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View Full Version : Help me to understand Jacob's Ladder. (UNBOXED SPOILERS)


Gadfly
02-28-2004, 09:38 PM
Because I just watched it, and it didn't make much sense to me at all.

Okay, so all the things he sees are just visions, distortions of his former life, and he never got back from Vietnam.

Then how does the chemist come in contact with him and tell him about the drug, allowing him to let go and move onto the next life? What the hell was that all about?

Can someone provide a straightforward explanation of the film?

Lobsang
02-28-2004, 09:40 PM
Not me. Just posting to say I've been to Jakob's Ladder, Cheddar Gorge in Somerset (England)


Or is it not called that? Anyone?

Gadfly
02-28-2004, 09:42 PM
Not me. Just posting to say I've been to Jakob's Ladder, Cheddar Gorge in Somerset (England)


Or is it not called that? Anyone?

The 7th annual Neil Gaiman award for completely irrelevant thread tangent goes to.. LOBSANG! :D

Lobsang
02-28-2004, 09:46 PM
Ahha! A worthy sig line! Can I?

Gadfly
02-28-2004, 09:48 PM
Ahha! A worthy sig line! Can I?

It would be my honour, good sir.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled movie confusion thread.

Old Goat
02-29-2004, 12:19 AM
Back to the OP.

I really liked the film. It displayed my fantasy of how I wanted to go out if I ever caught it in the Big Country. I figured it would be a mine or stray artillery round while driving up and down highway 1.

While you are out, you would be fufilling your dream of resuming your old life before the war. It may be crummy and unspectacular but it was MY life and I kinda wanted to get back to it.

Instead, you gradually realize something is off and eventually you realize you ain't going back. When you finally become reconciled to that fact, you Check Out.

That is why it took so long for him to die.

Always wanted to go out 'kicking and screaming' so to speak, rather than just lying there unconcious as your systems slowly shut down. Saw more than a few go out and the movie showed the way I hoped they went. It was they way I wanted to go if I had to.

mike1dog
02-29-2004, 01:00 AM
Hard to be straightforward about this movie. He was dying and all the horrible monsters he saw were helping him to let go of his life, if I remember correcly. The chiropractor was some sort of angel I believe who was trying to help him to let go. That said I really didn't get the weird hospital scene and the excruciating needle in the eye. I haven't seen this movie in years, so my memory of everything is hazy.

Zoe
02-29-2004, 01:07 AM
It's been a long time since I saw the movie, but I remember, I think, a big clue that he never actually leaves Vietnam. At the beginning of the movie the location and the date are given. I can't remember exactly. Something like: Vietnam, 1967. I don't recall that another location and date are ever again on the screen. That suggests to me that the location and date never changed.

It was a good film.

moriah
02-29-2004, 02:04 AM
Jacob's Ladder is the 'ladder' that Jacob saw in a vision/dream in the book of Genesis. It also makes a cameo in the beginning of John's Gospel.

Ladder can also be translated as stairs, and thus, this is the origin of the more familiar 'golden stairs' or 'stairway to paradise.'

IOW, it's the route to heaven one takes if one is heaven bound when one dies. (Angels, apparently, use it to go up and down between heaven and earth.)

And so, my interpretation of the movie is that he's in purgatory, and once cleansed and all let-go-y of the past, he can move on to heaven. And in the end, we see him led up a staircase.

I'm well aware I'm in a minority of 'those who like the movie.'

Peace.

Tentacle Monster
02-29-2004, 02:17 AM
The chemist doesn't necessarily have to be the same chemist who actually made the drug. If he was in a world of his mind's own creation, there must have been part of him who knew he was on a really bad trip. I mean, something like the Ladder has to have effects other than the intended which would clue the user/subject into the fact that something's not right.

Hence, the Chemist. Part of Jake's subconscious mind created the Chemist to give him a heads-up on what was really going on.

Most of Jake's "normal" life was based on his own ideas on an ideal life after the war. Working in a post office so he wouldn't have to think anymore, getting together with Jezebel, and basically living a life of contented normalcy. But the Ladder kept messing with him: making him see demons, all of his best friends either dying or turning on him, having Santa Claus steal his wallet.

Now, the Chiropractor. After Jake's trip through the Ladder's hellish hospital, he's in traction. The Chiropractor rescues him, does a simple adjustment, and Jake's able to walk again. Remember, Jake's a doctor. Chiropractors are good for some things, but surely Jake must have known that a chiropractor, no matter how good, wouldn't be able to do something that simple and make him able to walk again. The Chiropractor didn't even look at the records at the foot of Jake's bed when he got him out of the hospital! That, and his speech on devils and angels, point to the fact that the Chiropractor is yet another figment of Jake's subconscious mind, telling him nevermind everything you're seeing. There's no difference between good and evil here, you're on your way out.

I'm sure that was more information/speculation than you needed.

By the way, if you can find the Jacob's Ladder DVD, check out the deleted scenes and alternate ending.

Gadfly
02-29-2004, 11:26 AM
I pretty much got everything you said, Tentacle Monster, but here's my problem. Sure, his mind would've told him that something was wrong, but how was he able to pluck every single piece of information about the drug and the testing of it out of his subconcious mind?

