My favourite movies are the ones that I can’t forget. Jacob’s Ladder is one of those movies. Disturbing on many levels, it engages all the senses and challenges our thinking in a way that few movies can. Jacob’s Ladder starts out on 6 October 1971 in the Mekong Delta. Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is just coming out of the jungle where his fellow soldiers tease him for his many trips he takes that day to relieve himself. They all share in a good laugh and then all hell breaks loose. Someone spots incoming fire and the soldiers set to work fighting the enemy. Our first clue that something is terribly wrong with this scene is that one of the soldiers; Paul (Pruitt Taylor Vince) watches with a stunned expression his fellow soldiers fighting but never once lifts his gun or seems to fear the enemy. Another of the soldiers starts convulsive, blood spewing from his mouth for no apparent reason. From this gruesome scene we cut to Jacob in a mailman’s suit riding a subway in New York City. He’s fallen asleep and when he awakens, he asks an unresponsive woman where they are. Confused, Jacob leaves the subway train and tries to find his way out of the tunnel but finds the exit is fenced off. Crossing the tracks, Jacob is almost run down by a train and sees a demonic face in the back window as it speeds away.
From this point on, we know that Jacob is definitely not in Kansas any more. Jacob goes home to his girlfriend Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña) where he hopes to find peace, but even as he sleeps he dreams of his ex-wife and his three sons. We learn through Jacob’s dreams that one of his sons (Macaulay Culkin) was run over by a truck while crossing the street on his bicycle. Pretty soon, we don’t know what is real in Jake’s life, as people at parties including his girlfriend turn into demons.
Throughout his strange life, one ray of hope shines for Jacob and that’s his chiropractor Louis (Danny Aiello). Jacob tells Louis that he looks like an angel because of a lamp that shines behind the doctor. Louis serves in the role of guardian angel by rescuing Jacob from the hell of a mental ward he finds himself in after he escapes two men who beat him up apparently over something to do with his time in the military.
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The surface plot of this movie is the exploration of that day in the Mekong Delta. The men of Jacob’s company find him and tell of similar demonic experiences they are having, but it’s the subplot that is the real jolt of this movie and want make is so unforgettable. This is a movie you must see more than once to truly appreciate the masterful job Adrian Lyne had in directing and the equally powerful writing Bruce Joel Rubin has done. Tim Robbins brings the character of Jacob to life in an unparalleled performance.