viewings over a 17 year period, I have finally figured most of the movie out. I understood the meanings of most of the characters except for Loui the chiropractor...until now. Although everything we see(except for the scenes from NAM) is a hallucination, the character of Loui is explained. 1. In most scenes, Loui is always wearing white(his lab coat), 2. Once Loui helps Jacob from severe pain/slip disc, Jacob see's him as a savior, an angel. 3. Loui is always there to help Jacob in times of need. 4. It is Loui who makes the profound statement about letting go and the demons will become angels that help you. I believe Loui is depicted as an angel in this movie. True, 99 percent of this film is supposed to be the mind/brain of Jacob Singer working overtime before he dies, non-happenings, but we get a real perspective on how a man sum's up his life before he leaves this world. Some might say, How could he have dreamed this in a matter of minutes? He was stabbed by his own platoon soldier and shortly after(in the end) he dies. Have you ever fell asleep for a short period of time and dreamed a dream that felt so real that it lasted hours if not days? There you have Jacob's Ladder!
Jacob's Ladder is one of those rare films that drags the viewer in,
tosses them about and then spits them back out not quite knowing what
they have just seen. Watching this movie was an experience, instead of
just watching it I felt it. Some of the hallucination scenes were
genuinely terrifying and brutal, like nothing I had ever seen before.
This was partly because of Tim Robbins realistic performance as the
main character Jacob Singer, a Vietnam veteran who is started to see
demons throughout his daily life. I won't go into any more details
about the plot as it would be no use and it would spoil the experience
for any first-time viewers.
Adrian Lyne's direction was what also made this film so interesting and unique. He doesn't spoon feed the audience with answers, we aren't served all the answers on a platter. Jacob's Ladder requires the viewers to do the thinking and come up with the answers. It's not an easy film to stomach but if you can you will be rewarded with an intelligent film experience that will surely remain with you for the rest rest of your movie-going life. I plan to re-visit this film many times to uncover some things I may have missed because I am sure there are plenty of secrets to find.
I am directing this comment at the reviewers (amateur and professional)
who, when writing about this film, refer to Jacob Singer as
Yes, OK, he DOES experience some flashbacks but these are only layers of the nightmare he endures.
He is mortally wounded - as we remember - at the start of the film and then, as he fights for his life on the operating table, his tortured subconscious reveals to him what life will be like should he survive. His mind has been scrambled by the chemist's powerful drug and despite his comatose state, he learns life will constantly be a battle against powerful demons who are, in the words of his chiropractor, ''tearing him apart''.
Thus, the aforementioned chiropractor says the demons could really be angels coming to set him free. And at the end of the film he IS set free by his dead son who takes him upstairs into the light.
Yes, the first time I saw the film the last scene in the field hospital made me sit up in a ''what did I miss?'' kind of way. But please reviewers, take the time to work it out and cut out the flashback references from now on hey? I also think it's one of the greatest films of its type in existence and the reviewer in the Radio Times who consistently awards it a meagre two stars needs to get with the message - or a new job.
When talking about movies, many people tend to quickly dismiss the
artistic values and overall quality of the horror genre by describing
it as a clichéd, predictable and juvenile source of entertainment; and
while probably most of the popular and well-known horror films do tend
to have those characteristics in common (as after all, they are meant
to sell), the really good movies of the genre are the complete opposite
of that idea, and often are as worthy of praise and study as any other
good film. Adrian Lyne's 1990 masterpiece, "Jacob's Ladder", is one of
those films that break the typical (and usually false) conception of
what a horror movie should be, and by exploring the dark corners of the
mind, shows off the unlimited potential of the horror genre as an art
"Jacob's Ladder" is the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) a Vietnam war veteran who works as postal worker and is trying to start a new life with his girlfriend Jezebel (Elizabeth Peña) after his ex-wife Sarah (Patricia Kalember) divorced him. However, his sanity begins to fade as he is troubled by horrible hallucinations and increasingly severe flashbacks to his days in the war, his previous marriage, and to the years before his little son Gabriel (Macaulay Culkin) died. The visions of monsters and the return of the horrors of the war start to become dangerous to Jacob as the hallucinations get more real as time goes by, but as the line between reality and illusion gets blurred, the discovery that everything is the result of the Army's experimentation on the soldiers just makes his troubles more difficult.
