Coming in at #3
We're introduced to the main character, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) and his troop in Vietnam, awaiting orders. They're smoking some "good shit" according to their light-hearted banner when suddenly they're sprung into action when they see movement from the Vietcong. Before they can properly set up a defense, most of them begin losing their minds, shaking, convulsing on the ground. Jacob escapes the attack only to be attacked by a bayonet.
He awakens on a subway realizing he was having a nightmare about his experiences in Vietnam. And begins an eventful trek home, getting lost in the subway tunnels before making his way out of the darkness.
Jacob begins having visions of everything that happened to him in Vietnam as well as visions of what he describes as "demons".
As various traumatizing events happen to him, he alternates between three different realities, his flashbacks of Vietnam, a life with his wife and children (a VERY young Macauley Culkin), and a life with his girlfriend. Each time he wakes from one reality into the other he retains the memories, unable to distinguish just which one is real.
He reconnects with his friends that he served with, all of them suffering a block, none of them able to remember exactly what happened during the attack. Not only do they have this in common with Jacob, they're also experiencing visions of the "demons" as well.
His friends are beginning to be targeted and they believe that the government had done something to them in the jungle. As they consult a lawyer to take up their case (a skinnier George Costanza/Jason Alexander) his friends soon back out as they are convinced by the lawyer that they were never in Vietnam, instead believing they were discharged for mental issues in Thailand during war games.
Jacob refuses to let the government rewrite what he knows happened and makes a scene with the lawyer, arguing with him in the courthouse. After the confrontation he is kidnapped by men who are presumably government henchman, threatening him that he and his friends need to quit causing trouble and to keep quiet about what they saw and experienced in the jungle.
Jacob barely escapes and is rushed to a hospital where he encounters the demons again as they perform barbaric surgeries on him.
His world and sanity are all careening out of control, unable to distinguish between good and evil, life and death, reality and fantasy, Jacob is a broken man.
This film isn't so much scary (although there are multiple scenes that elicited a jump and a yelp from me) as it is deeply, and girl I mean d-e-e-p-l-y disturbing. In looking over reviews of this film from back in the day, a great deal of them described the movie as a "traumatizing experience" and being "beaten down" and "unwilling to watch again." I can only concur. This movie is a severe downer, an emotional drain.
So...much...shit...happens in this movie. You never know exactly what is real during this movie as each stream of reality has explanations that both support and discredit previous suspicions and realities.
I can't say much about this movie without giving it all away. Much like High Tension, the ending of this movie may not seem too original as the plot device has become overused since this film was made, but, for its time, it was extremely jarring and groundbreaking.
It's a film about mistakes, damnation, regrets, conspiracies, hopes, dreams, faith, love, fate, and ultimately redemption.
The version of this movie that I saw came equipped with a mini-documentary with the writer and director explaining the themes and symbolism in the film that, should you decide to stay in the world, you will be greatly rewarded as this masterpiece is examined rung by rung.
Jacob's Ladder is one that needs climbed, a journey that needs to be taken, even if you consider yourself a hardened veteran of the genre. But be warned...it will take an emotional toll on you as the only thing you can do is cling to Jacob's sanity and pray you both make it out alive.
RottenTomatoes Score: 70% critics/81% audience
Drake Marcos Rating: 5/5 horny nurses