He might have been able to remember memories of being drugged, maaaybe. But he shouldn't have been able to recover memories that he never had.

Also - the hospital scenes were utterly pointless and silly, the chiropractor bits were cheesy in the extreme.. I just really didn't like this movie.

WILLASS
02-29-2004, 12:04 PM
He might have been able to remember memories of being drugged, maaaybe. But he shouldn't have been able to recover memories that he never had.


The vast majority of the film takes place in his subconscious so maybe it is just his way of working out what has happened to him so therefore he can have memories that were never there as it is part of his imagination. I perceived the whole film to basically be like seeing his life flash before him but instead of his past life it was a fictional post war life or as or as moriah said a kind of purgatory.

Tentacle Monster
02-29-2004, 12:15 PM
All the information about the Ladder was extrapolated from Jake feeling the effects of it.

Every single piece of information he got from the Chemist was probably half-true, at best. Between the demons he was seeing and the fact that he was bayonetted by one of the people in his platoon, Jake could surmise that he and his entire platoon were on a really, really bad trip.

That's what you have to remember about the movie: It's all Jake's mind. It doesn't matter what the Ladder was really called, or who made it, or who or what it was tested on. He probably didn't even remember specifically being drugged: it could have been put into the rations, or the water, or even in the grass that they were smoking.

Tuckerfan
02-29-2004, 12:30 PM
If you'll notice, there's a flash of Jacob on the med-evac helicopter and the medic on the copter is the chemist. Also, at the beginning of the Vietnam sequence, all the troops are smoking pot. There were tons of rumors after the war (and possibly during the war as well, that was before my time) that the CIA and the Pentagon were doing mind control experiments on the troops. So Jacob could have pulled all of that together in his subconscious to make the fantasy he experiences during the bulk of the movie.

Larry Mudd
02-29-2004, 02:55 PM
Also, the real-world inspiration for Jacob's Ladder is BZ/VX gas, which is commonly alleged to have been used or tested in Vietnam, either on the NVA or on friendly troops, depending on the size and shape of the tin-foil hat. (BZ was in production by US chemical warfare programs, but was phased out in the late 60's, if I recall correctly.)

Anyway, for the purposes of the story, I think the platoon was supposed to have been hit with a VX attack. VX is an anti-cholinergic, and, in non-lethal exposures, has hallucinogenic effects similar to other anti-cholinergic drugs, like belladonna. I think a lot of people think "LSD" or "psilocybin" when they hear "hallucinogenic." Anti-cholinergic hallucinogens are a whole other animal. After an initial period of disorientation and unpleasant physical effects, the subjective experience is totally normal. People hallucinate like crazy, but we're not talking about baroque hallucinations -- more like waking dreams. Elaborate interactions with people who aren't there, etc. But the point is, the bulk of the experience seems just like authentic reality, and there's very little to suggest that the "other" people you are talking to are actually manifested by your own subconscious mind. You might sit down and have an ordinary conversation with someone you haven't seen for years (even overlooking that they died some time back) and take it all for granted. And like a dream, occasionally an element of the bizarre or sinister will creep in, but you'll still generally feel like it's really happening -- none of that "Ha! It looks like everyone has horns and a third-eye! I'm really trippin'!" that people expect from recreational hallucinogens. The feeling that "something is subtly different but you can't quite put your finger on it, and it's probably important that you remember what it is," is also quite common.

As Tentacle Monster said, there's no mystery in how Jake "learned" about the chemical he was exposed to. He knew that he and his buddies got hit with something, and worked out a plausible explanation for himself, which combined elements of reality and dream.

Oh, about "The Ladder's" ultraviolent side-effects: Anti-cholinergics can lead to that sort of behaviour, especially if there is a predisposition to violence, or the person is in a situation in which they have reason to feel threatened. Check out this pit thread (http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?t=242437) about one bright young man's adventure with a dangerous dose Coricidin (DXM combined with the anticholinergic chlorpheniramine.)

JohnBckWLD
02-29-2004, 02:57 PM
Bear in mind I didn't read the book before (or since) seeing it.

As Jacob lies dying in Vietnam & is drifting toward the afterlife, he sees the two paths his life could have taken had he survived the LSD battlefield test.

His journey starts at the gates of hell. He's divorced, living a nightmare in the bowels of Brooklyn & haunted by demons. The viewer comes to learn his girlfriend, Jezibel is also a demon;
> Starting with the subtle 'you're a heathen' reference & the burning of his family pictures in the incinerator
> Followed by the dirty dance scene at the party and her transformed eyes when she screams, 'Anybody in there-Anybody home'
> Finally culminating with the journey into hell we she assists the demons on the operating room table.

The path to hell is interrupted midway through the film when he awakes from his nightmare and finds himself with Sarah and their children. He's no longer burning in hell or in any pain. After he tells his sons and wife he loves them, he awakens back at the gates of hell.

