“Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam War veteran attempts to uncover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusions, and perceptions of death.”

Director: Adrian Lyne
Writers: Bruce Joel Rubin
Staring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, Jason Alexander, Patricia Kalember
Release Date: November 2, 1990
Streaming: HBO MAX

Jacob’s Ladder has a movie poster that I have seen since I was a kid. Whenever I traveled to the DVD store with my family I would see the haunted face of Jacob (Tim Robbins) staring at my from the aisles. It is a good thing I didn’t watch Jacob’s Ladder as a kid because it would have flown over my head, but with that being said, my personal enjoyment of the movie may not have wavered too much from then and now.

I was personally a little surprised when I opened up the IMDB and Rotten Tomato pages and saw Jacob’s Latter with the high praise that it received. The story illuminates the trauma and what post-traumatic stress disorder can do. The audience sees multiple different timelines and is left determining which one is real and which one is not. In the end, it is the most meta possibility for which of the story arcs is the realist.

Spoiler alert for a 21-year-old movie. Jacob is dying/dead the entire time. The truest of the timelines is when Jacob was stabbed in the jungle in Vietnam by his own man. Jacob never made it home. He was killed by his own man in Vietnam, symbolic of how many thought America’s own government stabbed the soldiers of Vietnam in the back by sending them to war in the first place.

Jacob’s Ladder is about PTSD and purgatory, how one floats in the middle and tries to make sense his own demise. Tim Robbins, playing Jacob as the lead has a lot to carry, transferring to and from different mindscapes, settings, and tones. His performance is good, starting off at a very high point but eventually devolving a bit as the movie goes on. The first sequence with the train is haunting and genuinely suspenseful. As the movie goes on, Robbins’ performance is overshadowed by the mystery, which takes away from what makes the movie so strong.

There is an actress who steals the show, and her name is Elizabeth Pena. Playing the fictitious girlfriend Jezzie, Pena is absorbing and incredibly sexy. It is not because she is half naked half the time, but more so because she has eyes that would scare an attacking lion. Her glare or sultry glances are excellent, as are her bombastic exchanges with Jacob.

The shape of Jacob’s Ladder is directed by Adrian Lyne, who is a name many may recognize. Besides Jacob’s Ladder, there is Flashdance (1983), Fatal Attraction (1987) and Indecent Proposal  (1993). If you have seen those movies, then you know that a dark mood and color tone is the norm.

Overall, Jacob’s Ladder is coherently structured and competently made. The story puts its symbolic story at the forefront, but its strengths are in its performances and the actors are eventually overpowered by the message rather than continuously being used as the vessels. Credit to Jacob’s Ladder for telling the story of PTSD in a unique way, but the crazy twist and turns hinder a more personal story compared to an overarching one.

STANKO RATING: C (2.5/5 Stars)

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