Wednesday, January 30, 2013
(November 1990, U.S.)
Adrian Lyne's JACOB'S LADDER is a great psychological horror thriller, one that holds a proud place in my film collection, but I swear to you, the timing of it's release back in 1990 could not have been more poorly timed in relationship to what I was going through at the time if it had deliberately tried! The film is an ongoing nightmare into one man's world of life, death, angels and demons. It centers around Vietnam veteran Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins), whose experiences both prior to and during the war have resulted in strange flashbacks and bizarre hallucinations that continue to haunt him in his everyday life. There are also extreme moments of fear, paranoid isolation and lonliness that I was (tragically) able to relate to at that particular time of my life.
But more about me a little later.
JACOB's LADDER is of a man's apparant existence following his duty during the Vietnam War. As the viewer of one's nightmare, we don't know, nor are we meant to know which world of his is the correct one. The film alternates between two worlds where Jacob is happy at home with his wife and three sons (the youngest, Gabe, played by an uncredited, pre-HOME ALONE Macaulay Culkin) and living a life of joyous sexual pleasure with his live-in girlfriend, Jezzie (played by Elizabeth Peña), also a co-worker at the local post office. By all accounts, we may or may not be aware that these two alternate realities are Jacob's flashes of life in his mind as he struggles to survive a bayonet wound in Vietnam. As the alterations of his mind play out on the screen, each life slowly becomes clear to us. The relationship with Jezzie represent the very real sexual fantasy that every man experiences in life (or some version of it). The other side of his mind remains committed to what is most important in home, family and stability. But again, are we witnessing a man's real life or some twisted version of it in his own mind? The images and sequences are truly terrifying to watch, but even more intruiging is that we, as the viewer, are never given the opportunity to focus on any of the terror for very long. These moments are merely flashes to wet our appetites for the possibility of what lies in Hell, a place where Jacob and his other U.S. Army buddies are convinced they're headed. Even when there are more viable expanations provided with the implementation of a mind-altering drug secretly used in the officer's food supply, we must still remember that even such possible facts are very likely the ones played out in a man's mind as he struggles to hold onto life...maybe.
It should be noted that the terrifying story elements of JACOB'S LADDER should be considered responsible for other shocking film endings that turn out to take place in the minds of people, living or dead; films like THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), THE OTHERS (2001) and IDENTITY (2003). And while the likes of Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger may be what scares the living daylights out of most horror film lovers, it's the fear and the unknown that make JACOB'S LADDER one of the scariest, most haunting films I've ever seen.
Now let's get back to me. I've stated numerous times what an incredibly bad year 1990 was for me (the WORST of my life!). I've also stated that my ongoing temporary relief from my pains was going to the movies. Seeing JACOB'S LADDER (again, a great film!) was hardly the solution for my troubles at the time, though. One early sequence in particular that comes to mind and memory are the empty subway trains traveling through the disgusting bowels of the city late at night which conjour up my own thoughts of lonely subway rides between Brooklyn and Manhattan while I was in college. Jacob Singer lives in Brooklyn in the 1970s and each and every shot of the borough makes it look like a real shithole! I lived in Brooklyn in 1990 and I felt the same way about it (I still do!). Jacob is a man truly scared of his own life and where it may or may not be headed and I was feeling the same way, too. Despite his family, friends and girlfriend, Jacob feels extreme lonliness everyday...ditto for me, too. Jacob has continuous nightmares. I was having my own share of them, too. When I went to see this film on a cold night in November, I came out of the neighborhood movie theater feeling as if my guts had just been ripped out with a spoon. I went home to a large, empty house in Great Neck (Jacob does the same thing in the film just before he dies) and stood under a hot shower for a long time to try and calm myself down. Yes, people, it's very true that a film can be that effective on a person's life and emotions if it's succeeded in touching the right nerve. It touched mine and it took me a while to get over it. It was a thoroughly dark, depressing and painful experience to watch on screen, but still a powerful film, nonetheless.
Anyway, I feel much better now. Thanks.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Louis Denardo: "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 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."