Adrian Lyne’s movie is hard to watch. It concentrates on a Vietnam War veteran who likely has PTSD. He suffers from nightmares, war-flashbacks and starts to see demonic forms around him more and more often. He is losing his mind. One of his war-buddies reach out to tell him, he’s also suffering from the same visions. With insane and terrifying hallucinations along the way, we begin to realize something happened on that day back in ‘Nam. They all know, but nobody speaks, until… someone breaks the silence.
It is a miracle the movie had been made at all. Paramount dropped it because they didn’t believe in its possible success at the box office. They asked the screenwriter (Bruce Joel Rubin) and the director (Adrian Lyne) to change the ending otherwise it won’t come out. Lyne and Rubin said, no. Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna gave them a 25 million budget and complete creative control of making. This happened in 1990. As I said, it is a miracle this movie exists.
Jacob’s Ladder is a slow-burn film, sometimes it seems to stall, but you can always sense its strong message behind the images. It never loses its focus. The script is very well written, masterfully structured and the second half makes us think what can, and what cannot be real. Packed with craziness and abstract hallucinations. It’s quite disturbing we don’t exactly know what is going on, but we have assumptions. We can imagine what could have happened, what caused this whole surreal nightmare, and at the end, it delivers some answers, if not all. Not necessarily as we expected them, but I think of that as a positive.
In the process of designing the creatures, Lyne was hugely inspired by Joel-Peter Witkin’s photography. If we have a look at his work we can clearly understand why. Some of his ideas are sort of mixtures of vicious, biblical beings recreated as humanlike monsters. No wonder why was the film a major inspiration for the early Silent Hill games (if you look closely, you can find a few easter eggs in the games such as the “Bergen Street station”).
Lyne’s film simultaneously speaks about grief, PTSD, and the cruel truth about the Vietnam War (those flashbacks are memorable, heavy scenes). The interesting part is, that the script was radically different at certain points, and it was truly benefitted of the director’s interpretation. Tim Robbins delivers a sensitive, fragile and moving performance along with other actors such as Macaulay Culkin as his child.
It’s not an easy movie. It goes into your head and never really settles, even if the end should bring you some closure and peace.