November 5, 1990 -- ``Jacob's Ladder'' is a troubling and chaotic film about a man who can't tell fantasy from reality.
Tim Robbins, better known for his comedy roles in films like ``Bull Durham,'' steps out of that genre for an almost unbelievably heavy drama, along with Elizabeth Pena (Down and Out in Beverly Hills) and the fine character actor Danny Aiello (The Purple Rose of Cairo).
This is a disturbing movie, full of painful visions, seemingly the story of a man slowly losing his mind, or as Aiello, playing an angelic chiropractor tells Robbins in the film, he may be suffering from, ``demons tearing away your flesh.''
Nine-tenths of the way through the film we are sure that Robbins is either:
1. A man who is losing his mind.
2. A man who is being tormented by demons.
3. A man who is being tormented by drug-induced hallucinations.
There are a lot of red herrings in the film to obscure the truth. Only at the very end of the film do we find out what the real truth is, and even then, some people are confused by the film.
I thought the message of the film was quite clear and the last scenes are quite revealing. Everything is explained in a satisfying manner, but you have to think about the rest of the film in terms of the final scene. I saw the film at the Nov. 3 late show and the theater was packed. There was a collective groan from the audience at the end of the final scene.
Obviously, most people wanted a different ending. The typical Hollywood ending is tied up in a much prettier bow. This is not a happy film or a light film or a simple film. It is packed with powerful images, rich symbolism, reverberating with multiple meanings.
There is a long line of films with similar themes to ``Jacobs Ladder'' dating back to the 1919 classic, ``The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.''
``Jacobs Ladder'' stacks up well in comparison to those films. This is a well-made film with excellent performances by Robbins, Pena and Aiello. The photography and editing are first rate, but the special effects are a little on the cheap side.
I suspect the main problems that most people will have with this film is that it is unsettling and will cause emotional discomfort for some, also, it is more complex and demands more from the viewer than a typical film. Audiences have grown accustomed to passive entertainment from made-for-television movies, and Hollywood films are being influenced more and more by television. This film stands apart from all of that. It is tougher and smarter.
If you are planning to see this film be ready to pay close attention to it and you will also have to think about it after its over if you are going to understand it. Be prepared to be challenged. This is not like television. It is not junk food for the mind.
On a scale of one to 10, this film rates a seven.
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