Friday, 1 May 2015

Mindfuck Movies: Jacob's Ladder(1990)

I've always been rummaging for the kind of movies which can blow your brains off, and if there is one single thread that runs common across all of them, it's the end and the anticipation that one builds around it while watching the movie so patiently. Be it The others, The sixth sense, or Shutter Island. Nearly all such movies thrive on the fact that the story is woven around that one single denouement, when everything falls in place and you find the key to the whole story. Such movies are always brilliant because of the emphatic cinematography which does not have to make the movie garish and tawdry but which just has to focus on keeping the movie centered on the final few minutes of revelation and epiphany as the fulcrum. And in my quest for more such movies, boy did I come across a treasure this time around!

In order to prevent this from becoming a spoiler, I’d not get into the depth of anything about the movie, but I’m just going to talk about that one single message and the way the movie is worked all around it. Almost without fail, all good movies, and the ones transcend generations because they are genuinely good, all follow that one same principle – staying on course. And while a 100 effects may have to be put in, and while multiple locations may have to be traversed, or characters have to be replaced, everything has to lead to the final climax.

Jacob’s ladder, in all its essence, is about fighting a long lost battle. Everything in the movie, right from the grim and poignant colors, the grovelling demeanor of the lead actor, the moroseness of every scuffle, and every abject transition bringing more pain and tussle. It all points towards the hopelessness, and yet the hope and solace one finds in the act of putting up a fight. Any deeper delving may allude the real plot, but the movie does in fact run on two levels, with the same message being delivered in both – the irony that prevails in putting up such a fight. 

For the larger part of the movie, you may consider yourself grappling with the misguided imagination of an idiosyncratic director who probably just wanted to create a recipe with all elements common to movies of that epoch of 90’s. You’d find some gory scenes all along, you’d find hideous bloodshed, you’d find lachrymose and bewailing people, and you’d find truculent teenagers and even horrendous doctors as well. You’d also find what by today’s standards shall qualify as not so impressive animation depicting a hallucinated and contorted version of the reality. But in those final 2 minutes, while you might have grown a little too anxious after being subjected to about 110 minutes of derriere, you’d be absolutely surprised because the movie ends with a logical conclusion that should have come automatically, and that a lot many shrewd souls would even get an inkling of, but you obviously didn’t.

Jacob, the typical exploited soldier who fought a war for his country, comes back after apparently recuperating from a deadly wound he received on the battlefield. The movie brilliantly transitions and links from the past to the present, which continue to run parallel without any mental stramash filling in your head. Jacob goes through a long struggle putting his life back in some order, and finds asylum in the house of his new beloved, a woman he always craved for, while abjuring his own family and children. All of this is expected for a man whose life was in tatters. And amid the pain of a looming divorce, a recovering wound, and in the memories of a child he lost long ago, Jacob finds counsel in a magical chiropractor who knows how to fix any problem in Jacob's anatomy. And likewise, the movie progresses as a series of sequential events, all obvious and all so ordinary. But all the time, Jacob’s mind is running on a track of its own, making him conjure and contrive things, making him see a universe no one else can see, making sure that you’re aware that something is wrong, and something is wrong as hell! Then you take the man as a maniac and think this is a usual movie where he’ll turn out psycho in the end because the director thought good screenplay alone will win an Oscar. But you’re mistaken right there. You stay with the movie till the end, and later on you prize yourself for doing that.

And once a movie like this ends, it’s not that you grow pensive and do something radical, but you surely contemplate to see what the movie really stood for. And then suddenly the director who appeared like a cantankerous traipse till now, would come across as a deft man at the art of storytelling. And such is the case with all such movies. If you’re patient enough for that long, the worth of the unraveling process at the end multiplies. Moreover, while all such movies have a different way of regaling you, all of them hold you as their precious retinue till the end, so that you can begin to see for yourself that nothing in the movie was at all superfluous and how everything had a place and spot. And that in itself is the mark of phenomenal direction and cinematography.

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