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, "Jacob's Ladder"'s hallucinatory trip to madness is easily one of the most captivating and vivid portrayals of insanity ever put on film, and most of the film's success is thanks to Rubin's cleverly devised script. Complex and multi-layered, Rubin takes Jacob (and us with him) through hell and back in his quest for an explanation to what is happening to him, but given the unpredictable nature of his mental condition, there is never an only answer to the bizarre series of events that happen in his life. As in other of his works, Rubin adds a lot of ideas about life and soul, but unlike the rest of his work, in "Jacob's Ladder" he explores a darker side of the nature of such concepts. While at first sight all this may sound too ambitious and contrived, Rubin makes it work and the final result is one of the most original movies (not just horror) ever written.
While he is better know for his high quality erotic thrillers, director Adrian Lyne does a remarkable job (probably the best in his career) at giving life to Bruce Joel Rubin's story of insanity and horror. As always, Lyne makes an effective job directing the film, but this time he allows himself some experimentation with the camera and the special effects which results in very original (and influential) visual effects, creating a very disturbing atmosphere of decay and disorder that mirrors Jacob's own state of mind. As he worked closely with Rubin in the screenplay, Lyne decided to keep the ambiguity of the film's plot by focusing only on Jacob, but this also allowed him to keep the story's humanity and soul.
Tim Robbins is simply perfect as Jacob Singer, and this is definitely one of the best works of this very underrated actor. His portrait of Jacob is frighteningly believable and one of the highlights of the film. Elizabeth Peña is very good as Jacob's girlfriend, but as the film focuses completely on Jacob, there is nothing really amazing or surprising in her delivery. Danny Aiello appears in a small but very important role as Jacob's chiropractor and only friend Louis, who acts as a spiritual guide in Jacob's attempt to understand his experiences. Aiello may have a limited screen time, but he makes the most of it and delivers an unforgettable performance. Macaulay Culkin appears briefly, and one can notice that the kid had a big precocious talent at the time.
"Jacob's Ladder" is definitely one of the most original films of the 90s, due not only to it's brilliant storyline, but also to the way Lyne crafted the film in a simple yet very effective way. While many have criticized the film for having an "incoherent" plot, it's actually the challenging complexity of the script where the main strength of the film is; and while I admit it's difficult to get at first time, it's one of those films that get better with time as the many details of its plot become better appreciated in subsequent viewings. As one of the best examples of a "psychological thriller" (a term used very loosely these days), this movie offers a delightful mix of mystery, suspense and horror that few movies can equal.
Adrian Lyne's masterpiece of horror, "Jacob's Ladder", is a very recommended film to fans of atmospheric and eerie horror films, as this movie proves that the genre is more than guts and gore, and that it can serve to explore limitless possibilities. Personally, this movie has become a favorite of mine because of its captivating plot and near-perfect film-making. An excellent film of the 90s. 9/10
A Vietnam vet (Tim Robbins) goes through life not really knowing what
to make of things anymore. His blue collar job, his ex-wife, his
deceased son... and the growing visions of demons and his belief the
government turned its back on him and his comrades.
The box cover called this a "horror movie for the 90s", but let me say the horror elements are pretty minor. Other than a demon scene at a dance club and a few stray body parts in a hospital, the "horror" is really in the background. What we have is a cross between a war movie and a Lynchian "what is real?" film.
I've had my share of Vietnam movies, because they're all the same to me. "Platoon", "Born on the Fourth of July", "Casualties of War" and "Hamburger Hill" can all be the same film for all I care. Even "Full Metal Jacket" to some degree (though luckily the focus is more on boot camp and less on the war). In this movie, the war is everywhere and nowhere... it makes for a backdrop to the actual story. I could have used a different setting, even if it was just a different war (Grenada?), but I guess Vietnam is such a movie cliché that it couldn't be avoided.
