Sitting down to watch Jacob’s Ladder I was a little nervous. But not because the movie was scary or anything like that. No, the last time I watched Jacob’s LadderÂ (about thirteen years ago) was the first time in my life I ever touchedÂ a vagina. And after watching it again last night, I have some prettyÂ good insight into my demented skull. What a horrible movie to fingerÂ some stink! Oh well, when the opportunity presents itself… decisiveÂ action… gift horse’s mouth. Um, ahem, yeah… Since then it has beenÂ many more vaginas and (sadly) way more films, just thinking about Jacob’s Ladder is emotional for me… The above is just one of those “I’m just saying” paragraphs. Shut up.
The film is concerned with Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), a VietnamÂ vet who has some problems. Namely, he keeps seeing demons everywhere heÂ looks and more often than not, they are trying to kill him. ToldÂ through the heavy use of flashback and narrative displacement, as theÂ viewer you are never actually sure where Jacob is. Is he in hell, dead? Â Is he with his new girlfriend Jezzie? Is he back at home with hisÂ estranged wife? Is he bleeding to death on a helicopter in Vietnam? Â Jacob, who is living through all the craziness, is the least sure ofÂ all. The movie is heavy on religious themes (at one point Jacob callsÂ Danny Aiello an Angel–and then an over-stuffed cherub) and when thatÂ doesn’t scare you bad enough, it uses lots of quick cuts and loudÂ noises to spook you real good. Oh, and there’s a dead kid motif, too,Â and well, I just hate that. Also, it must be said that the constant useÂ of flashbacks, while I guess instrumental to the plot, left meÂ confused. Leaving viewers confused because a film is thought provokingÂ is one thing, and admirable. Leaving viewers confused because, well,Â the story is confusing, is lazy and a little insulting.
Still, the movie was sufficiently creepy for me not to hate itÂ (it’s a good watch) and for me to pay close attention, looking forÂ meaning. There isn’t any, but I looked regardless. Much like trying toÂ decipher Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin lyrics–there’s nothing there butÂ you’re stoned, so you try regardless. Also, I wanted to see what spookyÂ thing happened next. Many of the scenes were in fact well acted andÂ more often than not, well directed. In fact, the scenes without theÂ monster effects and the jump cuts and the spastically shaking headsÂ were the most effective to me. Like when Jake’s Lawyer (JasonÂ Alexander) tells him he doesn’t have a case. Or when Jake and JezzieÂ are just goofing around in bed. Strong acting. But over all, the filmÂ is basically a gigantic “so what?” Jacob’s Ladder takes itselfÂ far too seriously at every turn. I know, I know, I know it is aÂ thriller, but come on! Â Every moment of Jake’s waking life is filledÂ with existential terror? Bullshit, and besides, that’s my bag. Â Actually, to be fair, the majority of the movie is quite right on, itÂ is just the payoff at the end–the lazy payoff–that left suchÂ a bad taste in my mouth (it’s all a dream–I hate that). I’m flailingÂ about here because on the one hand I remember being really engaged as IÂ watched Ladder last night, but then on the other, thinkingÂ back after three hours sleep, the movie is pretty pointless. A good wayÂ for teenagers to creep themselves out, I guess, but not meaningfulÂ enough for adults to find any lasting value. Save for the artisticÂ aspects.
The production design and cinematography were intense in thisÂ film. First of all, the New York there were using was straight out of Midnight Cowboy, burnt, decrepit, bleak and gray, the New York of Taxi Driver. Â This was a hard place, to be sure, and the bland color saturation only added toÂ the coldness of the sets and the grimness of everyone’s mood. Â Especially Jake and Jezzie’s apartment, which contained no lamps, onlyÂ diffused light peeking in from behind closed curtains. The whole cityÂ felt like a morgue. True, there were too many jump cuts, black screensÂ and four-frame-per-second techniques employed for me to find it trulyÂ terrifying (when “horror/terror” becomes a trick of the camera, it isÂ exactly that–a trick), but early on there were some legitimatelyÂ upsetting moments. My favorite was quite early on when Jake is on theÂ subway and he sees a presumably homeless man asleep on a bench. As heÂ is getting off the train he looks and there is a big pinkÂ penis/tentacle thing contracting underneath the man. He does a doubleÂ take, and there it is again. Very cool. Also, when Jezzie’s eyesÂ suddenly go black, well, didn’t see it coming and it spooked me good. Â And made me horny, apparently.
Fatally, the plot is a mess. He’s being haunted by demons, OK,Â that’s cool, but what the hell does that have to do with Vietnam? It isÂ one of those unfortunate situations where the writer (the same guy whoÂ wrote Stuart Little 2) could only explain all the sick,Â convoluted shit by making it all a dream. And I hate that. It’s likeÂ pick one or the other, You don’t need to have a massive military coverÂ up (Jake and his Battalion were experimented on with uber-potentÂ hallucinogenic drugs) and have the whole demon/hell angle. OneÂ will suffice. What’s that? The drugs are making the men see demons? IÂ thought the drugs make the men hyper-violent? They do both? How in theÂ hell do you explain that? It’s just a dream before dying? Welcome toÂ the world, buddy. I feel strongly that the writer was just trying to beÂ as creepy as possible, throwing in every bit of hermetica and gloomyÂ lore he could get his hands on. Giving the deficiencies of the script,Â director Lyne and the actors did an admiral job. Too bad it means nothing.
DVD Note: There are some pretty “trippy” deleted scenes on the disk I got. With director’s commentary. Though he never says whyÂ he chose to omit them. Curiously, two of the three scenes take placeÂ right at the end and one is about eight minutes long. Jacob is givenÂ the “antidote,” which you would think would be a major plot point. It’sÂ not. One cool thing to look for is the giant eye. Creepy, like theÂ penis/tentacle in the beginning.