"That's odd...According to this line, you're already dead."
Let me just start off by telling everyone that I can't efficiently review this film without giving away the ending. So if you haven't seen it, go away, watch it, and then come back. Okay.
Jacob's Ladder, in my opinion, was not only suspenseful and (obviously) entertaining, but it was considerably disturbing to me. It begins with a group of guys in Vietnam, joking around, busting each other's chops, what have you. Before we know it, they're being attacked. But in the mist of this ambush we see people really freaking out--crying out in agony "my head, my head", falling over, spontaneously bleeding, etc. We see our protagonist, Jacob, get bayoneted. Then it skips to what we assume is some years in the future, and Jake is awakening from his nightmarish vision, on a subway. He gets up and asks some creepy old lady where they are, but she just blankly stares at him. He sees some dude with a tail (or something...) and other weird shit while in the subway station. Let me speed up this synopsis here. Throughout the course of the film, Jacob sees some pretty weird ass stuff. This consists of demonic creatures with strange deformities, random people blankly staring, a car speeding down an ally way as if to run somebody down, and the most famous of all--people shaking their heads around. Let me tell you just how effing disturbing it is to see someone flailing their head around at an incomprehensible speed. Gives me the heebie jeebies. hehe. Also, there are a few biblical references. Jacob's girlfriend refers to "weird names" and Jacob quickly corrects her saying "they're biblical names". The demons almost remind us of those said to be in hell. Devilish horns, scales, tails, whatever. Anyway, we learn that Jacob has a wife (from whom he is divorced) and kids. One of his sons, we're told, had died before he went to 'Nam. Jacob is obviously still deeply troubled by it (who wouldn't be?) and we learn this after he has a sudden hallucination. After seeing countless disturbing images at a party and having to go home, our main character is sick and being taken care of by his beautiful yet insensitive bitch of a girlfriend. She takes his temperature, sees that he has a goddamned temp of 106, and decides to fucking put him in a bathtub full of ice. While everybody in the whole damn apartment complex comes up to check on him as he's being submerged in ice water (naked, in a bathtub full of ice, surrounded by your neighbours. aaaawkward..), this experience is suddenly interrupted by Jacob waking up in the middle of the night, with his ex wife again. We also see him talk to his children, even the one who has passed away. He is talking to his wife Sarah about having had "this dream that I was living with Jezzie. Ugh, what a nightmare." The couple shares a light hearted moment as he tells her he loves her. Only to wake up in that goddamned bathtub again. WTF?! This part kinda got to me. I seriously felt frustrated for the guy. It quite reminded me of the scene in Stephen King's 1408 when he gets out of the hotel room and moves on with his live, only to randomly appear back in the room again. Freaky shit man. Anyway, things like this keep happening--is Jake dreaming? Is he going insane? Is this really happening? We don't know. Jacob's chiropractor is very comforting to him, and seems to be the only character in the film who is genuinely concerned about the protagonist. Jake eventually meets with a guy who is having similar strange experiences (who was also in 'Nam). They chat at the local bar about their horrifying experiences, only for the guy's car to blow up as he is about to drive away. Jacob manages to get away unscathed, but is obviously disturbed by the incident. Later on in the film, we meet a character who introduces Jacob to the idea that the government had been testing some hardcore drugs on Americans at 'Nam, in order to make them fight more aggressively. To make this long story short, Jacob is taken to a hospital after an incident and we see him being wheeled down what may be the most disturbing hallway in cinematic history. We see crazy people, amputees, people crawling around on a floor, a woman breastfeeding a child (Oh I see you have a baby!...in an insane asylum...greeaat...), the gurney constantly wheeling over severed body parts and disembodied organs all while the wheel is squeaking menacingly, etc. They wheel him into what looks like an operating room, where the "doctors" explain to him that he's DEAD. WHAT?!
-That's not the end per se, there are a few scenes after that point, but that's where the WTF moment is. You see, Jake never made it out of Vietnam. When we view him being bayoneted, he dies.
There are so many things I love about this film--Tim Robbins' outstanding performance as the very likeable main character, the constant shifting from scenes of lightheartedness to scenes of incredible suspense, but mostly, the fact that this is so damned thought provoking. Throughout the film we're pretty clueless as to what's really happening and what's a hallucination. But the end makes it all clear--or does it?
There are so many things we've been told about those last moments you're alive--those split seconds you experience as you're dying. Some say your life flashes before you. Some say you begin to make your descent or ascent to the afterlife. But the one solid question this movie asks us is "what does the human psyche experience as it dies?" Once you hear the doctors tell Jacob that he's dead, your mind is immediately open to so many questions. Is Jacob in hell? Is he in limbo? But the most disturbing of all the questions--is this what happens when we die? Do we make our transition to the afterlife in a mind wrenching sense of horrific distorted reality? Do we simply suffer in the fact that we're not alive? Jacob says a few times throughout the movie, "I'm not dead?...I'm not dead..." This tortured soul constantly is reassuring himself that he isn't dead, only to realize that he is. Remember in the movie Signs when we learn that the dead mother started saying random gibberish before she died? She told someone to "swing away" and mentioned other things that seemingly made no sense whatsoever. These things ended up having significance later on in that film, but that's beside the point. The point is, does our mind rapidly deteriorate as we take our last breath? Do we all of a sudden go insane in our dying moment and then, just die? The freaky thing about this movie is that, (in my opinion anyways) the whole life we see Jacob lead after Vietnam--his relationship with Jezzie, the nice chiropractor, the guy who's death he witnessed, even the little things like the fever and the ice bath--all happened in the last millisecond this man experienced as his heart stopped beating. Absolutely disturbing, in my opinion.
All in all, this film was fantastic. It may be confusing at first, but after thinking about it or watching it a second time, it's a lot clearer, and things really add up. It's definitely a favourite of mine, and I really think anybody fascinated by death, psychology, the effects of war, whatever, should see it. Don't miss this one.