Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Drama, Horror, Mystery
Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Matt Craven
Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam vet attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of disassociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death.
  • 02 Nov 1990 Released:
  • 14 Sep 2010 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Bruce Joel Rubin Writer:
  • Adrian Lyne Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles:



Trailer:

The grandfather of "rubber reality" films10/10
The film begins with Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) and his platoon in Vietnam. When they're suddenly attacked, it's chaos, and the platoon appear to be the victims of some kind of chemical warfare. Jacob is stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet. Suddenly, without explanation, we see Jacob back in New York City. He's returned home from the war and he's trying to get his life back on track, but he keeps having odd experiences, seeing odd, frightening people, and having close calls with death. He cannot tell "dreams" from reality. What happened to him in Vietnam?

Jacob's Ladder is the grandfather of the "rubber reality" films that became so popular throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. The films with the most direct influence from Jacob's Ladder have appeared more recently-- Memento (2000), Mulholland Dr. (2001), The I Inside (2003), and The Butterfly Effect (2004). Less obvious, but also strongly influenced are films such as Abre los ojos (1997)/Vanilla Sky (2001), eXistenZ (1999), The Thirteenth Floor (1999) and The Matrix (1999), as well as films where the "rubber reality" is usually played more straight, such as The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Others (2001).

Of course, like any artwork, Jacob's Ladder has its precursors, too, such as the short story by Ambrose Bierce called "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", which was originally published in 1891 and later used as a basis of a silent film called The Spy (1929), and then a French short entitled La Riviere du hibou (literally "The River of the Owl"), the latter also airing as an episode of "The Twilight Zone" (1959). There is a very strong religious/mythical allegory running throughout the film--seen in everything from the Judeo/Christian nature of the character's names and the title of the film itself to character interests, as Jacob begins extensively studying demonology, the occult and so forth in an attempt to figure out what is happening to him. We are also treated to subtle connections with other works, such as philosopher Albert Camus' novel L'Etranger ("The Stranger"), which Jacob is reading in the film when we first see him on the subway, and there are many at least subtle stylistic and content precursors, such as Altered States (1980).

In light of the subsequent instantiations of the film's brand of rubberizing reality, as well as the more purely stylistic elements that have been used to often excellent effect in later films, such as the hyper kinetic figural motion that found its way into William Malone's films House on Haunted Hill (1999) and Fear dot Com (2002), Jacob's Ladder may seem relatively transparent or even tame. It's certainly easier to reach an interpretation for this than for a film like Mulholland Dr., where director David Lynch is purposefully obfuscatory. Still, Jacob's Ladder is one of the better films of its kind. Director Adrian Lyne achieved a continually offsetting creepiness that is rarely matched, and some scenes--such as the gurney journey through the increasingly dilapidated hospital corridors, could not possibly be topped.

Seen in the context of Lyne's other films Jacob's Ladder is all the more surprising, as the bulk of his career has been focused on hyper sensual and sexy dramas and thrillers--such as 9 1/2 Weeks (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), Indecent Proposal (1993), Lolita (1997) and Unfaithful (2002). Jacob's Ladder has its share of eroticism, however, mostly through the gorgeous and impassioned Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena), even though her most heated moment has her appropriately fraternizing with a demon.

Lyne's relatively straightforward approach to the film's elastic ontology, especially in conjunction with his tendency to be forthcoming and thorough in explaining his view of the plot (a predilection shared by scriptwriter Bruce Joel Rubin) may be unfortunate in that there is an interpretation of Jacob's Ladder accepted by a vast majority as the "right answer". That's a shame because there are countless possible readings of this material; differing views on everything from the general crux to the smallest minutiae. Part of the inherent beauty of the film is that any scene or set of scenes may equally be taken as the "real events", and any of the dialogue may be taken as providing clues to your preferred interpretation.

Robbins' performance is important to the film in that he is the focal point of almost every scene and has to convincingly play a vast range of emotions; he does so with finesse. The rest of the cast is noteworthy, even though their questionable nature gives them a lot of leeway in terms of verisimilitude and consistency.

But the real driving force that makes Jacob's Ladder such a success is its eeriness. This is a horror film after all, both on psychological and more apparent supernatural levels. Lyne continually and disconcertingly pulls the rug from beneath not only Jacob, but the audience as well, yet manages to never make a viewer feel lost, instead producing an eagerness to solve the "mystery" while you root for Jacob.
A film that sports technicality, a fresh plot, incredible editing and immersive characters5/10
Jacobs Ladder is one of those rare films that throws you and your mind about like a ragdoll before giving you a bitter conclusion that turns everything upside down again. Forget Donnie Darko, that was mere childs play, this film is something else. Jacobs Ladder provides an experience so intimidating, brutal, wonderful and beautiful unparalleled to this day. This is something you have never seen or experienced before in film, and will probably never experience again.

