Jacob's Ladder (USA 1990)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Starring: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, Pruitt Taylor Vance, Jason Alexander, Patricia Kalember, Ving Rhames, Matt Craven, Macaulay Culkin

Music: Maurice Jarre

Cinematography: Jeffrey L.Kimball

Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin

In One Line: Vietnam veteran is plagued by visions of demons.


A platoon of American soldiers is attacked by a mysterious force in the Mekong Delta in 1971. Jacob Singer (Robbins) is bayoneted and is removed from the battle scene. He flits in and out of consciousness.

Jacob remembers a life with his former wife Sarah (Kalember) and his little boy Gabe.

1977 sees Jacob working as a postman in New York and living with his lover Jezebel. Jacob has visions of demons during a ride on the underground and he begins to experience all sorts of disturbing visions. Jacob also experiences sad memories of Gabe, who was killed when Jacob was serving in Vietnam.

Jacob's chiropractor Louis is also a gentle spiritual adviser. He postulates the theory that hell is in fact purgatory and can be experienced on earth by the unwary.

Jacob uncovers a government conspiracy and gathers the remnants of his fellow platoon survivors to relate their tales of unearthly visions. Although their lawyer (Alexander) gets scared when some shady government operators turn on the pressure, Jacob is informed of secret government drug tests by frightened former scientist Newman (Craven).

The men in Jacob's platoon had been used as unwitting guinea pigs to try out a new combat drug intended to make American soldiers more aggressive in battle.

Newman also tells Jacob that the experimental drug is very powerful and is capable of producing powerful hallucinations...


A splendid film. Director Lyne has made some rubbish in his time, notably the rubbish-with-no-redeeming-factors Flashdance, 9½ Weeks, Indecent Proposal, and the rubbish but enjoyable Fatal Attraction and Unfaithful.

Jacob's Ladder is a study in loss and a popular culture metaphysical treatise on the nature of life, death and the hereafter.

Robbins' encounter with the demons on the New York underground is genuinely unnerving, as is Jezebel's/Jezzie's transmogrification into a creature from hell.

Jacob's drifting from his boisterous working class postie environment to his intellectual middle-class world of brownstone apartments and pianos and wooden flooring needs a closer Marxist interpretation than that afforded here, but there's something 'rum' about screenwriter Rubin's fairly obvious disdain for the great unwashed.

Rubin and Lyne should have emphasised that Jacob is one of the best posties you'll ever meet - he doesn't re-post the mail, sling the Argos (Sears) catalogues over the walls of condemned houses or steal the coins and notes from the American equivalent of the Magpie Christmas Appeal.

Aiello is good as a chiropractor with guardian angel/St Peter qualities and it's always good to see Jason Alexander in anything. Best of all is Oliver Hardy-lookalike actor Pruitt Taylor Vance as Jacob's crazed /frightened army buddy Paul.

Admittedly the ending is probably too sentimental for some (heartless bastards), but if you're in the right mood and after a few light ales, you might find that there world's gone strangely Dusty.

Oh and a fabulous and moving use of the old song 'Sonny Boy'.