Now, the David Lynch aspects were very well done. Most of the time you don't know if Robbins is awake, asleep, hallucinating or something else. Many people will be turned off by this. But like "Next Door" and unlike most Lynch films, you should know the plot by the end and a second viewing will make a lot more sense to you. Well, maybe not the demon part. But the rest.
I have said in other reviews that Tim Robbins is possibly the greatest actor in human history. He is like the white Morgan Freeman. And in this, his son is played by the effeminate Macaulay Culkin, who has grown to be a great actor in his own right (even if it's in movies nobody else ever saw, like "Saved!" or "Party Monster"). I'll watch anything with Robbins and Culkin, so this movie had me at hello.
I watched this on VHS and some of the video was a bit grainy. A DVD remastered might fix this and I think would help. A bit of polishing would make this seem even more fantastic. Visually, that's my only complaint -- all the scenery and imagery was quite impressive for what I assume is a lower budget film. The Vietnam scenes could have been from any Vietnam movie, and the fact they'd bother to construct a set for the small part it plays in here, to me shows the devotion of the film-makers.
I would have liked to give this film a higher, perhaps perfect, rating... but there were times I felt the film was dragging. After the introduction and build-up, there are many scenes that could have been cut and we would still get the point. Is being confused for an extra twenty minutes a good thing? I have no idea. And there were a few times the film could have ended, but kept going on... oh well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Every time you watch this film, you (and I) will hopefully gather a little more insight into what is going on in Jacob Singer's mind. Normally, film reviews discuss the basic plot of the movie and then the reviewer gives his (or her) opinion of it all, but this film requires so much more. ****SPOILERS ALERT**** It is clear that Jacob is in a struggle to hold on to his life and as Louis puts it so simply "devils are tearing his life away". The film is filled with religious overtones that can be related to the biblical names of its characters. There is the constant tug of war between the "angels" and "demons". For example, when Gabe says to Jacob "don't go" (after he tucks him in bed), this symbolizes Gabe's reluctance to let go of him and succumb to the demons. Other scenes give further insight to this and most involve the angel like figures such as Gabe, Sarah and Louis. But even the demon like figures such as Jessie (notice how she only wears black throughout the movie) is reluctant to let Jacob go. They want him stuck in this purgatory until he is able to make his peace. This explains some of the religious aspects but why the hallucinogenic theme? In my opinion, there may have been a case in the past when these types of experiments were ACTUALLY conducted on military personnel. We will never know but the logic of it all makes it frighteningly plausible. And all of this makes more sense when you watch closely the transitions between Vietnam and the "flash forwards" and "flashbacks" as they are exquisitely related. For example, when Jacob imagines himself getting into the shower with Jessie, it is actually raining in the jungle at that precise moment. When he falls to the floor during the party, the soldiers are attending to him. When he catches fever, he is actually catching rheumatic fever as a result of the severe wound he suffered. And most importantly, what sheds light on why there was the whole hallucinogenic overtone is when he is actually getting stabbed. Notice the confused look on his face when he realizes one of his comrades has stabbed him. To him, the whole chaotic scenario preceding this event and the actual betrayal by one of his own could have only been caused by some behavior modifying drug "the ladder". This is why this theme is (to a certain extent) based upon in his hallucinations... he is trying to find a logical explanation as to why this happened. Of course, this is only my interpretation of the film. In any case, when you combine the religious, philosophical, and real life aspects this film encompasses, I am not sure we will ever see something like this ever again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Great film, but the writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, has now written at least
three screenplays dealing with the after-life: 'Jacob's Ladder',
'Brainstorm' and 'Ghost'. Of those three, only 'Ghost' explicitly
propounds the 'reality' of a life after death. In the other two films,
the 'walking toward the light' mentioned by those who have endured
near-death experiences could be mere hallucination.
