Jacob's Ladder (1990)

R | 115 mins | Horror, Drama | 2 November 1990

Director:

Adrian Lyne

Producer:

Alan Marshal

Cinematographer:

Jeffrey Kimball

Editor:

Tom Rolf

Production Designer:

Brian Morris

Production Company:

Carolco Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY


       The picture begins with the following subtitle: “Mekong Delta; 6 Oct. 1971,” and concludes with the written epilogue: “It was reported that the hallucinogenic drug BZ was used in experiments on soldiers during the Vietnam war. The Pentagon denied the story.”
       End credits erroneously credit scenic artist Matthew Loeb as “Mathew” Loeb and dolly grip, Richard Guinness, Jr., as Richard “Guiness, Jr.” Similarly, special effects sculptor Russell Cate is credited as “Russel” Cate.
       Although actor Macaulay Culkin plays a pivotal role as “Jacob’s” deceased son, “Gabe,” he is not credited onscreen.
       In the early 1980s, AFI’s American Film magazine listed writer Bruce Joel Rubin’s Jacob’s Ladder as one of the top ten unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, according to a 28 Oct 1990 NYT article. Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that Rubin was inspired by a nightmare in which he was stuck inside a New York City subway station, and he spent one year writing the script in Indiana before moving to Los Angeles, CA, to pursue his career. Although Rubin was courted by low-budget, horror film production companies, he decided to leave the project “on the shelf” until it garnered the attention of more notable filmmakers.
       The gamble paid off when British director Adrian Lyne, who had recently achieved box-office success with Paramount Pictures’ Nine ½ Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987, see entries), discovered Rubin’s script for Jacob’s Ladder in the fall of 1988. In a 30 Oct 1990 LAT article, Rubin noted that the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike provoked Lyne ... More Less


