November 2, 1990
Bruce Joel Rubin
Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer
Elizabeth Peña as Jezzie
Danny Aiello as Louis
Matt Craven as Michael
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Paul
Jacobs Ladder drops us in the middle of the Vietnam war with Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), our protagonist. He is shooting the breeze with his fellow soldiers when they suddenly come under attack. The chaos quickly turns into horror as several of the soldiers start acting rather peculiar, screaming about pains and some even becoming completely unresponsive. After being stabbed with a Bayonet, Jacob wakes in a New York Subway Train and his life starts to unravel with visions of demons and Hell. As Jacob digs deeper into why he has been experiencing these hallucinations, friends and others close to him are being killed off mysteriously.
The hallucinations are just the start of Jacob’s struggle to separate reality and fiction, however, the same goes for the audience. Jacobs Ladder deliberately withholds information in such a way that we are left unable to reason the differences between the two worlds Jacob lives in, guiding us with promises of answers and explanations, but even when we are given bits of information, it is done in such a way that it leaves us scratching our heads. For Jacobs Ladder to truly satisfy our curiosity, it has to throw us under the bus. This film is the prime example of unpredictability while remaining tasteful.
When we really get into the meat and potatoes of the film, the editing becomes the weapon of choice. There are no cross fades or blurry filters to warn of what is a dream or hallucination. Even when it is all said and done there is still uncertainty as to what really happened.
A great treat of Jacobs Ladder is the visuals, and no better sequence exemplifies this more than Jacob’s trip to Hell. Being whisked away on a stretcher, the imagery surrounding him becomes more frightening and bizarre. Psychotics, deformed human beings, severed limbs, a man who’s head shakes wildly in an almost surreal fashion (something that has become sort of a cliché since), and the infamous shot of the eyeless doctor holding a syringe filled with unnamed chemicals. The director’s vision of demons and hell strays from the common Judeo-Christian idea, making it all the more unfamiliar and terrifying.
As years pass Jacobs Ladder becomes more archaic to those familiar with it, a sort of charm is lost as many of its inventions become over used, but putting it in context, there is no doubt of why this film is considered one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made. The performances, the direction, the story, and the execution are flawless. This film represents why horror movies are loved so much; creativity and ingenuity being experienced by millions on a visual medium of entertainment.