Jacob's Ladder
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Jacob's Ladder



Sometimes it takes awhile for an audience to really get the point being made by a film maker. Perhaps it a matter of his methodology being in the vanguard of innovative cinema or just a case of being released at the wrong time for audiences to comprehend the message contained in a film. One film that seems to fit in this category is ‘Jacob's Ladder’. It’ has been around now for twenty years continuing to bewildered audiences. In this instance there was a lot wrong or at least overly confusing and ambiguous in the basis story that frequently occludes the underlying message. It a shame since conceptually the film is intriguing but ultimately collapses under the weight of its own gravitas and pretention. It is not all that uncommon for a flick to attempt to mess with your mind. The thing is this is an exceptionally difficult type of movie to make eluding even the best film makers around. In a case such as this even when the end result misses the mark you have to admire the audacity found in the attempt. It’s a case of overreaching to be sure but as the Grateful Dead once noted; "what a long, strange trip it’s been’. Just in case you have wondered if a better format of presentation would help convey additional understanding there is now a high definition Blu-ray edition available to at least give you the best possible audio and video. As in the past the interpretation and understanding is completely up to the audience. If nothing else just bring this movie out during a little friendly get together that is fading. After your friends watch it just sit back and have a drink as they argue over the finer cinematic points or the deeper meaning of the movie. This ploy does extremely well if you have any self proclaimed polymaths in the group. Sometimes a confusing movie is only that; a confusing movie and this one certainly qualifies.

There are a couple of factors that have permitted this film to stay around for two decades; under all the confusion there is a strong, proven development team. The writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, is best known for his script for ‘Ghost’ and eventually would go on to writing ‘My Life’, ‘Deep Impact’ and ‘The Time Traveler's Wife’. As you might notice there are a couple of dominant threads that run through his works. Rubin has concentrated on the effect that life and death situations have on relationships. He can take a basic relationship plot and twist it until; you view it from a completely unexpected vantage point. With Jacob’s Ladder’ he was still relatively new to his craft and had yet to refine his command of the delicate nuances required to make such an approach successful. As the central plot point he did choose an aspect of the Bible that is open to more than the usual controversy and heated debate. For those who skipped out on theocratic studies Jacob had a vision of angles going up and down between heaven and earth on what became known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder. For this story the Jacob in question is Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) a psychologically fragile Vietnam veteran. The film begins with the first of many flashbacks were Jacobs is witnessing a battle in the Mekong Delta. His platoon is coming under heavy fire when helicopters appear overhead and everyone in his unit begins to act completely irrational. The memory concludes with a bayonet stabbing into his body. Normally even under the best of circumstances handling two timelines ids difficult enough but here the focal point of the story shifts between Vietnam to the present (1975) where Jacob is married to his wife Sarah (Patricia Kalember) with whom he has a son, Gabe (Macaulay Culkin). Eventually he discovers that even what he sees as reality is a hallucination as Gabe had been killed in a car accident before he went to Vietnam. There are a couple of people pulled in to try to help Jacob face these changing perceptions. There is his friend and chiropractor, Louis (Danny Aiello) and the woman he is in an odd relationship with, Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña). Jacob is contacted by someone from his old unit and learns that others from that battle have been experiencing increasingly frightening visions.

The director of this film is a well known name in the corner of cinema where limits are tested; Adrian Lyne. He doesn’t have the longest list of credits but each one of his films created a stir upon their release. He is drawn to movies where morality is put to an extreme test typically following a person’s reaction to the most bizarre circumstances possible. Among his controversial faire are such movies as ‘Lolita’, ‘Indecent Proposal’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and 9 ½ Weeks’. While the final product fails to fully come together there are many aspects of it that demonstrate the cinematic innovations that made Lyne such a creative force. He did a lot with his camera that pushed the limits of movie making. For example there is a famous scene of a head vibrating. Now this would be accomplish with computer graphics but Lyne used a practical effect approach film at 4fps to create the eerie effect. As usual for a film by Lyne there was a lot of reported give and take between him and his writer. Perhaps this contributed to the lack of focus in the final shooting script. The film has always been visually interesting and this Blu-ray edition brings the experience to new heights but cannot fully make up for the story.

Posted 09/20/2010

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