       The picture begins with the following subtitle: “Mekong Delta; 6 Oct. 1971,” and concludes with the written epilogue: “It was reported that the hallucinogenic drug BZ was used in experiments on soldiers during the Vietnam war. The Pentagon denied the story.”
       End credits erroneously credit scenic artist Matthew Loeb as “Mathew” Loeb and dolly grip, Richard Guinness, Jr., as Richard “Guiness, Jr.” Similarly, special effects sculptor Russell Cate is credited as “Russel” Cate.
       Although actor Macaulay Culkin plays a pivotal role as “Jacob’s” deceased son, “Gabe,” he is not credited onscreen.
       In the early 1980s, AFI’s American Film magazine listed writer Bruce Joel Rubin’s Jacob’s Ladder as one of the top ten unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, according to a 28 Oct 1990 NYT article. Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that Rubin was inspired by a nightmare in which he was stuck inside a New York City subway station, and he spent one year writing the script in Indiana before moving to Los Angeles, CA, to pursue his career. Although Rubin was courted by low-budget, horror film production companies, he decided to leave the project “on the shelf” until it garnered the attention of more notable filmmakers.
       The gamble paid off when British director Adrian Lyne, who had recently achieved box-office success with Paramount Pictures’ Nine ½ Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987, see entries), discovered Rubin’s script for Jacob’s Ladder in the fall of 1988. In a 30 Oct 1990 LAT article, Rubin noted that the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike provoked Lyne to expand the scope of his search for properties, and he was looking for material that was not already optioned. After a single meeting with the screenwriter, Lyne was sold on Jacob’s Ladder and telephoned his agent to back out of directing The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990, see entry), according to the NYT. Despite Lyne’s lucrative relationship with Paramount, a new team of executives took over the studio at the time, and decided to pass on the project.
       As stated in the 30 Oct 1990 LAT, Lyne continued to champion the screenplay, but understood why others had not wanted to do so. Referring to the script as a “novel,” Lyne said it was “incredibly intimidating” to find a suitable way to shoot it. The 28 Oct 1990 NYT explained that the first version of the screenplay was evocative of elaborate Hieronymous Bosch paintings, with, in Rubin’s words, “hellfire and brimstone.” However, Lyne thought the approach was too heavy-handed. The men spent a year arguing ways to capture hallucinations and abstract characters, such as demons and apparitions. After viewing Vietnam War documentaries, researching near-death experiences, and vetting special effects laboratories, Lyne resolved to film the fantasy sequences at four frames per second, as opposed to the industry standard of twenty-four frames, and to shake the camera, creating a sense of dizzying, speeded-up motion. He also translated the script’s decadent “stairway to heaven” to an understated reunification of father and son. Lyne noted that the scene was inspired by his own desire to reconnect with his antagonistic father, who died fifteen years prior to production.
       The film’s “whirring, vibrating head” was loosely based on Francis Bacon paintings. Director of photography Jeffrey Kimball explained the filmmakers wanted to avoid “an omniscient point of view, which would tend to suggest the demons were real,” and to make the audience question if the fantasies were really seen from “Jacob’s” perspective. Lyne directed Robbins to be on set to observe the special effects sequences from afar. The actor was never filmed in the same scenes as his “visions,” and Lyne refrained from shooting Robbins’ reaction shots right away, giving the actor time to recreate the “demons” in his memory.
       The 28 Oct 1990 NYT reported that both Tim Robbins and Elizabeth Peña had auditioned for the roles of “Jacob” and “Jezzie” early on in the casting process, but “neither had carried a feature film before” and the filmmakers opted to test high-profile actors including Dustin Hoffman, Richard Gere, and Al Pacino. There were nearly 300 women vying for the female lead, such as Andie MacDowell and Julia Roberts. By late-May 1989, Tim Robbins had been cast and Madonna and Demi Moore were contending for Jezzie, according to a 31 May 1989 LAHExam news item. Elizabeth Peña was confirmed as Robbins’s co-star in a 22 Aug 1989 DV column. According to various contemporary sources, including a 12 Sep 1989 Var brief and a 17 Oct 1989 HR production chart, principal photography began 11 Sep 1989 in New York City. Production notes specified Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens, NY. Although most filming took place at actual locations, a Williamsburg tenement was recreated on a West 23rd Street soundstage. The subway scene was shot on the inoperative lower level of Bergen Street Station in Brooklyn. Photography also took place at Staten Island’s Sea View Hospital; the Newark, NJ, Essex County Courthouse; and a post office at Madison Square Garden. In Jan 1990, filming concluded in jungles near Laguna Tortuguero, Puerto Rico, which stood in as Vietnam. An Army camp and a Vietnamese village were constructed on site, and battle scenes were overseen by Capt. Dale Dye, who also had a bit role and served as a military technical advisor on Platoon (1986, see entry).
       While the 28 Oct 1990 NYT listed a budget of $25 million, a 22 Oct 1990 Var news item stated the film was made for $40 million.
       According to the 28 Oct 1990 NYT and the 30 Oct 1990 LAT, test screenings prompted Lyne to cut nearly thirty minutes from the film, mainly at the end. One edited sequence depicted a butcher carving into a bloody slab of meat. On 30 Dec 1990, LAT reported that “a fifth of the rough cut” was shaved from the film during the last month of editing, including a scene with a professor, who represented Rubin’s real-life mentor. Rubin stated that the character was important in establishing Jacob as an academic who studied philosophy, but admitted the cut was necessary to hone down the narrative.
       Despite lukewarm reviews, Jacob’s Ladder opened on 2 Nov 1990 with top box office grosses. As reported in various contemporary sources, including the 6 Nov 1990 Var and the 7 Nov 1990 HR, the film was the highest grossing film in the U.S. its opening weekend, earning $7.5 million. HR noted that the success came to the surprise of Hollywood insiders and even Tri-Star executives, who understood the complexity of the story was not an easy sell to mainstream audiences. Tri-Star attributed the profits to a well-received trailer and timing; the early-Nov 1990 opening was both a strategic advantage as well as a necessity, since post-production was not complete until after mid-Oct 1990. The studio planned to expand the number of exhibitors for the second weekend, adding 208 theaters. By the end of the month, however, ticket sales had dropped considerably, as noted in various Var reports. Both the LAT and NYT reviews on 2 Nov 1990 credited the success of Jacob’s Ladder to Lyne’s previous blockbusters and Rubin’s hit film Ghost (1990, see entry) which was released earlier that year.
      Acknowledgments state: “This motion picture was made with the help of the City of New York Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., Seaview Hospital, Home and Color Hospital, New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, and the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission. Special thanks to Budge-Wood Laundry Services, Inc., United States Post Office, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, and the Puerto Rican Institute of Arts, Cinematographic and Television Industries.”