Jacob Singer is a postal worker, who, through the brutal effects of Vietnam, mentally breaks down, and starts seeing demons following him, killing his friends, raping his wife...... Make no mistake, Jacobs Ladder is a grim film but behind its dark mask lies an uplifting message of hope, freedom and mental release. I wont say anymore, because spoiling the plot for you would be extremely horrible of me, who am i to take away the magic of seeing the film from you.

I'm not going to say that this is accessible to everyone, its not in the least. If your favourite film is American Pie than turn away, this is REAL film making. A lot of people will not like this, because they will expect, like with most films, to have all the answers served to them on a plate. Jacobs Ladder requires the viewer to do the thinking, letting them have their own perceptions of the film rather then being fed that of the directors. If you do choose to go on Jacobs journey with him be warned, it wont always be pretty, but you will come out of it gratified that for once in film you have the freedom to think for yourself.
A visual masterpiece of horror and conspiracy.8/10

This is easily one of Adrian Lyne's best films. Tim Robbins is excellent and the visual affects were just awesome. I saw this movie for the first time in the theatre and it blew me away. I've seen it many times after that, purely for the visuals that were done so well. The plot twists and turns as it spirals downward slowly revealing the truth and keeps you guessing all the way to the surprising ending. This is a dark, violent, beautiful movie that I recommend to all people who love horror, and just a smart story that will keep you in suspense until the very end.
More to be felt through than thought through.5/10

After reading several reviews on this film I thought I would add my two cents. This remains one of my favorite movies and I never hesitate to take in another viewing. A lot of people seem to be noting the loose script and story elements as the film's weaknesses, going so far as to call it messy and incoherent. The fact that even after seeing it several times there's still some mystery in it, still some ambiguity as to the possible meanings to all of the things that go on with Jacob, is what I find most appealing. It's not a film like the Sixth Sense where all of the pieces fall into place at just the right time and you know exactly where you stand. It's something rather that is left to the imagination of the viewer, a rare thing when audiences en mass want clear cut explanations and easy answers (hence the success of Sixth Sense, a great film in it's own right, but the complete opposite of this one).

The visuals are incredible and highly influential. The techniques used in this film have since been overused and distilled throughout various horror movies and music videos, but without ever coming close to the power of the original, which presents some of the most psychologically terrifying images ever to appear on screen. I think it's hard to come to this movie for the first time today and experience it the way you could have eleven years ago, when these type of images had yet to be seen and were exposed to completely unsuspecting audiences. The best way to see this movie is with absolutely no knowledge of it beforehand.

The mood is perfect. The acting is great, the dialogue is outstanding. Danny Aielo explaining to Jacob about angels and demons still moves me to this date and the two simple words suddenly spoken to a disbelieving Jacob from some unseen source while in the Asylum scene still terrify like no other movie can. Also this may be the Home Alone kid's best film.

The extra scenes on the DVD range from average to terrifying, including the omitted "antidote" scene, something I'm glad I didn't see when I was younger because it might have scarred me for life :). Also there is a perplexing and scary scene omitted at the end where Jacob confronts Jezebel. There is alot of digital grain in some of the shots. I would like to see a better quality DVD put out for this one, but I'll take what I can get with the added scenes.

See this movie then see it again and then see it three years later. Don't over-analyze and worry if some of it doesn't make sense, after all it's not all supposed to.


Way before Shyamalan came on board, Adrian Lyne had blown the collective consciousness!5/10

One "reviewer" here wrote (I presume) in all seriousness "Like a bad dream - impossible to understand!" That being the case, I can only describe his subsequent attempt to compile a review as "gutsy" in the extreme.


I believe JACOB'S LADDER is one of the 10 best films ever made. It is NOT impossible to understand...you merely have to listen and interpret! For those without the ability to effect the latter...just listen! Danny Aiello's character, Louis the chiropracter lays it out for you - word for word. I think it is the best part Aiello ever had, small one though it is in terms of screen time. Integral to a collective grasp of this great and disturbing film however is the need to tie-in the relationship between Jacob the individual, the biblical "Jacob's Ladder" itself and the relevance of "The Ladder" as explained (and seemingly forgotten by most everybody) by the runty chemical weapons boffin at the near conclusion of the film.

To those who view the ending as "rushed," "unsatisfying," "obscure" even "dumb" as I recall, I would merely suggest you watch it again and take into account the likelihood is, that it is in fact YOU that has missed what has been so cleverly set out for you. SIGNS was equally misunderstood by the majority of people that even liked it - there never WERE any aliens!

JACOB'S LADDER is Robbins' greatest film - Lyne's too. The last few minutes are amongst the most emotional and uplifting scenes I have ever seen since the "star child" in 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. Culkin was the perfect choice!

I saw this movie in a near deserted theater in Times Square the week it came out. At the conclusion of this particular late show I noticed an old man sitting some two rows away to my left, absorbed in his thoughts. Having to walk past him to gain the exit I noticed tears in his eyes. He looked up as I approached. After studying me for a moment all he said to me was "You understood didn't you?" I said, "Yes I understood!" He replied softly..."You're very lucky!"