Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

June 22, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

Dealing with government abuse and eerie hallucinations, Jacob’s Ladder is a complex piece about a bad trip created by the mind alone. Director Adrian Lyne grips audience with the mystery of the story and gets under our skin with the visual terror of Jacob’s imagination. When the mind enters a dark place, reality is the nightmare.

This “rubber reality” film was influenced by a perfect short story entitled “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge” by the great Ambrose Bierce, and is the film that influenced the Silent Hill videogames. Lyne conjures up some intensely eerie scenes that come straight from the darkest depths of our imaginations.  We are looking through the filter of Jacob’s mind, as we are taken back to the horrors of Vietnam, and experience hallucinations of the dead and surreal creatures interacting with reality. Lyne does an amazing job of building a foreboding atmosphere of dread that sometimes it can asphyxiate the viewers.

Tim Robbins takes on the title role of the Vietnam Veteran, Jacob, who is having trouble dealing with the horrors of war, coping with death of his son, and grasping reality. He is the focal point of the entire film, and he weaves in and out of various emotions with finesse. Jacob descends into the depths of his mind that he starts seeing demonic figures interacting with those around him, and he can’t seem to shake the hallucinations. What he goes through is a on-going nightmare that, like any other nightmare, is impossible to put in a box and label. The rest of the cast does a solid job, especially Danny Aiello in his small supporting role as Louis, Jacob’s friend and chiropractor.

Jacob’s Ladder is a descent into the personal horrors that are birthed by the mind, and especially its play on death and the unknown of what’s beyond it. The other terror comes from the very real concept of how ruthless and emotionless our government can be in treating its people with no regard for them being human. The film plays with our tangible fears in a way that makes them linger in our minds well after the credits role.

Potential Drawbacks:

It’s definitely not a pleasant movie, and it never really lets up, so those looking for something easy to watch, this film isn’t a good choice. The style of the film, as it goes into flashbacks often, might put off some viewers that may find it pretentious. Some may find the editing and plotting of the story to messy too watch.

Film Recommendations:

The Shining
The Orphanage
Mulholland Drive


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