on 7 July 2003
Reviewing this movie is a difficult task for it's very easy to spoil the movie for the reader, due to its nature. Therefore, I will try to focus my comments on the technical side rather than on the story.
Tim Robbins delivers a unique performance as Jacob (perhaps only comparable in his career to The Shawshank Redemption where he, however, needs to share the credit with Morgan Freeman), a Vietnam warrior who gets seriously wounded in combat and finds himself in a desperate struggle for life. And between life and death, heaven or hell, where does Jacob belong? That's something Jacob will have to find out for himself and that'll be the fight of his life.
Robbins is absolutely irreprehensible from start to end, and the rest of the cast includes other somewhat well known names like Eriq La Salle, Elisabeth Peña, Macaulay Culkin on one of his first roles (yeah, the Home Alone kid!) and even Jason Alexander from Seinfeld. The film is filled with symbolic meaning and that's one of its strenghts. Director Adrian Lyne did a really great job on that front as he was able to capture all that meaning, treating it well and presenting it to the reader in the most fascinating and yet subtle way. Not only that, this includes perhaps the very finest psychological horror I've ever seen (or should I say felt?) in my life.
This is perhaps one of the most underrated movies out there, but you know what? I think that adds something almost mystical to it. Get it on your DVD/Video player and see for yourself.
5 stars. No less.
"With fellow critics, I got involved in a conversation about the underlying reality of the film. Was it all a flashback - or a flash forward? What was real, and what was only in the hero's mind? Are even the apparently "real" sequences the product of his imagination?" Roger Ebert
My best friend urged me to view 'Jacob's Ladder' after we had discussed philosophies of life and death. I remembered reading about Jacob's Ladder from the Bible 'Jacob's vision in which he saw a stairway from earth to Heaven with angels descending and ascending.' Little did I realize that this film was the reality.
This film is not like anything I have ever seen. It is a viscerally frightening film that kept me on the edge of my seat. It opens with a scene in the Mekong Delta. Jacob Singer, as played by Tim Robbins and his squadron of soldiers are seen joking about human existence. Minutes later, all hell breaks loose, explosions, convulsions, and jerky hand-held camera movements. And, then we move to the subway where Jacob is reading Camus and frightening, exotic and dangerous events occur. Jacob works for the post office and this must be the anchor of his daily existence. Taking stock of Jacob's existence it seems. I sat right on the edge of my seat while viewing this film and feel this is an analogy for the film- right on the edge, between madness and sanity. Elizabeth Pena plays Jacob's girlfriend and is she the piece that holds sanity together? The film is really about coming to peace with one's life or death. What really happens during those last few moments of life? Once in your head, Jacob's Ladder is there for good.
Louis, Jacob's friend and doctor says it best: " Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they're not punishing you, he said. They're freeing your soul. So, if you're frightened of dying and... and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth."
Recommended. prisrob 06-14-13
on 6 July 2007
Definitely a cult classic of its genre, magnum opus of Adrian Lyne. But, I must warn that "Jacob's Ladder" is not for everyone, ideally suited for mature, patient and attentive viewers because, as being difficult to follow and hard to digest, it is not an easy pill to swallow. It gets more and more cracked and convoluted at every turn, but ultimately so much rewarding if you could sit through from beginning to end.
The plot is multi-layered, segueing from alternate "realities" to the odd bouts of hallucinations. First layer is Jacob's lurid experience in Vietnam, a sinister battle in Mekong Delta, where his guts were pierced by a deadly bayonet thrust by an unseen assailant; Then, his post-Nam NYC "life" comes with flashbacks showing the days with his girlfriend Jezzie, who is compelled to cope with his intermittent psychotic episodes and gradual mental degeneration; Suddenly, we cut to his pre-Nam days during which he lives happily with his ex-wife and kids. At one point he is visited by his dead son, and haunted by his death scene.
These phantasmagoric trips occur between the pre-Nam/post-Nam worlds and the viewer gets overwhelmingly baffled whether which of these worlds were real and which were fantasy. And in all these worlds, he incessantly struggles to battle his inner demons appearing everywhere in "outside" world. Is he slipping into insanity; are all these mess a result of being doped by a mind-altering drug, making the soldiers hyper-violent war machines during the battle; is there a conspiracy by government to silence him; is he alive or is he dead? What a mishmash... You would be bombarded with such questions, and some red herrings throughout the film.
