A traumatized Vietnam war veteran finds out that his post-war life isn't what he believes it to be when he's attacked by horned creatures in the subway and his dead son comes to visit him.
Release Year: 1990
Rating: 7.5/10 (38,867 voted)
Critic's Score: 62/100
Stars: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello
New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Athough his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain.
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Eriq La Salle
S. Epatha Merkerson
The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer's nightmare is that he isn't dreaming.
Release Date: 2 November 1990
Filming Locations: New York, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $7,500,760
(4 November 1990)
Did You Know?
In the original screenplay, writer Bruce Joel Rubin had created a typical Biblical hell, complete with winged demons, cloven hoofed devils with horns, people with beaks and strange objects lying randomly around (director Adrian Lyne likens Rubin's vision to the work of Hieronymus Bosch). As with Rubin's general depiction of demons however, Lyne felt that such scenes could very easily make an audience laugh. As such, he decided to rewrite the scene of Jacob's descent into hell; ultimately coming up with the hospital sequence where Jacob is wheeled on a gurney into a metaphorical hell which becomes more and more grotesque as he moves.
To match the direction of movement, a shot of the Ford LTD racing around a corner has been flopped, but the license plate, which is now in reverse, is visible.
If you're frightened of dying, and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth.
The grandfather of "rubber reality" films
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
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
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.