Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jacob's Ladder (movie)
Jacob's Ladder is a 1990 thriller film directed by Adrian Lyne based on a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin. The film appears to be a variation on Ambrose Bierceís 1886 short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge , which was made into a short film in 1961, and later popularized as a 1964 episode of the television show, The Twilight Zone.
The time is October, 1971 and Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is an American soldier in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Helicopters pass overhead, spraying a strange mist over the treetops. Without any warning, Jacob's unit is ambushed and the soldiers try to take cover. But something is seriously wrong. The battalion begins to exhibit strange behavior for no apparent reason. Jacob tries to escape the unexplained insanity, only to be stabbed with a bayoneted rifle by an unseen enemy.
The film shifts back and forth between Vietnam, to Jacob's memories of his son Gabriel and former wife Sarah, to his present relationship with a woman named Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena) in New York. During this time, Jacob faces several threats to his life. It is revealed that his son Gabriel was hit by a car and killed before Jacob went to Vietnam.
As the hallucinatory experiences become more and more bizarre, Jacob learns about chemical experiments performed on U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Michael Newman claims to have been a chemist working with the Army's Chemical Warfare division in Saigon. His project worked on creating a drug that increased aggression in soldiers. Human tests of the drug (code-named "ladder") were given to a group of Vietcong POWs and later, to Jacob's unit. However, instead of targeting the enemy, Jacob's battalion killed each other.
Jacob's friend and chiropractor Louis (played by Danny Aiello) states the main thematic point of the film: in effect, hell is really purgatory, and those who are ready to let go of their lives do not find the experience 'hellish'.
We learn that Jacob never made it out of Vietnam; the entire series of experiences turns out to have been a dying hallucination. Whether veridical or otherwise, Jacob's experiences appear to be a form of purgation in which he releases himself from his earthly attachments, finally joining his dead son Gabriel to ascend a staircase toward a bright light.
At the end of the film, a message states that the U.S. Army allegedly experimented with a hallucinogenic drug called BZ, but the Pentagon denies it.
Tagline: The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer's nightmare is that he isn't dreaming.
- It is suggested occasionally that Louis may actually be an angel; if so, it is ironic (and probably deliberate) that he is the only central character who does not have a Biblical name.
- The film's surprise ending could be considered a predecessor of other "surprise ending" films. It may have inspired certain concepts in the survival horror series Silent Hill.
- Jacob's son Gabe is played by an uncredited Macaulay Culkin.
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