Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
US (dir. Adrian Lyne)
Cast: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Matt Craven, Jason Alexander, Eriq La Salle, Ving Rhames
Synopsis: A Vietnam veteran suffers from the belated impact of government sanctioned LSD experiments.
Review: “Jacob’s Ladder” is, to say the least, an interesting movie. If you don’t guess the twist ending by at least 15 minutes into the movie, you’ll probably be blown away in the end. While it’s not the greatest horror film, it’s definitely a good candidate for one of the best films in the surrealistic genre of horror films.
The movie starts off with some Vietnam flashback scenes as recollected by Jacob Singer. Jacob recalls being nearly eviscerated by an unseen indivisual during what is seemingly an attack by the Vietnamese. When he snaps out of it, Jacob appears on a subway train – mildly disheveled and disoriented. After some creepy visions, he leaves the station and we are introduced to his life story as told by the events that unfold during the course of a few days (or so we think). Jacob is a divorced father of three sons (one son died tragically). He now lives in a slightly seedy New York apartment with his skanky girlfriend who wants to get his mind off his ex-wife and his family. Jacob cannot seem to put his past behind him, much to the avail of his girlfriend, and he descends deeper and deeper into some sort of depression which climaxes during a house party. Jacob begins experience surrealistic visions of demons, flashing images, and bizarrely evil situations. At a house party one night he collapses due to fever and falls into a sort of daze. When he “awakens”, Jacob is back in his former life with his wife and children, but the vision doesn’t last long and he snaps out of it again.
Eventually, the surreal visions Jacob experiences get the better of him, and he begins to suspect that during his stay in Vietnam he was exposed to some sort of mind-altering drug that is now affecting his day-to-day life. It is revealed that he was indeed subjected to a drug experimentation program while serving in Vietnam and that the drugs had resulted in messing up the brains of many American soldiers. Jacob suspects he was one of those soldiers and makes an attempt to discover the truth about what happened to him in Vietnam.
One thing this movie really has in its favour is Tim Robbins; what a fantastic actor. Better yet, it’s a YOUNG Tim Robbins… yummy! There’s a LOAD of religious imagery and religious connotations associated with this movie (i.e. people’s names, the descriptions given to certain characters by other characters, locations, events, the title of the movie, etc.) and to counter-act the overwhemlming amount of religious imagery, there is an abundance of very scary, very dark, and very ominous demonic imagery. Jacob seems to see demonic faces everywhere, and these demons look fantastic on camera (not CGIed to death).
It turns out that Jacob never made it out of ‘Nam. He was killed by his own platoon due to the effects of Jacob’s Ladder (a hallucinogenic drug given to the soldiers). This twist plays wonderfully with our expectations of what flashbacks, flashforwards, and present-day event scenarios do in a film. In this case, the Vietnam scenes were the present-day scenario and the entire sequence of events that Jacob was hallucinating were all flashforwards. So instead of Jacob dying and having flashbacks of his life OR instead of Jacob living and having flashbacks of having survived the war, Jacob experiences flashforwards before his death. It’s a very interesting twist, somewhat like “The Sixth Sense” in its execution, but not quite.
I wasn’t particularily excited about this film. It was interesting and some genuinely horrific scenes, but it had a lot of boring filler that made you want to pause the movie and do something else. However, if a lot of that filler was taken out (i.e. Jacob’s day at work, Jacob on the phone, Jacob talking to random people etc.), the movie would have been more predictable (i.e. you would have just guessed right off the bat that, yeah Jacob is either in purgatory or hell and that he is definitely dead). I would recommend you see this movie, but if you’re looking for something more gory and downright evil then don’t see this movie (especially because the ending is the warm and fuzzy type).