              End credits also include: “‘To Tell the Truth,’ courtesy of Mark Goodson Productions,” and, “Read the screenplay from Applause Theatre Books.” The movie was, “Filmed entirely on location in New York and The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1989.
---
Daily Variety
30 Oct 1990
p. 2, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1990
p. 5, 18.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 1990.
---
LAHExam
31 May 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Oct 1990
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
2 Nov 1990
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
30 Dec 1990.
---
New York Times
28 Oct 1990
Section A, p. 15.
New York Times
2 Nov 1990
p. 12.
Variety
28 Jun 1989.
---
Variety
12 Sep 1989.
---
Variety
22 Oct 1990.
---
Variety
5 Nov 1990
p. 72.
Variety
6 Nov 1990.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Co-starring
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna present
An Adrian Lyne film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
D.G.A. trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Standby cam
"B" cam 1st asst
"B" cam 2d asst
Cam trainee
Still photog
Chief elec
Best boy
Generator op
Rigging elec
Shop elec
Key grip
Video playback op
Steadicam op, Puerto Rico unit
Steadicam asst, Puerto Rico unit
Cam asst, Puerto Rico unit
Cam asst, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Grip, Puerto Rico unit
Grip, Puerto Rico unit
Grip, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Grip, Puerto Rico unit
Grip, Puerto Rico unit
Negative cutting
Cam, grip and lighting equip supplied by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Principal art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept coord
Illustrator
Art dept asst
FILM EDITORS
Addl ed
Addl ed
Assoc ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Lead man
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Propertyman
Propertyman
Const coord
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Head const grip
Const grip
Const grip
Scenic chargeman
Asst scenic chargeman
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Standby scenic artist
Best boy
Shop mgr
Shop asst
Set dec, Puerto Rico unit
Const coord, Puerto Rico unit
Head carpenter, Puerto Rico unit
Carpenter, Puerto Rico unit
Carpenter, Puerto Rico unit
Carpenter, Puerto Rico unit
Const laborer, Puerto Rico unit
Const laborer, Puerto Rico unit
Const laborer, Puerto Rico unit
Scenic artist, Puerto Rico unit
Painter, Puerto Rico unit
Painter, Puerto Rico unit
COSTUMES
Cost des by
Asst cost des
Cost supv
Head costumer
Costumer
Cost shop mgr
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
Ward asst, Puerto Rico unit
MUSIC
Mus comp by
Asst to Mr. Jarre
Mus contractor/Coord
Mus rec and mixed by
Synth ensemble
Synth ensemble
Synth ensemble
Synth ensemble
Synth ensemble
Synth ensemble
SOUND
Prod sd rec
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Spec sd eff
Musikwerks
Spec sd eff
Sd asst, Puerto Rico unit
Dolby stereo consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst, Puerto Rico unit
Spec prosthetic eff des
Spec prosthetic eff
Head mechanical
Head sculptor
Head painter
Office mgr
Prosthetics
Spec make-up
Spec make-up
Spec props
Spec mechanical
Sculptor
Sculptor
Modelmaker
Modelmaker
Modelmaker
Machinist
Studio asst
Spec make-up asst
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Casting
Prod accountant
Prod office coord
Asst coord
Loc coord
Scr supv
Post prod supv
Post prod coord
Voice casting
Asst to Mr. Lyne
Asst to Mr. Marshall
Prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Accounting asst
Casting asst
Extras casting
Prod runner
Loc asst
Loc asst
Loc asst
Loc asst
Craft services
Craft services
Medical coord
Benner Medical Productions
Parking wrangler
Unit pub
International pub
Animals owned and trained by
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Loc mgr, Puerto Rico unit
Unit accountant, Puerto Rico unit
Loc coord, Puerto Rico unit
Prod office asst, Puerto Rico unit
Military consultant, Puerto Rico unit
Military consultant, Puerto Rico unit
Military consultant, Puerto Rico unit
Military consultant, Puerto Rico unit
Helicopters provided by, Puerto Rico unit
Head pilot, Puerto Rico unit
Head pilot, Puerto Rico unit
Pilot-prod liaison, Puerto Rico unit
Crew chief, Puerto Rico unit
Crew chief, Puerto Rico unit
Carpenter, Puerto Rico unit
