Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

 

Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin

Will Most Likely Contain Spoiler!!!

This is what this marathons is all about. The film is so mind-bending, though provoking, use every muscle in you brain, nah, your body to figure out what is going on in the story. Oh, and it’s a good film too! We open on a group of soldiers in Vietnam, they become engulfed in a conflict and we are quickly yanked away to the future where one of the soldiers is in a conflict of his own. That soldier, Jake Singer (Tim Robbins), is now a postal worker facing demons. The story is so demented, so confusing, but so beautiful really. The picture that is painted is great. I give all the credit in the world to Mr. Lyne for being able to visually represent this story the way he has. He uses fleeting images, strange images, quick editing, great lighting and everything in between to create a mood that is so representative of the type of hell that Jake is experiencing in his mind. The acting here is superb too really. Robbins, Pena especially, and Danny Aiello as Jake’s chiropractor. In terms of a technical achievement, it soars.

There is clear reference to the Bible here. The title is a famous part of Genesis, and it certainly plays into the story as well. There are also Biblical names: Jacob, Jezebel, Gabriel. The themes is deals with are angels and demons, heaven and hell. The more and more I think about it, the more and more I am impressed by the screenplay by Rubin. He brings everything together in a scattered way that kind of makes sense to me. Throughout the film, Jake has flashbacks to Vietnam where he was stabbed and then treated. The audience is made to think these are the flashbacks of a troubled veteran of the war, but what is revealed throughout the story suggests otherwise. I mean he sees things that are clearly not there, demons and monsters. He gets locked in a train station and almost gets hit by a train. One of his sons, Gabe, has died at an early age. Two of his friends die in mysterious car explosions, he contracts some type of virus that almost kills him if it wasn’t for an ice bath quickly brought about by Jez and his neighbors. His fellow soldier friends are experiencing the same demons. They go to a lawyer to bring a case against the army. But the lawyer says he wasn’t even in Vietnam. When he goes to see his therapist, Dr. Carlson, he finds out that his name in not on file, and Dr. Carlson is not a doctor there. When he has his palm read by a casual friend at a party, she says that his life line has stopped and he should be dead, but they just laugh it off. He is also told he is dead after he falls out of a car and is taken to the hospital and subsequently a psychiatric ward. The places the film goes, needless to say are quite bizarre.

I’m rambling now, but all these things happened and there is not a best way to describe what exactly was going on. But because all of these things were going on, the pacing of the film was spectacular. It kept you on your feet paying attention and trying to figure it out. A major character in all of this is Jake’s chiropractor, Louis. In his first visit, Jake makes the comment that he looks like an angel the way he is looking up at him with the light, and with how he works wonders on his back. And later, when Louis is fixing his back from the fall out of the car, which by the way Louis saved him from the hospital where he was taken to the psychiatric ward and told he was dead, hmmm, Louis tells Jake a story about how demons are really angels trying to free people’s souls by making them let go of their lives. In Jake’s case he needs to let go of his son, who died in a car accident of all things while he was still in Vietnam. Oh, and by the way, his son is played by Macaulay Culkin. Louis really comes off as a guiding angel here. Much like Louis, there is another angel in Jake’s life. His name in Michael Newman, though we don’t know that. He appears when the car in the alleyway is chasing down Jake and again when his friend’s car explodes. He is there as a guardian, to help Jake survive and live on. And you know what, it’s the same man who created the drug that set all of this into motion. Fitting that it is he who is there to help Jake let go, as I’m sure Michael also needs to let go of what he created, the evil he brought about on the whole battalion in Vietnam.

Let me talk about the ending first before I go into my exact thoughts on the films, it will be easier that way. The ending comes and we find out that Jake has died in Vietnam. This obviously means that everything in the “present” then has been a hallucination of some kind. We also learn that the attack in the beginning in Vietnam was the battalion attacking themselves because of a drug that was developed to improve soldiers drive during battle aptly called the “Ladder”. I didn’t really like this explanation, but the very end redeemed it for me because it was so beautiful and perfect. Jake sees his son Gabe at the bottom of the stair (and the lighting of this whole scene is just great). He approaches him and they ascend the stairs together, presumably to heaven because Jake has let go of his life, allowing the angels to free his soul. It is quite poetic.

Clearly this film was thought provoking, look at the frickin’ length of this freakin’ write-up! How is it this long!? Well I had a great experience watching this film. It is definitely what is meant by this marathon and we are closer to my mind actually blowing up. But at the same time I loved the film. Because it was so thought provoking and interesting to keep up with. Highly recommended to any who think they can manage their mind to finish it and still be able to talk afterward. Wow…and I even know I missed some things.

***1/2 – Great

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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