Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Posted: March 1, 2014 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Starring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Macaulay Culkin

War is hell, ugly and nightmarish. Men are asked to do unspeakable things that would get any civilian locked away for life or worse. When it is said that they do these things for the purpose of defending their country’s freedom, this is understood without debate. New battle tactics are dreamed up all the time that they trust will give them the edge on the field of battle. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Those things that they see and do can have a profound impact on the remainder of their lives… if they come back at all. But what can we really know about what happens to them mentally “over there”? I can do nothing but speculate from what I’ve observed how complicated and frightening the life of a Veteran must be.

Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) lives in New York in the years following his experiences in Vietnam. He was a family man, married with three children. But his wife has left him, and his youngest son Gabe (an uncredited Macaulay Culkin) was killed by a car. Lately, Jacob has been having strong dreams about Vietnam, and he is also seeing strange, unexplainable things in the waking world.  Demons, he calls them. It’s having an effect on his new relationship with Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña), who despite being understanding is really hoping he’ll snap out of it soon. It’s when he starts shifting in time between the present, Vietnam, and the days when he was still married that Jacob also has trouble figuring out what’s real and what’s just a dream.

Tim Robbins turns in what I think is the best performance of his career as Jacob Singer, a deeply disturbed man whose belief that hellish demons are watching him is only reinforced when other members of his Vietnam troop express the same feelings. Much of what Jacob sees would seem like the product of a bad LSD trip to just about anyone else. He is often found to act like a fool, in particular at a house party where he freaks out while watching Jezzie dance. Danny Aiello is a blast as his chiropractor, who serves as a source of great understanding and inspiration, and whom Jacob has called angelic on more than one occasion. Even Macaulay Culkin, used sparingly here, serves his purpose well.

“Jacob’s Ladder” at times feels an awful lot like a “Hellraiser” movie. Perhaps not so ironic is that “Hellraiser: Inferno,” the fifth film in that series, features a plot that greatly resembles that of “Jacob’s Ladder.” In “Hellraiser: Inferno,” a 2000 direct-to-video release, another man has trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy, trying desperately to find someone willing to believe him, and returning to his old family home. Both movies take measures to keep the audience in the dark concerning the truth of what they are witnessing, neither one with as great a payoff as they deserve, but “Jacob’s Ladder” does a somewhat better job of masking what is real.

I had gone a long time without seeing this great movie. Coming in, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, other than the fact that Jacob would be having a hard time reconciling the difference between reality and imagination. Indeed, even the audience is left wondering up until the climax just what the hell is going on. Jacob will wind up with two explanations for his plight, both of which are not only true, but also correlated. I’m revealing that much outright because I want to express my opinion that just one of those explanations is absolutely necessary. You’ll know which one that is by the time you hear it. The other one, it seems, is more about politics than actual storytelling (and indeed a reference is made during the end credits).

  1. vinnieh says:

    Interesting review, the visuals in this are really creepy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s