I chose to place Jacob’s Ladder (1990, dir. Adrian Lyne) on my Blindspot Series list as I’d always heard people saying things to the effect of, “This film is a ripoff of Jacob’s Ladder“, or “That ending was pretty similar to Jacob’s Ladder except…”, et cetera. Having never seen the film, I always felt in the dark about that comparison. I decided to pop this one on the list to see what exactly Jacob’s Ladder is all about, and to perhaps be able to compare it to other films in future like everyone else seems to do. It goes without saying that this one has a pretty interesting twist ending, which I won’t spoil for you if you haven’t seen it yet!
Jacob’s Ladder is a psychological thriller with horror elements, but thankfully little to no jump scares. It tells the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), who has returned from his time serving in the Vietnam War and works as a postman. Over time, and whilst mourning the death of his son, Jacob begins to see horrific visions that are strangely integrated into his daily life. Each of these visions appear symbolic to him, and he sets out to discover why they are happening.
I was expecting Jacob’s Ladder to be a lot scarier than it really is. However, this is much better than merely being scary – it’s deeply disturbing and affecting. Setting aside the actual plot of the film, it’s easy to make comparisons between Jacob’s war experience and his hallucinations, and the post-traumatic stress experience of soldiers who return from war. Initially viewing the film through that lens, before knowing how the film ends and certain plot details, gives the film a whole different layer to consider; which is impressive, considering that there are probably a million ways to interpret this film. Jacob’s Ladder confronts ideas of hell and heaven, conspiracies regarding government and war, and the ways that different people compartmentalise trauma. I would say that it’s definitely worth rewatching if you’ve only seen it once, and I look forward to doing so, now that I know how it all ends.
I don’t know much about Tim Robbins other than The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Mystic River (2003), but he is amazing in this. Which sounds about right, since he is equally amazing in Shawshank and Mystic River. There are regular moments in this film where Jacob wakes up from dreams where he sees his deceased son alive and well, and the way that Robbins plays these is so heartbreaking. The way that Robbins is able to so fluidly move between the disturbing aspects of the film (for example, being confronted by a sinister administration clerk with horns), and the deeply emotionally affecting moments, is kind of stunning. As previously mentioned, I expected Jacob’s Ladder to be a straight-up horror film, so to have these moments with such emotional clarity was really surprising. I was also surprised to see George Costanza, I mean, Jason Alexander, and Macaulay Culkin in this film as well. Tim Robbins is the star of the whole thing, however, in providing the leadership for the whole tone of the film.
Creatively Jacob’s Ladder is also quite amazing. If you do any kind of Google image search for this, you’ll see some screenshots of some truly creepy practical effects, which is probably what the film is best known for. Sometimes practical effects and prosthetics in films from the 90s can look so cheesy and fake, but in this they are sparingly enough that their shock value remains fresh throughout. The direction by Adrian Lyne is such that the camera feels as if it’s constantly moving, making sure that just like Jacob, the viewers are also on unsteady feet, unsure of where the film will take you next. One scene at a party is the perfect example of this kind of direction plus the use of practical effects working together to create a truly unsettling atmosphere – cutting away from two dancers where one appears to not be entirely human, giving the viewer brief flashes of something horrific but allowing our imagination to do its worst.
A multilayered and disturbing film, Jacob’s Ladder will make you sit and think about life for about ten minutes after the credits start rolling. This is a film that isn’t referred to in popular culture much, but crops up now and again, particularly in reference to a particular type of twist ending; which, it has to be said, I wasn’t able to pick from the beginning. Tim Robbins is great in this, with his emotion expression a particular highlight. Jacob’s Ladder is a good example of a film where all aspects of its production seem to just work. Direction, acting, creepiness, storytelling – the whole thing is quite excellent.
Watch the trailer here.
Nice review. It disturbed me when I watched it. This role helped catapult Tim Robbins career. I thought it was creepy and awesome.
Thanks heaps Cindy! 🙂 Tim Robbins was so great in this.
Excellent post, this is one disturbing movie. Especially that scene when he’s being wheeled through the hospital.
Thanks Vinnie! Yeah, that scene was so creepy and disturbing. Great use of practical effects though!
I had nightmares for ages after watching it.
Oh god that scene was really weird. The faceless nurse, too. *shudders*
That nurses scene is creepy as hell, just something about their robotic movements and stifled breaths really creeps me out.
Just in general a real creepy movie. That hospital scene is frightening.
Yeah it really is. One of the worst parts of the movie for me. That, and the bizarre opening.
Real nightmare inducing stuff.
Great review, you really relayed the best aspects of the film here and gave it praise for the right reasons. It was complex but not hard to understand, as long as you keep watching to the end.
Thanks so much Michael! It’s not too tough to understand but there are so many layers to the film that would make rewatching the film a really interesting experience.
I didn’t know a thing about Jacob’s Ladder before I read your post, you’ve definitely got me intrigued it sounds like a great film!
You should definitely give it a watch, it’s a good one! 😀
This is such an incredible movie. Your review of it is incredible, couldn’t agree with you more!
Totally agree with you Mel, an incredible movie.
It really is so haunting. It definitely stands out as one of the best movies of it’s genre.
Haunting and yet very poignant.by the way, have you seen my blogs you should follow posts?
I did! Love the idea! You’re so supportive of the community. I commented on the first one. I saw the second but still have to read it 🙂
I love supporting the community after everything it’s given me. The second one has some outstanding blogs.
Thanks so much Mel! 😀
This is one of those films I know I should watch, but since I already knew the twist I hadn’t bothered. But your review was really good so I probably should try and watch it.
You should definitely give it a go! Knowing the twist will probably make the whole thing really obvious. But it really is a great film.
[…] Anna watched JACOB’S LADDER […]
One of my favourite films; so dark and thought-provoking. Adrian Lyne can create the right atmosphere every time, and that’s a talent. I am a fan of ‘Unfaithful’, ‘Indecent Proposal’ and ‘9 and a half weeks’.
I actually had no idea that Adrian Lyne directed those films! Makes a lot of sense though, given his expert handling of tone and atmosphere.
You’re right – EVERYONE talks about Jacob’s Ladder, a film which I’ve not yet seen…but should.
I agree that Tim Robbins is a terrific actor. He’s always believable and never fails to give you your money’s worth.
You definitely should! Just to see what everyone else is talking about and to enjoy the twist!
Great Post, Anna – thanks for resurrecting this forgotten gem.
As soon as Jacob saw th palm-reader, I’d worked out th twist.
This was made at th time when Tim Robbins was going to be th Next Best Thing.
Have u ever seen The Player (1992: 1 of Robbins’ finest) – a movie about movie-making (u’ll love it!)
Oh yeah, looking back, it would be easy to tell from the palm reader moment. Plus there were some other winks and nods as well. But for some the reason I still didn’t pick it! But now I can finally understand everyone’s references to the ending. Never seen The Player, but I will pop it on the list! 🙂
So glad you’ve seen this Anna, this movie just really strikes a nerve. I can’t think of too many experiences like this.