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Film: Jacob's Ladder
aka: Jacob S Ladder

Dream on.

Jacob's Ladder (1990) is a psychological thriller / horror film directed by Adrian Lyne, based on a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin. It stars Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, and Jason Alexander. Actor Macaulay Culkin appears briefly in an uncredited performance.

Jacob Singer isn't sure what's real anymore.

The nightmares he keeps having are tearing his life apart, one day at a time. They might be after-effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his term of military service in Vietnam. They might be the side-effects from a secret and illegal drug trial that he and his platoon were unknowingly exposed to. Or they may be a result of his own mind slipping into insanity from the trauma of his young son's death.

But there is one possibility that terrifies him, even though day by day it seems more and more likely. The demons and monsters he keeps seeing- out of the corner of his eye, hiding in the shadows, lurking in his darkest nightmares- might be real. And if they are, then they're coming for him - and there's nothing he can do about it...

This movie was one of the primary inspirations for the Silent Hill franchise of games.

Jacobs Ladder contains examples of:

  • Angel Unaware: Jacob's chiropractor Louie is implied to be an angel trying to save him.
    Jacob: You know you look like an angel? Like an overgrown cherub.
  • Abandoned Hospital: Many of the creepier hospital scenes take place in one of these.
  • Arc Words: The song Sonny Boy.
    • "If you're frightened of dying, and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth."
  • An Arm and a Leg: One poor soldier in the opening has his leg hanging and flapping around, only a flap of skin keeping it on.
  • Adult Fear: Plenty. Gabe's death, being trapped in a subway, friends dying one by one, becoming an Un-Person, being taken hostage in broad daylight with witnesses pretending they don't see you, and so on.
  • Bad Santa: Played straight and Played for Laughs, at the same time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jacob has been Dead All Along, but, after finally accepting his death, he is able to ascend to Heaven with his son.
    • Even if there's no afterlife, it's still heartwarming that Jacob is able to make peace with his demise. "He looks kinda peaceful."
  • Body Horror: The demons, according to Adrian Lyne, were made to resemble thalidomide victims and other birth defects. One seemingly has a long, prehensile penis.
  • Broken Masquerade: The Artificial Realm variant.
  • Brutal Honesty: The demons. They even outright tell him he's dead and to accept it in a Tough Love way.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The horrid monstrosities and abominations? Angels, trying to make Jacob accept his death and ascend to Heaven.
  • Dark World: Jacob keeps slipping back and forth between his everyday life and a darker realm inhabited by demons.
  • Dead to Begin With
  • Decapitation Presentation: In a scene that was shot, Michael's head is found in Jacob's fridge. Michael was one of the many What Happened to the Mouse? aspects of the film.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: After Louis cures Jacob of a slipped disc, the scene is reminiscent of a baby learning to walk. Which is deliberate as Jacob's beginning to be reborn - in preparation for his death.
  • Dying Dream: At the end, Jacob discovers that he never made it out of Vietnam. His nightmares were partly caused by the psychedelic drug he was given by the government.
  • Everybody Knew Already: The Bad Doctor actually spoils the entire movie, if you take what he's saying at face value.
    Jacob: Get me out of here.
    Evil Doctor: Where do you want to go?
    Jacob: Home.
    Evil Doctor: Home? This is your home. You're dead.
    Jacob: Dead? No. I just hurt my back, I'm not dead.
    Evil Doctor: What are you, then?
    Jacob: I'm alive.
    Evil Doctor: Then what are you doing here?
    Jacob: I don't know. This isn't happening.
    Evil Doctor: What is happening?
    Jacob: Get me out of here.
    Evil Doctor: (sighing with frustration) There is no "out of here". You've been killed, don't you remember?
    • Earlier in the film, he gets the same thing from the woman reading his palm.
      Palmreader: It's not funny. According to this, you're already dead! You're outta here baby!
    • Louis himself states, "If you're frightened of dying, and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth."
  • Evil Is Visceral: During the hospital gurney scene, many organs are shown laying on the floor, some of which get run over by the gurney.
    • The director said that he wanted to use distortion of the flesh to make the film more frightening and harder to deny.
  • Eyeless Face: Many of the creatures haunting Jacob have no eyes.
  • Fan Disservice: Elizabeth Pena, dancing suggestively while sweating? Hot. Elizabeth Pena dancing suggestively while sweating whilist being molested by some sort of demon? Not so much.
    • Pena felt so as well, and refused to do the sex dance with anyone but her close friend whom she trusted.
  • Flash Forward: Jacob projects himself into the early 80's, while dying in Vietnam in the early 70's.