Carpenter, Puerto Rico unit
Vietnamese tech advisor, Puerto Rico unit
Elec, Puerto Rico unit
Asst accountant, Puerto Rico unit
Extras casting, Puerto Rico unit
Craft service, Puerto Rico unit
Craft service, Puerto Rico unit
Key prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Prod asst, Puerto Rico unit
Loc asst, Puerto Rico unit
Loc asst, Puerto Rico unit
First aid, Puerto Rico unit
Mechanic, Puerto Rico unit
Picture car wrangler, Puerto Rico unit
Transportation coord, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Driver, Puerto Rico unit
Dailies adv
Financial services
Completion bond services provided by
Prod insurance provided by
Media investment & services provided by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
Col timer
SOURCES
SONGS
“Lady Marmalade,” by B. Crewe/K. Nolan, published by Kenny Nolan Publishing/Tannyboy Music/Stone Diamond Corp. (BMI), performed by LaBelle, courtesy of CBS Records
“My Thang,” written by J. Brown, published by Unichappell Music (BMI), performed by James Brown, courtesy of PolyGram Special Products
“Please Mr. Postman,” written by R. Bateman/G. Dobbins/W. Garrett/B. Holland/F. Gorman, published by Jobete Music Co., Inc. (ASCAP)/Stone Agate Music (BMI)
+
SONGS
“Lady Marmalade,” by B. Crewe/K. Nolan, published by Kenny Nolan Publishing/Tannyboy Music/Stone Diamond Corp. (BMI), performed by LaBelle, courtesy of CBS Records
“My Thang,” written by J. Brown, published by Unichappell Music (BMI), performed by James Brown, courtesy of PolyGram Special Products
“Please Mr. Postman,” written by R. Bateman/G. Dobbins/W. Garrett/B. Holland/F. Gorman, published by Jobete Music Co., Inc. (ASCAP)/Stone Agate Music (BMI)
“Sonny Boy,” written by B. G. de Silva/L. Brown/R. Henderson/ A. Jolson, published by Warner Bros. Music (ASCAP), performed by Al Jolson, courtesy of MCA Records
“Whats [sic] Going On,” written by R. Benson/A. Cleveland/M. Gaye, published by Jobete Music Co., Inc. (ASCAP)/Stone Agate Music (BMI), performed by Marvin Gaye, courtesy of Motown Records
“Hearing Solar Winds/Part 3. Arc Descents,” written by D. Hykes, performed by David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir, courtesy of Ocara/Radio France.
+
PERFORMERS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 November 1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 2 November 1990
Production Date:
11 September 1989 -- January 1990 in New York and Puerto Rico
Copyright Claimant:
Carolco Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
15 November 1990
Copyright Number:
PA486527
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses & Panaflex® Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
115
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30289
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Sitting alone on a New York City subway, philosophy professor-turned-postal worker Jacob “Jake” Singer falls asleep and remembers a battle he fought on October 6, 1971, in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. On that day, marijuana-smoking U.S. soldiers were besieged by a violent reaction to the drug, and their base camp was decimated in an attack. Surviving the incident, Jacob sneaked into the jungle and was impaled with an assault rifle. Back on the subway, Jacob steps off the train at the abandoned Bergen Station, only to discover he is locked inside. As he walks along the tracks to find a way out, he dodges a train filled with ghost-like figures pressed against the windowpanes. At home, Jacob makes love to Jezzie, his girl friend and fellow post office worker, then awakens from a nightmare to find a package with photographs of his estranged wife, Sarah, and their dead son, Gabe. Noticing her lover’s emotional reaction, Jezzie dumps the photographs into an incinerator. Jacob later goes to his chiropractor, Louis, who cracks his neck and provokes a momentary flashback to Vietnam. Leaving the appointment, Jacob is nearly run over by a car manned by demon-like creatures and seeks help at the Veterans’ Administration, asking for Dr. Carlson. When the admitting nurse claims she has never heard of a doctor by that name, and says there is no record of Jacob’s prior treatment, he slams his fists on the desk and she leans over, revealing a strange bone growing from her head. Terrified, Jacob runs away to Dr. Carlson’s “office” only to learn the doctor died in a mysterious car ... +


