Jacob’s Ladder is a supremely cool mind-fuck of a movie. It’s the kind of film where you’re never sure if any of the explanations you’re given are legitimate, whether or not what you’re seeing real, and, in the end, whether or not you’re actually real yourself. Badassery as its finest.
It’s based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce called “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.” For those of you who haven’t read the story, DO IT. It’s fantastic. It started a long trend that still continues to this day of a particular twist ending that I won’t give away, that if done right is the scariest possible ending you can find, and if done poorly seems like a cop-out. Fortunately, Jacob’s Ladder is practically flawless, and thus the ending… Well, it’s the kind where you throw up your arms afterwords and curse really loudly. Or, at least, I did. And even though I read the story first, and knew how all this would be resolved, it didn’t take away from the amazing, frightening visuals, which, I’m told, is based on the paintings of Francis Bacon, who left us with some disturbing works of people that look like they’re trapped in the worst kind of personal hell.
Which brings me to the story itself. Jacob is a Vietnam veteran who was wounded during the war. He’s hallucinating (or is he?) that he’s been stalked by demon-like figures, which might be:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Actual demons dragging him to hell
- The result of brain damage from an experimental drug
- Something way, way worse
Not that I’m trying to give anything away. Don’t worry, as you’ll find out rather quickly, every explanation you’re given is discarded after a weirder one takes its place, and so on… A strange, strange work from the man who previously brought you Flashdance. I know, right? Weird. This movie is basically the equivalent to a bad acid trip, but it doesn’t make it any less awesome. It’s depressing, unsettling, and something way worse I can’t really pin down, but how much fun can you really have only watching movies that make you feel good? It does what it set out to do, and has now made it into my top ten all-time movie. Watch it, it’s totally worth the misery.