  • Foreshadowing: All of the ads in the subway are anti-drug ads, including one that says being on drugs is like Hell. Think about it.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Plenty. Like when Jezzie transforms briefly into something with black eyes and a gummed mouth with tiny teeth.
  • Government Conspiracy: One of the plot threads involves a mysterious drug. At one point, Jacob finds out all record of his even having served in Vietnam has been erased, and all the people who knew him are being killed off one by one. The final card informs that BZ had been used on American troops during the Vietnam War.
  • The Hero Dies: Jacob himself at the end.
  • Hospital Gurney Scene: It gets worse.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the opening scene, Jacob gets bayoneted in the gut, badly.
  • Ironic Hell: One of several explanations for what the hell is going on in this movie.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals
  • Jump Scare: Only one. When Jacob sees Gabe in the mirror, he pushes it to catch more of a glimpse of him. A demon pops out, Undercranked, as if to say, "No. You're not ready.".
  • Male Rape: In a Deleted Scene, one of the bathrooms in the opening subway scene has Jacob stumbling on a male rape.
  • Meaningful Name: The main characters have Biblical names which describe them: Jacob, Jezebel, Gabriel, Elijah, Jedediah, Michael and so on. Lampshaded by Jacob and Jezzie.
    Jezebel: I never went for church names.
    Jacob: Where do you think Jezebel came from?!
    • Also Lampshaded by a government mook: "Mr. Singer. What an appropriate name for a man who can't shut up."
  • Mind Screw: The whole thing, really.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jezzie, who spends a lot of time topless.
  • Never Trust A Poster: Yeaaaaah...
  • Nice Guy: Nothing you can say will get a rise out of Jacob. He just laughs, though he'll genially toss a barb back at you, with no malice. Word of God says that it's deliberate, so that all the horrible stuff that he goes through is that much worse.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: See Sinister Subway, below.
    • Not scary, but chills when Jacob finally returns home - his old home - and he finds homework and food on the dining room table - books open, pie half-eaten, as if they were there and had just vanished. Of course, that's exactly what had happened - he's letting go and his past is vanishing.
  • Papa Wolf: Louis behaves like this towards Jacob when taking him out of the hospital. "Step closer and I'll wrap this (a gurney stand) around your neck!"
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Played horrifyingly straight.
  • The Reveal: Aside from the Dying Dream: "You killed each other." Jacob got bayoneted by a fresh-faced American soldier (vets or military buffs probably figured it out much earlier, as the bayonet we see him stabbed with was U.S. government issue).
  • Red Herring: The Government Conspiracy, to a degree.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: This is the entire premise of the film. The main character keeps bouncing back and forth between two realities, each of which shares some people and places in common, but both of which seem to have demons in them as well. It's finally shown that he had died in Vietnam, and this was all just an in-your-head Purgatory.
  • Shout-Out: The artist Francis Bacon, whom the Surreal Horror is based on.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran : This is what Jacob is implied to be at first.
  • Shirtless Scene: Jacob has a lot of them.
  • Sinister Subway: An early scene has Jacob getting lost in a New York subway station. He doesn't encounter anything overly supernatural there, but it's almost unbearably dark and creepy all the same.
    • Nothing except for demons with glowing eyes staring out of a train.
      • The train that almost kills him.
  • Stairway to Heaven: In the end of the film Jacob is seen walking up stairs into a bright white light with his dead son, we can only assume after he accepts that he's dead he's going to Heaven.
  • Surreal Horror: Inspired by the works of Francis Bacon, according to Word of God.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness
  • Tomato in the Mirror: In the Deleted Scene, Jezzie turns out to be Jacob himself. She was a What Happened to the Mouse? in the theatrical cut.
  • Too Soon: Jed gets a Dope Slap by his mom Sarah when he comments, "Just hang in there, Dad!" (Jacob's legs are suspended in the hospital bed to immobilize his bad back.)
  • Tough Love: If you subscribe to "really angels freeing you from the earth" sentiment, it has to be the toughest love ever seen on the silver screen.
  • Undercrank: Used on all the demons. This film pioneered the use of this effect in horror movies.
  • What Could Have Been: According to director Adrian Lyne, the original screenplay contained a much more traditional, Bosch-esque depiction of hell. However, Lyne thought audiences would find such imagery silly.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Post-mortal Gabe. Intended as such according to Word of God, who said Gabe would guide Jacob. Of course, considering who Gabriel is named after...
  • Your Other Left: Louis every time he tells Jacob to turn on his side while lying on the chiropractic bed.

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alternative title(s): Jacobs Ladder; Ptitlemy3qh6qc
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