For Day 13, we have Jacob's Ladder, suggested by fellow filmmaker Roy Starkey. Jacob's Ladder was released in 1990, in a time when the Vietnam War still resonated with viewers. Directed by Adriane Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Flashdance), this film tells the story of a Vietnam war vet suffering from what seems to be PTSD.
Tim Robbins plays the lead role of Jacob Singer, several years before he takes on the iconic role of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. His performance in Jacob's Ladder is solid, and along with Elizabeth Pena's help, the two of them do a remarkable job of pulling us into this wicked and trippy film.
Jacob's Ladder opens with a flashback to the war, where we see Jacob's comrades get killed, and ends with him being gutted by a bayonet. We cut to the present where Jacob wakes up in a subway, in what seems to be a late night/mid-morning commute, with only a couple of other strange passengers in his car. One of these, a homeless man covered up in a coat, seems harmless, until Jacob notices a disturbing creature-like tail protruding from under the coat. This foreshadowing moment sets the stage for the rest of the film.
Jacob's Ladder, in the bible, refers to a ladder that Jacob saw, leading to Heaven. There are a lot of parallels drawn here, as we see Jacob Singer wrestle with the hallucinations he experiences. Are they real? Is he dead or dying? Or is he being tested? The cast of characters are expertly woven together to create a horrifying parable about life and death, and about our desire to hold onto this world.
I read somewhere that the special effects of this film were all done in film, with no post-production techniques applied. I find this to be very impressive and interesting. Roy, did you know about these techniques? We should do some experimentation ourselves.
Jacob's Ladder is a dark film, set in a uncomfortable atmosphere that drives a message about life and death. It stakes its claim as a psychological thriller using a war vet as its host, and with a rich cast of characters, we experience the duality of Jacob's Singer's life as he teeters between moments with his wife and family to those with his new lover, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena).
My rating? Personally, I wanted to like this film more than I did. Maybe it's the time period, and the outdated feel of the early 90s. Maybe it has to do with it being partly a war film, a genre that I'm not a big fan of. Or maybe it's just a bit more disturbing then I'll give it credit for. Still, it is a remarkable film, and one that I will likely appreciate even more upon additional viewings. But for now, I give this one 5 bits out of 8. (I admit, after watching the trailer again, I suspect my rating would climb later)
Thanks for the recommendation, Roy. I truly enjoyed the film, but you're right in that it leaves the viewers with a sense of dread, and lingers in our minds.