Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

At first blush, this horrific, paranoid thriller more than earns its place on the 101 Horror Movies list, because some of the imagery is frightening, couched as it is in everyday surroundings. When viewed knowing the film’s ending, and in this day and age, it’s kind of tough not to, and even if you don’t you need only pay attention to all that happens on the screen, it ends up being more of a hopeful film, well its ending is.

But I guess that’s all in the eye of the beholder and you’re own personal beliefs about what happens after death…

Directed by Adrien Lyne and starring everyman Tim Robbins, the film tells the story of Jacob Singer, a Vietnam vet who keeps flashing back to a terrible attack that he and his platoon came under, and in which he was severly wounded. Not only is he having these terrible flashbacks, he’s beginning to see strange things in his present day life. Non-human figures pursuing him in a car, glimpses of strange things, demonic like figures, seem to spring up everywhere.

He also learns that his psychiatrist was killed when his car exploded, and one of his fellow vets also died under similar circumstances after confiding in Jacob that they were coming out of the walls to get him.

Through all of this, Jacob is haunted by the memory, and visions, of his son Gabe (Macaulay Caulkin), who died when he was struck by a car.

He learns from a scientist named Michael (Matt Craven) that he and his squad were exposed to a hallucinogenic drug designed by the government to allow soldiers to get in touch with their basest emotions, fear and anger in the hopes of making them better soldiers. (This story point is supposedly based on fact, though the US government denied it at the time, which is pointed out in the film’s tag).

And this may or may not explain why he’s seeing the things he’s seeing.

Or as his chiropractor Louis (Danny Aiello) puts it, they may be angels, or may be demons, it depends on your perspective. I get the feeling that the Louis character was more than he seemed, he definitely had a good portion of the answers, and even after Jacob takes a spill from a car, and seems to have a broken leg, Louis has him out of the hospital and walking in no time.

Robbins is surrounded by a fantastic and recognizable cast Elizabeth Pena, Ving Rhames, Jason Alexander and Eriq La Salle, and fills his character with panic, desperation, sadness and fear in equal measure, until a cathartic release at the film’s climax allows for the most important characteristics to come through, hope, wonder and acceptance.

The lines between hallucination and reality blur constantly in this film, and you are constantly left in a state of anxiety because you are worried about what you are going to see next, because when you see something, it’s always stunning and frightening. The house party sequence featuring Pena’s Jezzie particualryl caught me off guard.

Still, upon reaching the end of the film, and the reveal, which isn’t that much of a surprise for most viewers, it lets you walk away wondering about what comes next, if anything, or whether it’s all a chemical creation to ease acceptance, or is there truly something more?

The film has Christian symbolism thorughout, whether through crosses, imagery, names, but that may be more reflective of Jacob’s own beliefs, once again, the ending of the film is key to that statment.

Penned by Bruce Joel Rubin who also wrote Ghost, My Life and the sceenplay for The Time Traveller’s Wife, the film was a delightful surprise to me, because I didn’t watch it when it first came round in the 90s, because EVERYONE I knew was talking about it, and I had reach the super-saturation point for it, which comepltely destroyed any desire I had to see the film.

And now, I’m glad I waited, because I out some distance between me and that point in my history, and was able to come in and enjoy the film for what it is, and truly enjoyed it.

And I so love Louis’ line, “If you’re frightened of dying, and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth.”

See, perspective…

What did you think?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Dave Enkosky says:

    Great review. I absolutely love this movie. The visuals are eerily stunning.

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