Jacob’s Ladder is a film that will take you down that dark tunnel with the light at the end. But, the trip down the dark tunnel is not pleasant. Jacob’s Ladder takes us through the turmoil of the tunnel through the eyes of its main character Jacob (Tim Robbins) Singer.
As the film opens, Jacob is in a quiet village in Vietnam. It’s the middle of the Vietnam War, but Jacob’s group seems to have found some quiet time. A joint is passed around, there’s idle chatter, and there’s nothing serious on the horizon. That is until there is movement in the tree line. All hell breaks loose and frantic combat breaks out. No one knows what’s happening, not even the audience. This mass confusion is a foreshadowing for the rest of the film. As the combat comes to an end, an unseen enemy bayonets Jacob in the abdomen.
Flash forward a few years past the war, Jacob is on a subway train riding home. He’s now a postman with a doctorate degree in philosophy. He’s divorced from his wife and is living with a beautiful co-worker, Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena). Everything seems fine for Jacob, but it’s not. He starts to see images of demons. Little glimpses at first things that wouldn’t make much sense but wouldn’t arouse your attention either but as the days pass, the demonic images continue to haunt him, they get darker and more intense.
Jacob’s only handle on what is happening to him is through his chiropractor Louis (Danny Aiello). Throughout the film we are shaken up by flashbacks to Vietnam and to Jacob’s previous life with his wife Sarah and their children, one of who is dead.
The structure of Jacob’s Ladder is brilliant, though not original. This structure, which I can’t name because it will ruin the film experience for those who haven’t seen it yet, has been used in books before and can be misused. But, writer Bruce Joel Rubin puts together a script that takes your emotions and drains them, leaving even the happiest person depressed. There is a hope-filled ending, but the truest form of this film is of death. Throughout the film we, like Jacob, are unsure of what really happened during the attack in Vietnam. Jacob, halfway through the film, asks, “Am I dead?” And we’re left to think if he is or not.
The film explores not life, but death. What really happens during those last fleeting moments of life? What really are demons and angels? Rubin who wrote the crowd-pleaser film Ghost takes a big risk with writing Jacob’s Ladder. This is a film that is, in every way, un-Hollywood. Jacob’s Ladder is as original as movies come. Kudos to Rubin for writing this amazing film.
Adrian Lyne who is known more for his commercial films such as Flashdance tackles this film with the utmost honesty. Showing Jacob’s struggles with what is happening around and to him unfiltered. Lyne tones down the supernatural portions of Rubin’s script and brings a real-worldness to the film, making the film that much more horrific. The images that Lyne presents on screen are of Hell on Earth. Lyne doesn’t rely on gore or slashers to scare you, but lets the story and the images put the fear into you. This film can be seen as either a trip straight to Hell or a journey to Heaven. It just depends on how you look it.
Tim Robbins is perfectly cast as Jacob. Robbins has innocence in his face that is used well to show the reaction to the chaos that has suddenly filled his life. As Jacob’s life is spiraling down to Hell, Robins is able to bring us with him on this dark journey. And by the end of the film we are with Jacob as the ultimate happens. Robbins’s portrayal of Jacob is dead on. Kudos to Robbins for a brilliant performance. Elizabeth Pena also turns in a wonderful performance as Jezebel the mysterious woman in Jacob’s life. The mere name that is given to her character makes for some interesting Biblical imagery.
I saw this film nine years ago while I was still in high school. The film, at the time, influenced me much on how I look at life and how I look at films. And although I enjoy the current crop of films that are being turned out, there hasn’t been any film as daring as Jacob’s Ladder to do what it does – Jacob’s Ladder gets into your head, it twists things around and leaves you reeling. Instead of using special effects Jacob’s Ladder uses ideas, images, and quick glimpses to horrify you. Once in your head, Jacob’s Ladder is there for good.
Jacob’s Ladder is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. The film is not a happy experience, but it is one that shows just what gets created when filmmakers are willing to take risks. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin and the steady handed direction from Adrian Lyne coupled with the imagery shot by Jeffrey Kimball all work to frighten you psychologically. These elements also work to make you think, and by the end of the film I’ll guarantee you that you’ll be thinking and mulling over the film for a long time to come. Don’t Miss Jacob’s Ladder. I screened the special edition of Jacob’s Ladder available on DVD. After watching the film, let me know what you think about what happened to Jacob.
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