Sitting alone on a New York City subway, philosophy professor-turned-postal worker Jacob “Jake” Singer falls asleep and remembers a battle he fought on October 6, 1971, in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. On that day, marijuana-smoking U.S. soldiers were besieged by a violent reaction to the drug, and their base camp was decimated in an attack. Surviving the incident, Jacob sneaked into the jungle and was impaled with an assault rifle. Back on the subway, Jacob steps off the train at the abandoned Bergen Station, only to discover he is locked inside. As he walks along the tracks to find a way out, he dodges a train filled with ghost-like figures pressed against the windowpanes. At home, Jacob makes love to Jezzie, his girl friend and fellow post office worker, then awakens from a nightmare to find a package with photographs of his estranged wife, Sarah, and their dead son, Gabe. Noticing her lover’s emotional reaction, Jezzie dumps the photographs into an incinerator. Jacob later goes to his chiropractor, Louis, who cracks his neck and provokes a momentary flashback to Vietnam. Leaving the appointment, Jacob is nearly run over by a car manned by demon-like creatures and seeks help at the Veterans’ Administration, asking for Dr. Carlson. When the admitting nurse claims she has never heard of a doctor by that name, and says there is no record of Jacob’s prior treatment, he slams his fists on the desk and she leans over, revealing a strange bone growing from her head. Terrified, Jacob runs away to Dr. Carlson’s “office” only to learn the doctor died in a mysterious car explosion. That night, Jezzie argues that Jacob’s hallucinations are merely encounters with New York City’s down-and-out, demonic-looking homeless people. At a party, a palm-reader notices that Jacob’s “lifeline” shows he is already dead. Making his way through a strobe-lit, dancing crowd, Jacob sees a man with a spinning head and a demon raping Jezzie. When Jacob writhes on the floor, tortured by another flashback, Jezzie takes him home and discovers he has a 106-degree fever. She orders him to bathe in ice water and recruits neighbors to hold him down as he screams, “You’re killing me!” Later, Jacob imagines himself in bed with his estranged wife, Sarah, and assumes his life with Jezzie was a nightmare. As Jacob and Sarah make love, their son, Gabe, comes into their room and Jacob puts him back to bed. After another hallucination of Vietnam, Jacob awakens in Jezzie’s bathtub. During weeks of recuperation, Jacob studies demonology and receives a telephone call from Paul, a former Vietnam platoon member. At a bar, Paul cries that he is haunted by demons and is convinced he is “going to hell,” but is somewhat relieved to learn that Jacob is suffering as well. Paul wonders if their experiences are related to the October 6, 1971 battle in Vietnam. Outside, Paul is killed by an explosion in his car. At Paul’s wake, friends from the platoon reunite and discover that they, too, are besieged by demons and near-death experiences. Jacob is convinced something happened to them during the October 6th attack and approaches an opportunistic lawyer named Geary to help make a case against the Army. However, Geary later declines, and Jacob is horrified to learn his friends have also backed out. When Jacob pursues Geary, he learns the military has no record of the soldiers’ tour of duty. Outside the courthouse, Jacob is beaten and detained by two government officials but he fights his way out of their car. As he lies on the pavement, a man dressed as Santa Claus steals his wallet. Jacob arrives at a hospital emergency room without an identity card and is presumed to be insane. Strapped to a gurney, he is wheeled through corridors of deranged people and bloody carnage to an operating room, where Jezzie is one of his surgeons. When a doctor declares him dead, Jacob has another flashback to Vietnam and a vision of his wife, Sarah. Sometime later, Jacob’s chiropractor, Louis, barges into the hospital and rushes his patient out of the ward in a wheelchair. Jacob is paralyzed with a broken back and believes he is dead, but Louis treats him for a slipped disk and refers to the philosopher, Meister Eckhart, saying, “If you’re frightened of dying, and you’re 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.” After a few more adjustments, Jacob is able to walk again. At home, he looks through a cigar box filled with memorabilia from Vietnam, including an honorable discharge, photographs, and a letter from young Gabe. When Jezzie returns, she reports that Jacob has been missing for two days, and there was no evidence of his admission to any hospital. Just then, a man named Michael Newman telephones Jacob to tell him about a government-sponsored “secret experiment” with chemical warfare during his tour in Vietnam. The two men meet and Jacob learns he is “one of the survivors.” Newman claims that high-ranking government officials forced him to concoct a hallucinogenic drug called the “Ladder” to induce aggressive behaviors in soldiers. At the time, the military was planning a huge offensive, but morale was low, and officials feared the men would not have the drive to fight. Therefore, the “Ladder” was tested on Jacob’s battalion. The men thought they were under attack, but actually fought and killed each other. Terrified by this realization, Jacob rushes to a taxicab and asks to be taken “home.” When he arrives at Sarah’s darkened townhouse, he recalls Eckhart’s philosophy of making peace with death and has momentary flashes of his son, Gabe. Awakening on the couch the next morning, Jacob sees Gabe sitting on the stairs. The boy embraces his father and leads him upward toward a brilliant light. Back in 1971 Vietnam, soldier Jacob Singer smiles peacefully as he is declared dead. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.