The genre of psychological thrillers holds a lot of promise. You know that the plot will be exciting, you know that you can’t trust anyone, especially the protagonist. You are always on the lookout for foreboding and signs that might become important later. It becomes the most effective form of a thriller because you have to guess what’s wrong here. All in all, it is a very indulging experience and the more exhausted you feel by the end, the better film it is. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is one such piece of work. With a great twist at its end, it covers a good number of themes and chalks up a story whose importance is decided by your own perspective. This movie has become a cult favourite among horror lovers and if you haven’t yet seen it, then you are in for some big spoilers ahead. I suggest you stop right here.
Summary of the Plot
The film starts in the jungles of Vietnam. A group of soldiers sit and rest and make fun of each other. Suddenly, some of them begin to have seizures while they face attack from the enemy. Sounds of bullets and bombs take over, and Jacob (Tim Robbins) runs away, only to face someone who stabs him. In the next scene, he opens his eyes and finds himself on a mostly empty train. He gets off at a deserted station and unable to find a way out, decides to cross over the rails. Before he can safely get on the other side, the train arrives and he barely saves himself.
As the train rides away, he sees the disfigured faces of the passengers. It has been 4-5 years since he returned from Vietnam. In the course of that time, he got divorced; his wife, Sarah (Patricia Kalember) got custody of both their kids and now, he lives with Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña), his new girlfriend. He seems haunted by his experiences in the war. His son, Gabe (Macaulay Culkin), had died before his time in Vietnam, and his loss still pains Jacob intensely. Also, he suffers from back pains and frequently visits his chiropractor, Louie (Lewis Black), who seems very insightful and gives him good advice.
But none of these physical and emotional distresses is the problem for our protagonist. The problem is that he thinks he is losing his mind. He begins to see faceless people who, he thinks, are out to get him. His visions become more pronounced by the day and they turn into full-fledged demons. He begins to wonder what’s wrong with him, and then, one of his army buddies, Paul (Pruitt Taylor Vince) tells him that he is “going to hell”. He, too, has been seeing things which convinces Jacob that something was done to them while they were in the army. After Paul dies in a car blast, he meets up with the rest of the platoon members and discovers that almost every one of them has been having the same experience. They decide to sue the army, demanding an explanation more than reparations, for their condition. But the next day, all his friends retract their statements. Meanwhile, Jacob’s condition worsens and he feels like he is in a literal hell.