In terms of technical aspects; masterful camerawork (virtually no computer-generated FX), bland color saturation, unconventional camera angles and ingenious direction by Lyne combine with all these blurred elements to create a haunting picture.
Although the ending seems to be dark and ambiguous, I think the film proves to be intellectually and logically complete. If you see this movie merely as a hapless man's ordeal on physical world, you have missed the main point and I recommend to watch again: look beyond the visuals, don't think the events on a linear time scale and pay a strict attention (especially talkings of Jacob's chiropractor, Dr. Louis) to the hints scattered throughout the movie.
Last word: haunting and mind-blowing. Not for casual movie-goers. Watch it alone in the dark... (4.5/5.0)
on 29 March 2005
..make sure that you get the full uncut 18 version, not the DVD 15 version that I was duped into getting because of false advertising. If you are unable to get the full version on DVD, just buy it on VHS. Believe me, it's worth it because there are multiple scenes which are cut from the DVD version.
on 18 March 2007
Beware, you could be in for a rough ride. If you choose to view this film as a horror story with a twist, then there are many other films in that genre that will shock you more - but what will really shock you is if you dare to get into the symbolism.
It's the story of a man seeing a life pass before his eyes, although not necessarily his own life in the conventional sense. It's said that we need to put our past behind us before we can move on, likewise, Jacob Singer has to do this but perhaps it's not his literal past but ashes of emotions and psychology scars that need to be abandoned.
Every scene drips with double-meanings; the heavy use of Judeo-Christian references: Jacob's ladder, a lover named Jezebel, being mugged by Santa Clause, etc.
It raises a question of what is real. The life we think we know is based on the choices we took and the roads we travelled but what of the infinite number of other realities filled with those other choices and those other roads? Are there other parts of us walking those roads? Even in this world we are conscious of the relativity of time, space and energy; we know that every moment can be brimful of space yet still filled with time, yet still filled with light and sound and memories. Many worlds co-exist and Singer moves between worlds.
Something has happened to Singer that we don't understand, he's in a place we don't recognise, but is it less real?
But, as dark and as grim as it gets, this film is ultimately one of hope and redemption. "You look like an angel", Singer says to his chiropractor, a chiropractor that straightens deeper knots than mere physical joints and tissues. And the chiropractor explains that the devils are just angels trying to free Singer from this world; a point that is almost thrown away on Singer and we viewers until in conclusion it becomes the whole point of the journey.
Watch it as a psychological thriller or as a piece of post-Vietnam nostagia if you wish BUT stare at mortality itself if you dare.
on 11 July 2011
I'm a big fan of Jacob's Ladder and have been ever since I saw the film during its initial release in cinemas. Some reviewers think it a shame that the film didn't perform well but that may have had to do with how closely it was compared with Ghost at the time, and critics generally didn't respond well to the big (or perhaps understated) reveal in the denouement. I prefer to celebrate this film as a well-kept secret for patient and adventurous cinephiles. It's hardly a pop-vehicle and any attempt to drum up that sort of mass interest just does it a disservice because its just not that type of film. I recently purchased the Blu-Ray version from Amazon.co.uk and I'm mega-pissed. From the get-go you can tell that it has been transferred from VHS as the opening titles swim on the screen (typical of VHS). I already have a VHS player and if I wanted a VHS copy I would have bought one. I was hoping for something remastered, crisp and clean, but what I got was a lazy-arsed transfer that is not worth the money paid. Do yourself a favour and don't follow my lead in buying this appalling transfer and maybe -just maybe - those greedy distributers will get the message (yeah, right!). Blu-Ray is Hi-Def gadgetry and it makes ZERO sense selling such inferior transfers - especially for a film like Jacob's Ladder that has a solid and very loyal following.
on 22 April 2001
Jacob Singer is on a journey to Hell, signposted from the onset, but maybe redemption can still be found. Jacob fought a fiery battle in Vietnam and struggles, day to day, with horrific nightmares that pursue him through the back alleys of New York but his questioning nature may prove to be his saving grace. Jacob was once a student of philosophy. Watch as his theoritical mind goes to war with an awful array of demons that emerge to rip his soul apart. Tim Robbins is simply brilliant as the postal worker, and former soldier, who emerges from Vietnam onto a terrible landscape inhabited by hellish creatures that threaten to tear apart his sanity. What is reality? What is really happening to Jacob? Enter this dark journey and accompany this sympathetic host!
