Jacob’s Ladder, Blu-ray (1990/2010)
Starring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, Jason Alexander
Studio: Studio Canal/Lionsgate [9/14/10]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Commentary track by Director Adrian Lyne, “Making Of” featurette, Deleted scenes, Theatrical trailer
Length: 116 minutes
I avoided this film when it first was in theaters because I erroneously thought it was a horror movie. It’s not; it is a disturbing psychological thriller of great originality, with thrilling acting from both Robbins and Pena. While it can’t really be categorized as a Vietnam movie, it has an unusual tie-in to that war. I guess I would be guilty of spoiling if I explained what many viewers have found confusing about this film, but I’ll do my best.
Jacob Singer is a Vietnam vet worked as a mailman though he has some sort of advanced degree. He is one of those many PTSD-afflicted vets, and his terrible nightmares have begun spilling over into his waking hours. The director explains in the very well-done featurette that his idea for the film derived from a dream he had in which he got off the NYC subway at his usual stop but all the exits were completely locked and he had to get to another station by stumbling in the dark over the dangerous tracks. This is the first of Jacob’s many other-worldly and eventually demonic experiences that is shown. Director Lyne also explains that all the special effects were done in-camera; he and his cinematographer found very creative ways to portray the demons afflicting Jacob.
He eventually comes to suspect that the Army did something dastardly to him and his fellow platoon members in Vietnam. They get together and even secure a lawyer to handle their case. But the lawyer quickly cuts them off, obviously leaned on by government authorities who don’t want the truth out. And his fellow vets also back out. He is pursued by various baddies trying to kill him. He is also miserable over the earlier death of his young son in a bicycle accident. His few happy moments seem to be with his current lover, played by the spirited and sexy Pena. This relationship has replaced a previous one with his former wife and son before the son was killed. He also has a fine relationship with his chiropractor played by Danny Aiello, who offers Jacob advice in addition to adjustments. Jacob keeps telling him how he has a cherub-like appearance when he’s looking down at him.
The non-linear plot thickens as both Jacob’s former VA psychiatrist and a fellow vet with similar nightmares are killed when their cars blow up. Although Jacob hooks up with the young chemist responsible for both the original psychedelic drug and its antidote, the antidote fails to work and his demonic vision multiply. Hope it doesn’t spoil everything, but I couldn’t help being reminded of the Ambrose Bierce short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek.” Another reviewer said it ends on the darkest possible note, but I can’t agree – though it certainly can’t be called a “fun movie.”
A very moving portrayal of a vet’s descent into hell, and well worth repeated viewings to catch details you might have missed the previous time. You might find yourself thinking about this film long after seeing it; a quality that only a few films have. The Blu-ray holds up much better in the many dark scenes than standard DVD would do visually. And the surround track is occasionally creatively used, such as the echoey environment where the chemist goes thru a long explanation about the drug experiment carried out on Jacob’s platoon. The deleted scenes do explain more of the plot, but the editor is probably correct in saying they proved too much for the test audiences and were finally edited out.
– John Sunier