Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Predictability Of The Last Dream: Jacob’s Ladder

The Good: Some genuinely horrifying images, Decent acting, Interesting story
The Bad: Very predictable plot, Characters are hard to get into
The Basics: As a man wanders through the world that has suddenly become filled by nightmares, the viewer watched and enjoys watching Jacob's twisted journey.

Jacob’s Ladder is a movie I recall seeing previews for on television when I was still too young to go to see rated R movies in the theater and I somehow managed to never get around to seeing it until I bought my new television. I decided for the inaugural movie on my high definition television, I would pick up and watch Jacob’s Ladder finally and overall, I am quite glad I did.

Reading the back of the DVD case, however, is enough to almost ruin the supposed surprise twist of the end of the movie. In truth, fans of psychological horror or most fans of science fiction (the good stuff) will see the end to Jacob’s Ladder coming a mile away. Even so, I found myself enjoying the movie even though it went in exactly the direction I knew it was headed.

Jacob Singer, a Vietnam veteran, lives in New York City where he begins to suddenly experience waking nightmares. He has anxiety attacks, then sees faceless beings, demons, and even his son, who died years before. Unfortunately for Jacob, his reality continues to fracture and he finds himself waking up with his ex-wife Sarah and alternately waking up with his new mistress Jezebel. As his week goes on, Jacob finds himself plagued by greater and more horrifying demons and finding other veterans in a similar predicament.

Jacob’s Ladder is essentially a character study without any real significant character development. More than being about Jacob, the film is an exploration of the situation Jacob finds himself in. Ultimately, his decisions do not matter and who he allies himself with becomes inconsequential. The movie is actually more of an experience about circumstances.

It's hard to discuss Jacob’s Ladder without giving away the end or the fundamental premise. It's a movie that you need to trust the reviewer you're reading to simply take their word for it. If I'm that reviewer for you, thank you. Jacob’s Ladder is not a rational movie and it's not supposed to be. It is supposed to be a movie that freaks you out. It does so not by creating a horrifying set of circumstances or some sort of twisted villain, but rather by placing a fairly normal guy in a recognizable world and then twisting reality around him.

So, Jacob Singer is never a terribly compelling character. But, in truth, the movie works because he is not interesting. Because he is pretty much the everyman, Jacob becomes far less important than the things that surround him. And because of what the movie is truly about, this makes the film work. If Jacob were more interesting, if he were a superhero who could do extraordinary things, it would gut this movie.

Jacob is ably played by Tim Robbins who does an excellent job playing befuddled. Half the time, Jacob does not understand what is going on or why. Tim Robbins adequately portrays that. Robbins falls back from giving a performance that rules the movie and instead lets the environment take over by keeping his acting on the side of understated. Again that works quite well for the movie. And when Robbins needs to strongly emote, as he does in the final moments of the movie, he's there to give the performance what it needs to work.

The movie's special effects are actually impressive, even now. They create a truly creepy mood and the photography and intensity of the visual images is memorable, even more than the story being told.

I give a lot of credit to director Adrian Lyne for Jacob’s Ladder. This movie hinges a lot on the director's vision and it asks a lot of its audience in terms of suspension of disbelief. Lyne pulls it off by taking a script that is not filled with impressive dialogue or interesting characters and creates a movie that effectively manipulates the mood of the viewers through frightening imagery and ideas. Lyne does what is required in order to make the movie work and that's extraordinary in this case.

Ultimately, without giving anything away, Jacob’s Ladder is best described as a dream or a nightmare that the viewer willingly subjects themselves to. We follow Jacob Singer through the nightmare his life has become and as we are simply along for the ride, we are able to immerse ourselves in the terrifying place he finds himself and enjoy being frightened by the imagery as Jacob falls apart.

For other films that bend reality in a similar way, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Sucker Punch


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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