Jacob's Ladder open's with New York postal worker Jacob Singer waking on a subway train having just experienced a nightmare flashback to his time in Vietnam. Upset and confused he tries to ask his fellow passengers if he has missed his stop but as he passes them he sees flashes of tails and horns in the uncommunicative people whom he approaches for help. Exiting the train he finds the stairs to the subway locked and on crossing the tracks he narrowly misses being hit by a train coming in the other direction and whilst lying on the track he witnesses yet more disturbing images as the train passes by. Unsure whether these images are real or as a result of some form of post traumatic stress disorder from his time in 'Nam, he struggles to keep his grip on sanity as his life becomes a nightmare, with his days punctuated by visions of demons, his first wife and his dead son. His life begins to unravel and the line between reality and delusion becomes ever more fragile.
This is, in my opinion, by far and away Adrian Lyne's best movie, which may surprise some people given the fact his CV includes big box office hits such as 9 ½ Weeks, Indecent Proposal and Fatal Attraction. His direction is subtle, considered, well-paced and as near as you'll get to perfect. The cinematography is also excellent and the use of special effects are relatively understated but effective, which is something that can rarely be said since the advent of CGI. As for Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay no praise is too high. It is intelligent, intricate and complex and it keeps you guessing until the end. In fact there is so much in this movie that second time around you'll find yourself picking up clues that you missed first time around and appreciate the cleverness and different levels of the story even more. Tim Robbins is excellent as Jacob, whom he succeeds in making a very sympathetic and vulnerable character, whose life literally becomes a nightmare. The supporting cast is excellent too with Elizabeth Pena (La Bamba, Rush Hour etc) and Danny Aiello (Leon, Do The Right Thing) in particular putting in notable performances. Jacob's Ladder also features supporting performances from Matt Craven (The Life of David Gale), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) and Eriq La Salle (ER).
I first saw Jacob's Ladder at the cinema when it first opened back in 1990. I had read an article about it in a magazine, which was complete with disturbing still photographs from the movie. The article was intriguing in that it said that the screenplay, written by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) had been doing the rounds in Hollywood for several years but that although everybody agreed it was an excellent screenplay it had been considered unfilmable until Director Adrian Lyne got hold of it. On the day before seeing 'Jacobs Ladder', for the first time, a review in the now defunct British newspaper 'Today' described it as a five star classic and I still remember watching it in the cinema on its opening night, transfixed by the story and disturbed by the images, whilst jumping out of my seat a few times. I have loved this movie ever since and have loaned out my old VHS copy many times since then but what still surprises me is that so few people seem to know this movie or have seen this movie, which to me seems like a crime.
Perhaps Jacobs Ladder's lack of box office success can be put down to it often being classified as a horror movie, which is to do it an enormous disservice. Sure there are elements of Jacob's Ladder that can be compared to the horror genre but it is so much more than that. Complex, downbeat but also spiritually uplifting it was perhaps too intelligent and too disturbing to achieve a mass appeal. However, it still amazes me and saddens me that real dross such as Vanilla Sky has many people waxing lyrical when something as good, sorry excellent as this slips by relatively unnoticed. Jacob's Ladder I would suggest is a superior forerunner to movies such as Vanilla Sky and even The Sixth Sense and I highly recommend it!
I enjoyed this film, a little old as today it would clearly be CGI enhanced the story stands out and the acting and cast is very good.
Problem is the the less you know going into the movie the better it is - so if you are inclined to watch it as it has great reviews - don't spoil it for yourself by trying to find out more and just watch it.
Be warned it is a little strange and you need to be able to immerse yourself into the plot.
5 star gem.
on 30 December 2010
The film itself is, in my opinion, excellent - I first saw it on release in 1990 and - as an impresionable 16-year old - it scared me half to death. Having now seen it again I find it to be a much more subtle film and even better than I remembered, although there is one scene (where part of Jacob's phone call to old army colleague is seen from the other character's point of view) that doesn't really work: 5 stars.
The blu-ray has good picture and audio quality - but NO extras. No deleted scenes and no commentary. Annoyingly these do exist on prevoiusly released DVDs of the film, but not on the blu-ray! And this is a film that I'm sure would have a good commentary, so boo to that - 3 stars for the blu-ray
Making, on average, 4 stars overall.