It's his chiropractor Louie, his cherub-like 'guardian angel' who helps him realize the two paths his life could have taken and encourages him to find inner peace. Louie quotes the German medieval mystic, Meister Eckart & tells him;The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life; your memories, your attachments. They burn ‘em all away but they’re not punishing you - they’re freeing your soul. If you’re frightened of dying and holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth. It’s just a matter of how you look at it, that’s all.

Still unable to let go, Jacob makes one last ditch effort to free himself from the demons by meeting with the chemist from Vietnam. Having finally learned what happened on the battlefield, he's finally able to free his soul. He makes peace with himself returns to the gates of heaven, where's he's escorted by his dead son Gabriel.

A list of the religious symbols inter-woven throughout the film could well fill an entire thread. Well, that's my take on it anyway.

erislover
02-29-2004, 03:34 PM
I've never really thought that the drug "The Ladder" was actual. Oh, sure, there might have been some drug there, maybe an experimental hallucinogen, but not in the way that the Chemist suggests. The entire movie has always played for me as Jacob trying to work out the events of what happened and the life he'd planned to lead; the tension and horror comes from the fact that they're simply incompatible. The Chiropractor is there to maintain Jacob so that he can come to terms with everything (in his own way, not necessarily in terms of facts). I think this is especially revealed by his frustration at the hospitol, where there are elements trying to take Jacob through the process of dying before Jacob is ready.

I think the movie is best played with the idea that some of the characters aren't strictly phenomena in Jacob's mind, like the doctors, like his girlfriend, like the Chiropractor. While they may take forms he can recognize (his gf worked in the mailroom), they are not per se the residual impression of those characters. While the movie seems to present a schism of angels and devils, of course it also attempts to dissolve that schism by presenting the angels and devils as the same entities. So, for me, in terms of the movie, everyone can go to heaven after the death of their corporeal form if and only if they accept the death of their corporeal form. Granted, this actually corresponds heavily to my own musings, but I feel it is reasonably supported by the script and events.

Johanna
02-29-2004, 05:35 PM
I'm glad people are still interested in JL. It's just about my favorite movie ever. Its basic plot outline was first experimented by Ambrose Bierce in the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", set during the Civil War. (That was made into a short movie, has anybody seen it?) All the details are different, just the basic theme of a guy getting killed during a war and in the last milliseconds before his death, his fantasy life takes over reality and spins out into an elaborate scenario that goes on and on and on... Objective time is radically compressed while subjective experience is radically expanded... until the final end arrives and it's really time to check out permanently.

JohnBckWLD
02-29-2004, 06:10 PM
...Its basic plot outline was first experimented by Ambrose Bierce in the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", set during the Civil War. (That was made into a short movie, has anybody seen it?) All the details are different, just the basic theme of a guy getting killed during a war and in the last milliseconds before his death, his fantasy life takes over reality and spins out into an elaborate scenario that goes on and on and on... Objective time is radically compressed while subjective experience is radically expanded... until the final end arrives and it's really time to check out permanently.It's (finally) available on DVD. The Twilight Zone - Collection 5: Treasures of The Twilight Zone (http://amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00007KK2H/002-9372446-2592835?v=glance) (Disc 8 of 9) Volume 44

TWDuke
02-29-2004, 06:27 PM
Its basic plot outline was first experimented by Ambrose Bierce in the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", set during the Civil War. (That was made into a short movie, has anybody seen it?)
It was also adapted as an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", and has an echo in the ending of "Brazil". The idea of people who don't initially accept that they're dead plays out in different ways in "The Sixth Sense" and "The Others".

Meatros
02-29-2004, 07:31 PM
I'm glad people are still interested in JL. It's just about my favorite movie ever. Its basic plot outline was first experimented by Ambrose Bierce in the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", set during the Civil War. (That was made into a short movie, has anybody seen it?) All the details are different, just the basic theme of a guy getting killed during a war and in the last milliseconds before his death, his fantasy life takes over reality and spins out into an elaborate scenario that goes on and on and on... Objective time is radically compressed while subjective experience is radically expanded... until the final end arrives and it's really time to check out permanently.


I've seen that short movie, and I liked it. If memory serves, I think I saw it in my psychology 101 class.

Mesquite-oh
03-01-2004, 01:10 AM
I have not seen JL in years but I remember leaving the theater thinking about what I thougt was a fairly serious plot problem.

If in fact the whole movie is just a vision or dream out of Jake's subconcious during the last few seconds or minutes of his life in 1960's Vietnam, how could he accurately envision exactly what 1974 or 1975 would be like in his dreams?

For example, during one scene (IIRC, it was a long time since I saw it), Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" is playing in the background. Lady M was not released until 74 or 75. During another scene there are characters driving what I believe was a 1975 Ford LTD. There were a few other examples, but I can not remember them right now.

If these are just battlefield visions, how could his subconcious create these things accurately? Wouldn't he just envision things that he has already seen during the time period? This little plot problem confused me and made me think that maybe all these things happened years after the battlefield injury.

That is why I was a little angry after the movie, that and it seemed that they tacked on that little bit about drug experiments on the end- kinda like saying "All this time you thought you were watching a movie about soldier drug experiments- but you weren't, we pulled a "Dallas" on you, but hey there were drug experiments on soldiers during the war- maybe you will get to see a movie about that some other time"

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