Jacob's Ladder

500 Movie Challenge: Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob's Ladder

If you went to a liberal arts college, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of this movie. I’m convinced it swims in the ether of many colleges, because it takes the idea of anti-Vietnam sentiment and kicks up about five notches. It’s also one of those movies that are horror but not really horror, a la No Country For Old Men. Plus it’s set in the 1970s, in an era we seem to be repeating fashion-wise. So it’s definitely one of the most approachable “creepy” films out there. Good stuff.

This is the first of my 25 “swing” films, which I’ve viewed previous to this challenge but have chosen to include anyway. My first time viewing this film was in a room of very chatty people, so it was a candidate for a swing film from the very beginning. If I have any inclination with this leg of the challenge, it’s to explore films considered to be classics. So why not go with one of the most well-known psychological films in American culture?

The gist: Jacob is a Vietnam veteran, divorced and working at the post office despite the fact that he has a doctorate degree. After the war, he didn’t want to think, he says. But when he starts hallucinating demons, people with black eyes and monstrous rape-beasts, he’s forced to think about everything that happened in Vietnam. The only problem is, there’s an entire group of people that don’t want him to think so deeply.

What I “learned”: We have come so far in how we deal with veterans, even from just a few decades ago. The first time I saw this film, my girlfriends and I were screaming at Jacob’s imaginary girlfriend. Of course he freaked out when you asked him to go to a dance party with loud noises and flashing lights! What do you expect, you insensitive jerk? That he’d react like a normal person?

This isn’t to say that the United States is perfect in how it deals with veteran’s issues, and I’m not saying that I’m the best person to speak on this issue. But I’m grateful that it’s becoming more acceptable to talk about, and not talking about it is viewed as insensitive. It feels like we’re making progress.

See this movie if you like: Movies that take care with light and sound. That can apply to many films, sure. But Jacob’s Ladder feels different in that it doesn’t feel pretentious in its effort to create beautiful imagery. Nothing feels forced, even when there’s blood and gore coming out of the walls. You don’t have to think too hard about what something “means.” It’s just there, not needing in-depth analysis to find meaning.

Avoid this movie if: Horror based in true experience. As Jacob, Tim Robbins‘ greatesr asset is his human reactions to the insanity happening all around him. He’s a tall man, but he knows how to make himself limp and helpless on a hospital gurney or an ice bath. He freaks out to scary things, but in an intuitive sense. This isn’t a movie fully of crazy screechers. The humans and monsters are both very subtle.

New Films Watched: 25

Films Re-Watched: 0

Total Number of Films: 25

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