Review: Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

jacob's ladder

Yet another reason why I’ve never done drugs!

Written By: Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed By: Adrian Lyne

When Jacob’s Ladder had finished I wasn’t sure if the journey had been worth it. That’s not an indication that Jacob’s Ladder is anything less than a well-made film. All the same, I’m not sure if the “it was a dream,” ending can stack up against the opening “nightmare journey in someone’s head.” I don’t believe those two can coexist, and that leaves that interpretation out of the mix. I’d also wager that the ending of Jacob’s Ladder removes much of the initial interpretive jaunts. I viewed that ending as relatively concrete, a definitive statement on Jacob Singer and his fate. What I’m struggling with is reconciling the ending of the film with the nightmare fueled first half of the film.

There’s no easy answer to the battle taking place in my head. I loved the nightmare first half of Jacob’s Ladder, and I appreciate the end of the film. Love versus appreciation, which do I value more, or can I love the beginning and appreciate the ending of the film at the same time? I can do that, but I’m not sure if I want to, or if the film warrants such a decision. I’m really not sure where my feelings will fall on Jacob’s Ladder, and truth be told they could wind up being completely different tomorrow and different again the day after that.

The first half of Jacob’s Ladder kind of floored me. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a film bring me into a nightmare that dour and sad. Jacob’s Ladder isn’t sad in the usual manipulative manner of the majority of films. This is a film that is sad because of the lack of hope and the hurdles in the path of a man’s happiness. The ending is cathartic, but it’s also sad in a “what could have been” approach. However, the nightmare approach of the first half of the film is sad on a level that I haven’t come across too often in film.

Those who know me shouldn’t be surprised that the interpretive nature of the first half excited me so much. I dig the hell out of nightmare dreamscapes that can be interpreted any number of ways. Very early on there is a scene in the movie that tipped me off as to what Jacob’s ultimate fate most likely would be. However, Bruce Joel Rubin’s script then did a fine job of convincing me I was wrong and sending my mind off on numerous rabbit hunts. The end didn’t completely erase the interpretive nature of the first half, but it did dampen some of the fun I had with the first half.

Jacob’s Ladder is a horror film worth watching. I’m not sure if I can ascribe an actual quantitative rating to the film. Even as I write this last paragraph I’m debating my feelings towards the film. I know I did enjoy the experience of watching the film. I left the film impressed with the practical effects, the application of the horror elements, the acting of Tim Robbins, and the way the film washed over me like I imagine a bad trip would feel like. Jacob’s Ladder is an endeavor, one that left me thinking, and that’s a quality I always welcome in a film.



Bill Thompson


2 responses to “Review: Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

  1. Great review, this movie is so trippy. Tim Robbins was so good in this and the visuals were so creepy.

  2. It is indeed quite trippy, but with a purpose I found.

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