Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a New York City postman who is growing increasingly disturbed by his past experiences in the Vietnam War. And that's not all, his current life seems to be taking on a sinister edge as he sees mysterious faces everywhere, and is nearly run over by a subway train and an out of control car. He can't confide in his girlfriend Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña) and has no one to turn to until an old Army buddy contacts him with news that whatever is going on is happening to him too...
Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay for Jacob's Ladder was handed around Hollywood for a fairly long time before being made, securing a reputation as being one of the best unfilmed scripts, even being the subject of a magazine article to highlight its quality. Director Adrian Lyne had a record of hit movies, but seemed a strange choice for this tale of spiritual horror, and the film only became a cult success, nowhere near the scale of Flashdance or Fatal Attraction.
But it shouldn't be overlooked, as it really is something special. The world Jacob inhabits is constantly shifting, leaving him confused and afraid. The briefly glimpsed faces appear to come from beyond the living, and he begins to refer to the menacing forces around him as demons; in the memorable party scene, his girlfriend looks like she is being sexually assaulted by some huge monster, triggering one of Jacob's fits.
The plot may play the "and then he woke up" card a little too often, but once you work out what is going on it's probably necessary. We are told many times, in no uncertain terms, what state Jacob is in, but there are a number of other points to be taken in, too, which leaves Jacob, and perhaps you, in a condition of disorientation. When the members of his army unit become involved, the film turns into a conspiracy thriller, with military experimentation taking centre stage. After all that, the ending is not so much a twist as a confirmation.
Jacob's Ladder may be a horror film in genre, but it's an unusual one: it's one of the few chillers that seek to reassure you, to tell you not to be scared. Louis, the chiropractor (Danny Aiello), holds the key when he tells Jacob about the angels and the devils. And the introduction of that conspiracy angle means that, although Jacob and his unit have committed a terrible act, they were not responsible and their sins are absolved. Robbins' perfectly judged, nice-guy performance holds the story together through its odd combination of flashiness and sorrow, and the film leaves you curiously at peace by the philosophical close. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Slick, commercial British director whose background in advertising always guarantees a glossy sheen to his films. Made his debut in 1980 with Foxes before scoring big hits with such films as Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, all of which were controversial at the time but now seem distinctly ordinary. More interesting are Lyne's less obviously commercial projects - the frightening, hallucinatory Jacob's Ladder, a sensitive adaptation of Lolita, and the relationship drama Unfaithful.
Bruce Joel Rubin's script may well have been considered unfilmable, but when you compare this film to Ghost (also scripted by him) I think the two are simliar in many ways. Ghost starts off with a death and the guy not realising he's dead and Jacob's Ladder does exactly the same, only takes a lot longer for the guy to realise his fate. Of course, Jacob's Ladder is brilliant and Ghost... well, that's where the similarity ends. In a parallel universe Swayze is Jacob and Tim Robins is Dirty Dancing. I'll shut up.
21 Aug 2003
Watching the DVD extras, I was surprised at how much Adrian Lyne had improved on Rubin's script, with innovations like the dead son and the less conventional demons (Rubin wanted blokes with horns scaring Jacob). Lyne did a great job here, I think.
26 Aug 2003
First he gives us 9 1/2 Weeks (wow!) and then Fatal Attraction (double wow!!). Not what you would call an inspiring CV, really. And then, out of nowhere, he comes up with a masterpiece like Jacob's Ladder, and promptly disappears into mediocrity with Indecent Proposal etc, again! What is going on Mr Lyne?
I have to admit that it took a couple of sittings to really get to grips with this film, mainly because i'm not too bright, and i'd worked out what was going on just as the film ended, thereby missing all the resonance of the story! And resonance is what this film has in spades. Resonance and darkness.
A review I read suggested that some of the truly nightmarish imagery was borrowed from the works of Francis Bacon and having done some research on said artist, i can see the connection. Obviously Lyne has the imagination to do stuff like this, so why are we still getting films like Unfaithful and pointless remakes of Lolita?
A superb one hit wonder.