'Jacob's Ladder' improves on the plot twist in 'The Sixth Sense'. In the latter, the plot loses potency after the first viewing, because the plot twist is a device that changes your perception of the entire story. In 'Jacob's Ladder', there are clues right throughout the story that he might actually be dead or dying. Therefore, the plot twist is not such a great revelation, but does put everything in the proper context.
Because the story is very open to interpretation (ie: is the action a product of a dying mind or are these experiences sort of a spiritual obstacle course?), you can watch the film repeatedly and still find plotting nuances to change how you perceive the story.
IMO, the major changes Adrian Lyne made to the basic story were for the better. If you're interested in seeing how BJR's vision of angels taking Jacob to heaven might have looked (if attempted at all), rent 'Brainstorm' and watch the final couple of scenes. What is otherwise a good film is let down by these scenes and Lyne was right to go with his preferred option; Gabe leading Jacob by the hand up the stairs. Angels carrying Jacob to Heaven could never hope to be as grandiose as our own imaginations.
If there is one particular fault with this film, the drug experimentation sub-plot doesn't seem to work. Even as a red herring, it's weak. On the whole though, I find 'Jacob's Ladder' poignant and thought-provoking.
JACOB'S LADDER is an exceptionally creepy film, very adept at conveying
a pervasive sense of impending doom. Credit the film editor with
effective segues from one 'reality' to the next as this film bounces
between four alternate worlds. There is Jacob pre-Nam with wife and
kids, Jacob in Nam, Jacob post-Nam with Jezebel, and the hallucinatory
trips occurring in the post-Nam world. This film succeeded for me when
it was unclear which of these worlds were real and which were
fabricated (if any). With the boundaries of existence blurred, there is
ample room for the viewer to make his own conclusions as to what is
really happening to Jacob. The camera work and clever direction by
Adrian Lyne combine with these story elements to form a very disturbing
Unfortunately, this film becomes too convoluted as it tries to identify and define everything that is going on in the story (ie the mind of Jacob). The last 20 minutes or so of this feature defeated what I was enjoying for the first two hours. A film is a collaboration of talent, each person with their own vision, hoping to streamline it all into a watchable whole. Sometimes there are too many voices. Watching the special features on the DVD, it is clear that some of the flourishes that Mr. Lyne brought to the table were essential (much of the hellish hospital sequence is of his vision), but I feel that too much was said, and it detracts from that whole.
One undeniable virtue of this film is that it was ahead of its time in horror technique. Lyne does retain some of the creepy landscape and ominous shadow staples of horror films, but the frenetic, jumpy camera work is the real backbone of the movie. The "head moving faster than the camera" scenes were terrifying, apropos considering Jacob's own head seems to be moving faster than life. Nearly two decades later I see much of these stylistic elements emulated consistently. It was Lyne's idea that by hinting at the monsters in the shadows, without clearly showing them, would prove more effective because the viewer's imagination could then provide an image of whatever scares them individually. Bravo, Mr. Lyne. Score one for the lost art of subtlety. If only he could have held the same reserve when stumbling through the denouement.
The characterization of the supporting cast is lackluster, with the exception of Danny Aiello's sensational turn as Louis, the 'Oracle' of this film. Were it not for the superb acting of Tim Robbins, I feel this film would have fallen flat as one full of style but short on substance. It is Robbins' acting that grips the viewer, keeping us rapt for two hours, trying to sift through the pieces of a ruined mind to find the truth among the rubble.
Most horror films have hardly any plot at all, and succeed brilliantly in spite of this because they are fun, mindless entertainment. JACOB'S LADDER condescends to be intellectually complete, so it is graded on a tougher scale than other genre efforts. Lyne should have taken the same approach to plot as he did toward visual scares and let the viewer fill in the blanks. Things are scarier that way.
7/10* Recommended. Not perfect, but very good. Great "look", Robbins excels.
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