Jacob's Ladder

Year 1990

Tim Robbins as  Jacob Singer
Elizabeth Peņa   as Jezzie
Danny Aiello as Louis
Director - Adrian Lyne
Screenwriter - Bruce Joel Rubin  

This is a wonderfully complex movie that, despite the clues as to what's going on, will have you wondering and watching until the end. That can't be said of many movies.

I watched the interview with the screenwriter and he indicated that the whole idea came from a dream he had. Maybe H.P. Lovecraft, a Master Dreamer, had it right regarding the importance of dreams.

For some reason, the director also caught the bug that was the writer's vision because each scene is masterful. Masterful. Really. Like David Fincher of Fight Club Adrian Lynne gets it right nearly every time. The images are frightening, visceral, and sensual. How about a glimpse at a passed out drunk on a train who has a prehensile tail that looks like a giant penis?

The movie appears to take place in two time periods. Period one is in Vietnam and period two is in the United States post Vietnam.

I say appears because that's what this movie is all about - appearances. Is Vietnam real? Is post-military civilian life real?

I can't say too much, because you should watch this and let the layers peel back for you of their own accord. The topic being dealt with, little by little, is very important. I've never seen a movie tackle this subject so poignantly. It's been done before, but never so bleakly. Yet, there is a reward at the end, so don't let the downward spiral of Jacob make you think that there's not a purpose behind it.

But, what is the purpose? It's not giving anything away to tell you that troops in Vietnam were exposed to chemicals manufactured in the U.S.A. In this instance, the writer uses a chemical called BZ, which exists, and speculates what might have happened if this had been deliberately given to troops without their knowledge. What would be the short term and long term effects? Constant flashbacks? Demons in every day life?

Tim Robbins plays the main character, the one to whom Jacob's Ladder refers. He's actually servicable in this role. His inability to really act allows the character to sleep walk in his role with only brief excursions into screaming and crying.

Elizabeth Peņa is tremendous in her multi-faceted role. Who is she really? Lover? Mother? Sadist? The things this woman did in the movie were unconscionable, like the burning of Jacob's pictures. But then in another scene, instead of being a tormenter she became a selfless giver as she saved Jacob's life when he had a fever. What was her motivation?

Louis (Danny Aiello) has the answers. Jacob senses this and even comments on it, but uses symbols instead of facts.

If there's one down side to this movie other than the bleak circumstances surrounding Jacob's life, it's that, at nearly two hours, it's too short. I'm not talking about a missing back story or underdeveloped characters because those rules don't hold here. For example, in the scenes where Jacob's army buddies just show up, their unheralded appearance makes sense within the universe of the story, so these types of scenes don't need to be expanded.

I'm talking about the scenes that relate to Jacob's growth of spirit. I saw three of the deleted scenes that came with the DVD I purchased. They are all worth watching and each adds another facet to the complex life that is Jacob Singer's.

Why weren't they included? Supposedly one of the scenes was so unnerving that it left test audiences "catatonic". They were probably just "thinking" which is something people don't do much of anymore. Or maybe, the majority of people never do it.

But even that wouldn't have been enough. In the trailer, there are at least two scenes that aren't in the movie and aren't part of the list of deleted scenes. In Jacob's mail truck, a bag jerks of its own volition. This movie was long before Audition, but it's the same effect.

Then there's the scene in the closed subway station. In the trailer, Jacob walks in on two men doing something. In the movie, that scene isn't shown.

This movie is not uplifting despite its message of hope. There are too many moments of isolation. How about a scene where, after being thrown from a car and in pain in a gutter, a Salvation Army style Santa rolls Jacob and takes his last photograph of his dead son in the process? Can it get any worse? Ask Louis and he'll tell you that it's not what happens, it's how you look at the events.

I can't remember if there was any blasphemy. Elizabeth Peņa is topless in one scene but her lack of any bust makes the scene less than arousing. There's symbology up the wazoo. There are some good lines, but I'm afraid of mentioning them because they might give something away. Chick flick potential is poor overall, but there are a couple of scenes that might appeal to women.

Definitely check this out provided that you have no suicidal tendencies. It's that moving of an experience.

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