Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
This reviewer remembers being deeply impressed and unsettled when he first watched Jacob’s Ladder on television as a youngster. Revisiting the movie at a distance of nearly a quarter of a century, however, he finds it alternately disturbing and unintentionally amusing. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) and directed by Adrian Lyne (Flashdance), Jacob’s Ladder is the story of a Jewish Vietnam veteran, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), who finds his grip on reality loosened when he begins to be haunted by threatening demonic figures. Neither a proper horror film, nor sufficiently sane and earthbound to be merely a psychological drama, Jacob’s Ladder is best described as a Judaic phantasmagoria, and offers valuable insight into the Jews’ perceptions of themselves, the gentiles, and their shiksa women.
Recently divorced Jacob lives with his sultry shiksa lover, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena), named for devious Phoenician hussy Jezebel. A bedroom exchange that occurs between the two early in the film reveals much about the nature of their relationship. Jezzie is clearly annoyed as Jacob lingers over some old photographs of his children from his broken marriage, observing that his sons all have “weird names”. “They’re biblical names,” Jacob corrects her. “They were prophets.”
Jezzie: Well, personally, I don’t go in for church names.
Jacob: You’re such a heathen, Jezzie. How’d I ever get involved with such a fuckin’ ninny?
Jezzie: You sold your soul, remember? That’s what you told me.
Jacob: Yeah? For what?
Jezzie: A good lay.
Here, then, is the essence of the romantic pickle in which the protagonist finds himself. He has given up a sexually pedestrian woman who loves and understands him as a man and as a Jew, but gained in the bargain an exciting and exotic creature comforter whose erotic power over him is, however, offset by her intellectual limitations and shallowness. Jezzie is nothing if not the personification of what one episode of Seinfeld famously characterized as “shiks-appeal”.
Jewish figures, from Leo Frank, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski – all the way back to the rabbinical authors of the pedophilia-pardoning Talmud – have expressed their lascivious interest in under-aged girls. Jezzie, one must note, is sexually mature, but it is interesting to note that actress Elizabeth Pena, in the Building Jacob’s Ladder documentary included as a bonus feature on the Lions Gate blu-ray, reveals of her character that, “She’s a little bit of a child” and reiterates, “She’s his wife, she’s his child.” Further complicating the nature of the relationship, Pena observes of Jezzie, “She’s the enemy, she’s the friend, she’s the perfect lover.”
Significantly, Jacob’s wife (Patricia Kalember) is said to have met Jezzie at a Christmas party, Jezzie’s Christianity being one of the factors that makes her less trustworthy and a source of unease in Jacob. On a wall of their apartment is an unusual crucifix decorated with two crossed daggers, symbols of her gentile bloodthirstiness. Though clearly Hispanic, the character has been given the odd surname of Pipkin, which refers to a medieval cooking vessel. Jezzie thus embodies “Holocaust” historian Raul Hilberg’s paranoid notion of Christendom as leading inevitably, in the entirety of its history, development, and incrementally hardening treatment of Jews, toward the “Final Solution” of Adolf Hitler. She makes this manifest when she takes her lover’s family photos and throws these into an incinerator – the insensitive Nazi shiksa bitch!
Described by director Adrian Lyne as “a demonic invention” of Jacob’s imagination, Jezzie ultimately reveals her true colors when she appears in league with the devil-gentiles and stands by as an impassive spectator during one of Jacob’s Ladder’s most frightening sequences, set in a hospital straight out of Hell – which, with its dingy corridors, white-tiled clinical slaughterhouse cluttered with piles of bloody body parts, and shots of Jacob strapped to a gurney and being tortured by men dressed as surgeons – conjures up the stuff of the “Holocaust” legend and mad doctor Josef Mengele’s alleged experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz.
“Why don’t you just burn him at the stake and put him out of his misery?” demands Louis (Danny Aiello), Jacob’s chiropractor-cum-therapist and guardian angel, the one-man all-purpose aid for everything that ails a neurotic hypochondriac New York City Jew. Louis, in addition to rescuing Jacob from the hospital, does what he can to effect a reunion between the hero and the mother of his children.
As screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin puts it in Building Jacob’s Ladder, “We really do get the sense that Jezzie is part of the force of darkness and it really does allow you this moment of trying to be able to separate from Jezzie and realizing that you want to get away from Jezzie, you want to reach for the goodness, the light” – which is to say, the Jewish. When Jacob, at one point and on one level of the narrative, wakes up in his old life, lying in bed next to ex-wife Sarah, he reflects on his relationship with Jezzie, “God, what a nightmare.” “See what happens when you cheat on me, even in your mind?” Sarah teases him. “Am I home?” Jacob wonders aloud, in words that could refer to the Jew’s place in a gentile society as easily as to Jacob’s immediate surroundings.
Alluding again to the “Holocaust”, blondes figure prominently in Jacob’s nightmarish visions of a demonic parallel reality. An antagonistic hospital receptionist is revealed to be part of the hostile other, and a coarse partier cackles in Jacob’s face in a claustrophobic close-up shot occurring during the movie’s most vivid freak-out sequence. Jacob’s son, Gabe, played by Macaulay Culkin, is also a blond; but one suspects that this piece of casting would not have been Bruce Joel Rubin’s preference. One also wonders what color of hair one would find under the Santa Claus hat of the bell-ringer who pilfers Jacob’s wallet while he is incapacitated.
If some dull viewer by this point in the story has not understood that Jacob Singer is a Jew, the movie conveniently treats its audience to a close-up of his dog tags, which indicate his religion as “Jewish”. In addition, there is a street scene in which two Hasidim cross the frame for no apparent purpose other than to advertise the wailing and unsubtle Jewishness of the film’s subtext. Jacob’s Ladder is set in the heavily Jewish Warrensburg section of Brooklyn, which received an influx of Hasidic Jews after the displacements of World War II and the “Holocaust”.
“You’re one of the survivors, Jacob,” explains psychedelic chemist Michael Newman (Matthew Crnkovich, alias Matt Craven), who reveals that Jacob and his platoon comrades in Vietnam were victims of an experimental super-soldier LSD-type agent called “The Ladder”. Jacob and his old buddies approach a shyster lawyer, Geary (Seinfeld’s Jason Greenspan, alias Alexander), about getting a class action lawsuit going against the Army, but the plan for the suit falls through after the Army intimidates his fellow complainants. Geary, then, is the type of the kapo – the self-interested and treacherous Jew who cooperates in the genocidal initiatives of the gentile host. “I don’t know you from Adam,” he says.
Threatened by the dissent and the living proof of Jewish victimhood that Jacob represents, the government sends two agents to abduct him. These well-dressed figures recall the two agents who come to retrieve Joseph K. at the conclusion of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. “In frock coats, pallid and plump” and with “fat double chins,” Kafka describes them, also noting that K. “was repelled by the painful cleanliness of their faces.” Much of Jacob’s Ladder, with its spies, blocked exits, and frustrating bureaucracies, can be viewed as an appropriation of Kafka’s alienated vision.
Jacob is “like Job, almost, this poor man,” comments director Adrian Lyne, who says during his audio commentary that it was his intention to fill the film with “Judeo-Christian” imagery. Concerned throughout the film that he is descending into Hell, Jacob learns that the choice is his and that he only has to accept rather than cling to his losses in order to access the presence of God referenced in the title’s biblical allusion. “If you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on,” guardian chiropractor-angel Louis advises, “you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.”
One supposes that these include the Todesengel, Josef Mengele, and that the entirety of the unending history of Judaic suffering, in view of Louis’s insight above, has, contrary to the Nazis’ intentions, only granted the Jews a racial access to the Divine. “You’re a lucky guy, Jake,” another doctor (Lewis Black) tells him, adding, “You must have friends in high places.” Naturally – he is one of the Chosen!
Jacob’s Ladder, judged as a slice of Jewish life, is the paranoid experience par excellence; and yet it is an honest film in presenting its stylish, Hellraiser-ish horrors as the figments, freaks, and phantasms of a fevered and dying Jewish brain. As screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin concedes in the documentary Building Jacob’s Ladder, the story idea came from one of his dreams. Ending the film on an appropriately dreamy (and Jewish) note, Al Jolson’s rendition of “Sonny Boy” plays over the credits.