Jacob's Ladder (1990) Poster

(I) (1990)


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All SFX were filmed live, with no post-production. For example, to achieve the famous 'shaking head' effect, director Adrian Lyne simply filmed the actor waving his head around (and keeping his shoulders and the rest of his body completely still) at 4fps, resulting in an incredibly fast and deeply disturbing motion when played back at the normal frame-rate of 24fps.
The closing legend of the film mentions the testing of a drug named BZ in Vietnam. BZ is NATO code for a hallucinogen called 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, which was rumored to have been administered to US troops during the Vietnam War in an attempt to increase their combat abilities.
All ads in the subway and Bergen Street station are anti-drug ads.
Certain imagery was inspired by the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin. Most recognizably, the image of the hooded, legless man shaking his head is inspired by Witkin's 1976 photograph "Man With No Legs".
According to director Adrian Lyne, the drug aspect of the story was inspired by the Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain book, "Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and Sixties Rebellion".
Adrian Lyne turned down directorial duties on The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) so he could direct Jacob's Ladder. His first choice for the role of Jacob Singer was Tom Hanks, but, by coincidence, Hanks turned down the film so he could make The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Sidney Lumet, Michael Apted and Ridley Scott all tried to get the project green-lit during its several year period of non-production.
The Bergen Street station in the film was actually an abandoned, lower level portion of the station, which had to be re-tiled and fixed to look as if it was still in working condition.
The film was green-lit by Paramount Pictures (with whom Adrian Lyne had made both Flashdance (1983) and Fatal Attraction (1987), and with whom writer Bruce Joel Rubin had made Ghost (1990)), but there was a change of leadership in the studio and the new executives were unsure of the film. They demanded that the end of the movie be changed, but both Lyne and Rubin refused, and so Paramount pulled the plug on the film. It appeared as if the project was going to have to be completely abandoned until Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna of Carolco Pictures saved it with a budget of $25 million. They also gave Lyne complete creative control as well as final cut of the film.
The James Brown funk song "My Thang", heard during the raucous party scene, appeared on a double album of Brown's from 1974 called "Hell".
For all of the chiropractor scenes, director Adrian Lyne ensured there was a real chiropractor on-set, who would work with actor Danny Aiello so as to ensure authenticity. According to Lyne, chiropractors often approach him and thank him for going to the trouble of getting what they do exactly right.
When Jacob Singer unfolds an old Army discharge certificate, the service number "US 21 719 365" can briefly be seen. This would correspond to a National Guard service number with a prefix indicating follow-on conscription into the Army of the United States. According to U.S Army records, the service number seen in the film was assigned to a soldier named Thomas K. Wright, who served from 1959 to 1961 with discharge as a Specialist-4 (paygrade E4). Thomas Wright would later become the property master for the film Jacob's Ladder, using his own service number for the scene where the discharge certificate is briefly visible on camera.
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.
The hospital gurney that carries Jacob was deliberately unbalanced by Adrian Lyne. He raised one wheel slightly off the floor, causing it to rattle and spin.
Director Adrian Lyne used the art of painters William Blake, H.R. Giger, and Francis Bacon and photographers Diane Arbus and Joel-Peter Witkin as his primary influences for the visual style of the film.
Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke both turned down the lead role.
Prior to the commencement of filming, former US marine Dale Dye took actors Tim Robbins, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Eriq La Salle, Ving Rhames, Brian Tarantina, Brent Hinkley and Anthony Alessandro to a 5-day military boot camp.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Actors who were allegedly interested in playing the leading role of Jacob Singer included Richard Gere, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino For the role of Jezzie, director Adrian Lyne auditioned roughly 300 women, including Jennifer Lopez,, Andie MacDowell, Madonna, Demi Moore and Julia Roberts. The role eventually went to the very first person who auditioned - Elizabeth Peña.
In a 2015 retrospective on the film, Tim Robbins said that one of the reasons he thought it didn't do well at the box office was how the film's violent, harrowing scenes in Vietnam didn't jibe with the national mood in the fall of 1990 during the run-up to the Gulf War.
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According to the original script, after Jacob is nearly run over by the subway train, a sequence involving a man being raped in the subway station mens bathroom was supposed to occur. It was filmed but deleted from the final cut (parts of the scene can be seen in the Making-Of featurette Building 'Jacob's Ladder' (1990)). Ving Rhames went on to star in Pulp Fiction (1994). Incidentally he played a man who was raped in that film.
The confrontation between Jacob and Geary originally takes place in a courtroom corridor. Lyne moved them to the stairs in order to downplay the height difference between Tim Robbins (who is 6' 5") and Jason Alexander (who is 5' 5").
Tim Robbins said the film presented for him "a great opportunity to go in a different direction. I love doing comedy, but I know I can do other things as well."
According to the original script, the subway station Jacob arrives at in the beginning of the movie was supposed to be Nostrand Avenue - not Bergen Street.
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The film was released in the same year as Cadillac Man (1990), that also starred Tim Robbins. Respective directors Adrian Lyne and Roger Donaldson usually make films that deal with sexual matters.
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Ving Rhames also starred in another Vietnam war movie, Casualties of War (1989). Incidentally director Adrian Lyne chose to direct this film instead of the same year's The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), which Brian De Palma directed, as well as Casualties of War (1989). Additionally De Palma was slated to direct the Lyne-directed Fatal Attraction (1987), but he backed out because he feared that the story was too similar to Play Misty for Me (1971). De Palma also felt that Michael Douglas wasn't a good leading man. De Palma has since admitted he was wrong about Douglas.
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The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

