Saturday, October 24, 2009

JACOB'S LADDER (Adrian Lynne, 1990, USA) Jacob frantically sings the mystical hymn of life, his desperate plea a purgatory of terminal reality where demons stalk the lunatic fringe. His voice echoes through the valley of death, where seemingly malignant forces conspire to tear away the last vestiges of his humanity: Jacob has finally reached the last rung of sanity unable to attain the gentle light, devoured by foreboding darkness. Director Adrian Lynne has crafted a psychological horror film ripe with religiosity, that vast conundrum between faith and reason. The narrative is told on three levels of perception: it begins in Vietnam before transitioning to what seems to be present tense, interspersed with flashbacks to his life before the war: we are befuddled by memories within memories. Haunting images of Sol peaking through the jungle canopy like the all-seeing eye of Sauron (or god) where Jacob’s innards are spilt upon the ground creates a paranoid allusion in the “real world” where grotesque Boschian nightmares relentlessly pursue him. Lynne films these creatures in distorted ways, utilizing slow camera speeds, POV angles, and flash-cuts but he hides these images in mundane routine: this sudden transgression of the impossible is frightening and unsettling. At first, we are unable to distinguish Jacob’s fractured psyche from the natural world because everything could be a hallucination based on actual events. Jacob served in Vietnam but did he survive? Was he the subject of drug experiments by the Army? Or is he just another Veteran going slowly mad? Louis (exceptionally portrayed by Danny Aiello!) is a friend and doctor who eases Jacob’s pain and whose advice leads Jacob to enlightenment…but the journey through the abyss must be made alone. Tim Robbins imbues the tortured protagonist with the right amounts of anxiety, intellect, and affableness: an alchemical formula that creates teary-eyed empathy. As he begins to see beyond the material world, Jacob is overwhelmed by the creeping jungle and stuttering cough of helicopters, and taken back in time he climbs that final stairway towards the heavens. His death dream fading, Gabriel offers solace to his father who put up one hell of a struggle to chase away the dying of the light. (B+)

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