Jacob's Ladder

06/08/2019 15:36

Film: Jacob’s Ladder

Year: 1990

Director: Adrian Lyne

Writer: Bruce Joel Rubin

Starring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña and Danny Aiello



This was a film that I remember checking out in college, because I heard how crazy it was. I knew that it is also one of the better films ever made. Looking back at the first time I saw this, I think a lot of it was lost on me. This one is definitely one that requires multiple viewings to really take it all in. The synopsis for this is mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam War veteran attempts to uncover his past while suffering from a sever case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusions and perceptions of death.

We start this film out in Vietnam. It is during the war and we get some great images of what it looked like for the United States soldiers. The film then settles on our main character, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins). He goes to the bathroom in the brush and returning to his unit of soldiers. There is Paul (Pruitt Taylor Vince), Frank (Eriq La Salle), George (Ving Rhames) and Doug (Brian Tarantina) to name a few. There is a sense of camaraderie. They start to feel funny and think their marijuana has been laced with something. They are then attacked.

Jacob wakes up from this dream on a subway train. He gets off at his stop, but it is locked off. He walks the tracks to find a way out and almost is hit by train. He sees some things that he thinks are demons as it passes. He then comes home where he lives with his girlfriend Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña). They live in a small apartment and both work for the United States Postal Service. Jacob was married previously and had three kids. One of them dropped of pictures his ex, Sarah (Patricia Kalember), was going to through away. He then gets emotional over a picture of his child that passed away, Gabe (Macaulay Culkin). Jezzie burns the pictures as she doesn’t like things that upset him.

He continues to go back and forth between his dream of what happened in Vietnam and his new life. He even has dreams of his life with Sarah. There are visits to Louis (Danny Aiello), a chiropractor who helps align his back and give him advice about his life. It is revealed that his problems might be due to possible being drugged and that the effects are messing with his head. What is real though and what is a dream?

Now this is a film that I wanted to be a bit vague and just give as brief an overview as I can, because it really is a trip and should be experienced as blind as possible. I really like the concept of this film and the deeper issues that is exploring. I’m normally torn on films using dream sequences as they seem to be a cop out to get some information across in a cheap way. This film though really does well it and it is like experiencing a nightmare at times as we try to figure out what is real.

As I kind of alluded to already, this film is really a big allegory. Jacob is dealing with the death of his youngest son Gabe. I’m thinking that is really is a big cause as to why his wife and he are no longer together, that they couldn’t handle the stress of that. This is actually very common, as it definitely tears them apart, even if the parents don’t necessarily blame the other one. I don’t necessarily know if Jacob has been able to get over it or not. This grief is contributing to his descent into madness.

There is also looking at religion here. Jacob tells Louis that he looks like an angel with the light behind him, giving him almost a halo. This is interesting, because Louis is really the only one who has Jacob’s best interests in mind. He also is there to help him. He gives some sage advice about the difference between angels and demons as well as what their purpose are. This plays into the ending as well. There is also a conversation with Jezzie and what her real name is that makes sense with his relationship with her as well as his ex-wife.

This film is also based in a reality a bit. There are reports out there, even though the government denies, that a form of LSD was given to soldiers and it had some pretty horrible effects on them. There are actually other films about this as well. I found this to be quite interesting, as I do believe this could really have happened. That is scary, especially if the subjects have no idea what they are doing.

Something that really took a lot of thought would be the editing of this film. We really have two stories that are running concurrently. We have the scenes in Vietnam and the life with Jezzie for Jacob. We assume that the war scenes are just him having dreams, but the film does great at making you question everything with throwing in scenes of him being back with Sarah as well. I give credit to how difficult that was. I think it flows very well and the ending is fitting for what the film is going for. It also builds tension as things get crazier.

Going along with this, the acting is really good as well. There are actually a lot of well known actors when they were pretty young. Robbins I think does great at showing the duality of his character. In the early Vietnam scenes, he is a fun guy who is well educated. We see him as he is falling apart from his hallucinations and the effects of the war on him. I think he did really good job conveying that. Peña I thought was solid as well as Aiello. Craven, Vince, Alexander, La Salle and Rhames also make appearances and were solid. Shout-out as well to a young Culkin as well. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.

This film actually has some effects in it, which I didn’t remember. They were done practically from what I could tell and they were subtle, but creepy. We get just little things that make Jacob think he is seeing demons, from creepy faces, tails and other things like that. To make it even better though, we just get glimpses and our brain can fill in the rest of the details, which is quite effective. The film is also shot very well in my opinion as well.

Now with that said, this film is quite powerful. Seeing Jacob as he descends into madness is both heartbreaking and interesting to watch. Trying to figure out what is going on is quite intriguing and the message film is trying to get across. There is the idea of religion and if there are angels and demons. There is also the idea if the government could do the experiment that is ruining Jacob and other former soldiers’ lives. The acting is really good, the film is edited together great in a way to build tension and the effects that are used help here as well. The score of the film fits for what is needed, but doesn’t necessarily stand out to me. Overall though this is great film and would recommend giving this one a viewing, I still have room for my rating to come up as I feel that another watch might be needed as there’s a lot to digest.


My Rating: 9 out of 10