Monday, September 8, 2008

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Left underwhelmed by Fatal Attraction, I wasn't looking forward to more of Adrian Lyne's earlier work. Don't get me wrong, I have Flashdance days from time to time, but 9 1/2 Weeks and Indecent Proposal never appeared worth watching. Unfaithful is nothing short of a cinematic orgasm of genius but I had my mind made up on Jacob's Ladder. Not interested. Then I rented it. Then I watched it. Then I realized that I'm an idiot.

Tim Robbins plays a guy with a ladder. Actually, he's Jacob, a postman who used to be in 'Nam, has an ex-wife, a dead son, and likes to showers with Elizabeth Pena. That pretty much sums it up. Oh wait, he is also the sole possessor of one amazing haircut.

The narrative falls back and forth through several streams of reality. There's what seem to be Vietnam flashbacks, flashbacks with his wife and kids, and his present life with Pena. Coming home from work one night, Jacob witnesses a subway train full of faceless beings. This, combined with his wartime memories, has left the letter sorter, to use a clinical term: fucked up.

An old army buddy shows up and starts talking about these demons and that he's going to hell. This inspires an "Our Boys" reunion. The whole gang's there. Ving Rhames. Eriq La Salle. A couple of nameless white guys. Trouble is, I could have sworn most of them died in the opening scene of the movie. They start talking about government conspiracies. They start talking about demons. Jason Alexander shows up. It's a real mess.

The film's most impressive aspect are its special effects. According to the world's second most reliable information source, IMDB Trivia, all of the special effects were filmed live with no post-production. The world's most reliable information source, Wikipedia, backs this up with a description of a fast motion body horror technique. The technique results in me peeing a little out of fear. If more filmmakers had utilized this anti-CGI style, a lot less 90s films would be considered so dated today. They can't all be Jurassic Park, gentlemen.

Lyne also handles the less over-the-top tensional scenes in an equally effective manner. Tim Golden wrote in his Variety article, "Up 'Jacob's Ladder' and into the Hell of a Veteran's Psyche" about the director's ability to stay true to his own style while coming up with news ways to keep the auidence wriggling in their chairs.

"True to fans of his earlier films, Mr. Lyne remains fascinated in "Jacob's Ladder" by the lines between sex and violence, sensuality and gore, comfort and vulnerability. He looks for tension in everything from a morning shave to the way a shyster lawyer chomps his ice cubes, and his camera fixes everywhere from the spinning wheel of a hospital gurney to between the legs of a car-driving Government agent."

Jacob's Ladder really impressed me. It's diffictult to understand why more people don't talk about this film. I'd heard the title before, often grouped together with other 90s thrillers, in the same vein as Extreme Measures and Malice. Neither of those films can hold a candle to Ladder's disjointed narrative, impressive filmic techniques, and overall complexity. Has anyone seen this before? I can't be the only one impressed by Jacob's Ladder. If you've seen it, let me know what you think.

Five things I learned from
Jacob's Ladder:
1. Lyne takes a little dramatic license concerning the dangers of a 106 fever.
2. Macaulay Culkin did make a pre-Home Alone film besides Uncle Buck.
3. The wonky-eyed guy is named Pruitt Taylor Vince and his wonkiness is caused by a condition called nystagmus.
4. It isn't possible to write about this movie without mentioning Elizabeth Pena dancefloor-fucking a giant devil creature complete with wings and tail to Abba's 'Voulez vous.'
5. Tropic Thunder doesn't really capture the horrors of Vietnam War the way I thought it did.


Ross Williams said...

I'm surprised more people don't talk about this film as well. And I'm surprised you haven't seen it before. A really great, trippy war-drama, with an unforgettable ending. It's been a few years since I've seen it, but I watched it a few times back in the day. Definitely recommended to anyone who hasn't seen it.

What I Watched Last Night

Lunatone said...

Pruitt Taylor Vince was in one very creepy episode of The X-Files, as Whitney may have told you.

Also, Amanda has nystagmus.

elgringo said...

Whitney said that he kidnaps Sculley and tries to give her a lobotomy to get rid of her 'demons.'

I remember him as the wonky-eyed fellow in Identity. John Cusack! YAY!

Thomas Pluck said...

This is one of the best recent psychological horrors made, if not one of the best. The visions are just terrifying and bizarre, and they still look real, unlike 90s CG crapfests.