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Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Rated R

Starring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, and Danny Aiello

Rating:
****
out of
*****

To label Jacob's Ladder as a horror film does it an immense disservice. Jacob's Ladder is a psychological/philosophical thriller/drama. How's that for a label? Actually, it still doesn't do the film justice.

The film takes place in the early 1970's and tells the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), who was wounded in Vietnam. Recently divorced, Jacob now lives with his girlfriend, Jezebel (Elizabeth Peña), who feels threatened when Jacob thinks of his previous marriage and his son, who was killed when hit by a car several years before.

Inexplicably, strange things start happening to Jacob. He starts seeing strange creatures amongst the already strange inhabitants of New York City. His war buddies start dying in unusual "accidents." Jacob is worried that he may be losing his mind and no one seems to understand how he feels, including himself.

From out of nowhere, a man informs Jacob that he was part of an experiment involving a mind-altering drug during his time in Vietnam. His unknowing subjection to the drug may be causing all of the "hallucinations." But, things are going beyond simple hallucinations and Jacob's beginning to come unhinged in a big way.

Robbins does an excellent job as Jacob. He's awkward, emotional and very seriously troubled by the events that take place. His performance allows the viewer to sympathize with him and his feelings of loss and hurt. Peña's performance is sexually charged and quite good.

Director Adrian Lyne, responsible for Fatal Attraction, and screenwriter Bruce Joel-Rubin, responsible for Ghost, manage to create a world from which there appears no escape. The increasing paranoia and loss of hope that begins to overcome Jacob Singer become almost palpable. It's an unnerving experience, but if you're a fan of films that promise to deliver such a thing, it's great to have one finally do it.

The only flaw to Jacob's Ladder is that it is a tad confusing on the first viewing. When I originally saw the film in 1990, I thought I understood it, but my friend didn't. I ended up explaining it to her, but then I wasn't sure of the explanation myself. We talked about the movie for weeks afterward, which is a sign that the movie did something.

It's a film that is likely to provoke your thoughts on perception and life and death. It's not a film for everyone, but if you think a movie that can be called a psychological/philosophical thriller/drama will appeal to you, then check it out.

Trivia: Macaulay Culkin, who went on to fame in the atrocious Home Alone series, appears in flashbacks as Jacob's dead son, Gabriel. His name does not appear in the credits. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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