Writer Bruce Joel Rubin and director Adrian Lyne are both better known for other things, namely Ghost and Fatal Attraction, respectively, but they share this incredible film together, a psychological horror movie that influenced (alongside Kindergarten Cop) the Silent Hill series.
Tim Robbins plays Jacob, a Vietnam War veteran who’s returned home to a wife and job at the post office. He struggles to put memories of combat behind him, while unearthing those of his prior family. Memories are central to this movie, as Jacob begins hallucinating all manner of demonic presence into his life, that which reminds him of a potential military conspiracy.
While all that sounds complicated and strange, the journey may take that shape, but the movie is actually about something else, and that’s death. (Spoiler alert): While PTSD and altered states are important themes, the driving force is guilt. Jacob is, in reality, dying in Vietnam, having never returned home, and struggles with the guilt over his son that’s keeping him from a peaceful rest.
So it’s a twist movie, for sure, and the ending reframes all the crazy David Lynch stuff from the whole of the story. A movie like Shutter Island would’ve been a better short film, as it offers the same structure, but Jacob’s Ladder has content, and its character study isn’t so limited.
As with The Fountain, the journey to accepting death is an extremely personal one, and Jacob’s is wrenching, but ultimately bittersweet. It’s an experience movie, but like with Children of Men or Strange Days, it is also very intense, so for horror fans, it’s familiar territory, but for those who enjoy dramas, there’s that barrier.