In Bruce Joel Rubin's original screenplay, all of the demons who appear throughout the film were typical biblical demons with horns, wings, cloven hooves etc. Director Adrian Lyne felt that this kind of imagery could very easily come across as comic, which would destroy the film. He felt that the fact that the imagery was so far from human lessened its impact, and as such, he decided he wanted the demons to be humanesque, but not quite human. During his research into this (which was when he discovered the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin), Lyne came across the Thalidomide scandal. Thalidomide was a drug made available for purchase from 1957 to 1961. Ostensibly, it was designed to treat pregnant women; primarily as an antiemetic to combat morning sickness, and secondarily as a sleeping aid. However, prior to its release, inadequate clinical tests were carried out, leading to roughly 10,000 children in Africa and Europe being born with severe physical deformities because their mothers had taken thalidomide during their pregnancy. The most common defects were phocomelia, dysmelia, amelia and polymelia; all conditions which affect the appearance of the limbs. During his research, Lyne studied the Thalidomide case, and came to feel that the birth defects caused by the drug represented the perfect starting place for his redesign of Rubin's demons. The Thalidomide scandal was also the inspiration for David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981).
Adrian Lyne made sure Jacob and his visions never appear together in the same shot.
Some additional scenes from the original script which were changed or removed by director Adrian Lyne:
  • During the dance scene, ALL the dancers turn into demons.
  • During one of his Vietnam flashbacks, Jacob has a vision of a "celestial staircase" accompanied by heavenly music.
  • Jacob watches a reverend on TV who rants about the world coming to an end.
  • Jacob sees an image of a demon on the wall of his living room, which, when he looks closely at it, becomes a portal to Hell.
  • A scene following the "antidote" sequence in which the ceiling explodes and Jacob is surrounded by a vision of Heaven.
  • A different ending, where Jezzie turns herself inside-out and transforms into a huge demon, which Jacob has to fight before ascending to heaven.
In the original screenplay, writer Bruce Joel Rubin had created a typical Biblical hell, complete with winged demons, cloven hoofed devils with horns, people with beaks and strange objects lying randomly around (director Adrian Lyne likens Rubin's vision to the work of Hieronymus Bosch). As with Rubin's general depiction of demons however, Lyne felt that such scenes could very easily make an audience laugh. As such, he decided to rewrite the scene of Jacob's descent into hell; ultimately coming up with the hospital sequence where Jacob is wheeled on a gurney into a metaphorical hell which becomes more and more grotesque as he moves.
Adrian Lyne also heavily rewrote the scene involving the biblical Jacob's ladder at the end of the film. Writer Bruce Joel Rubin had written the scene to involve a massive staircase ascending into the clouds, with crowds of people lining it, towering columns, and huge gates at the summit. Again however, Lyne felt that such an image could come across as preposterous (he refers to Rubin's original conception as the Liberace scene on the DVD commentary track). As such, Lyne rewrote the scene to involve simply the staircase in Jacob's house, basing this on the principal that heaven is wherever you were happiest.
After initial test audiences reported that the film was overwhelming, director Adrian Lyne cut out twenty minutes of material, almost all of which came from the last third of the film. Four major sequences were removed after Jacob first meets Michael; a scene where Michael gives him an antidote for the Ladder, a scene where Jacob thinks he is cured but turns out not to be; a scene where he goes to Michael's apartment and finds Michael decapitated; and a scene just prior to his final meeting with Gabe, where he meets Jezzie, who shows her true form.
According to writer Bruce Joel Rubin, the script was heavily inspired by the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead), the biblical story of Jacob's ladder and Robert Enrico's Oscar-winning short film Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962), based on the 1890 Ambrose Bierce short story.
Writer Bruce Joel Rubin wrote the script for Jacob's Ladder in the early 1980s after he had a dream of being trapped in a subway. He spent several years trying to get it produced, but the script remained languishing in developmental limbo. During this period, Rubin's agent told him that the film would never be made as "Hollywood doesn't make ghost movies". After the Rubin scripted Ghost (1990) became a smash hit, coupled with the success of Alan Parker's Angel Heart (1987), studios became more open to the possibilities of Rubin's script. After taking on the role of director, Adrian Lyne spent over a year refining the script with writer Rubin.
In original script, there was a scene where Jacob burns down some army headquarters building in fit of rage. This scene was filmed but deleted and was never released, although picture of Jacob holding the torch and gasoline can from this deleted scene was shown in The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004).
Teaser, theatrical and TV trailers show several scenes deleted from original cut;
  • Disfigured man attacks Jacob with knife, this scene was originally in the beginning where after he is almost run over by subway train Jacob goes into men's room where he finds one man raping another while second one pulls a knife on him. Scared Jacob then escapes from the subway.
  • Jacob is sitting in his mail van and reads a book when suddenly he sees bag of mail starting to move. Originally in this scene some homeless man was sleeping inside the van and when Jacob finds him he takes him out of the van and gives him some money.
  • Jacob's and Jezzie's sex scene.
  • Extra line from Frank when he is talking with Jacob on the phone; "Maybe the demons are real."
  • Longer version of "Hospital From Hell" scene. While he is on gurney pushed through some hallway Jacob asks; "Where are you taking me? Where am i?"
  • Deleted antidote scene which is available on special edition DVD/Bluray. In this scene Michael gives Jacob antidote which causes Jacob to start hallucinate the blood dripping on him and monster crashing through the ceiling.
  • While theatrical trailer shows shot of Jacob screaming "Who are you" from deleted Jezzie's transformation scene (available on special edition), teaser trailer shows alternate version of the scene with Jezzie's face getting disfigured and her turning into different looking demon then in the deleted scene.
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