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Mental Illness: Major Films  
TitleJacob's Ladder (1990)
Alternative/Original Title
DisabilityMental War Trauma
CountryUSA
Length115
GenreWar
Rating4
DirectorAdrian Lyne
CastTim Robbins Elizabeth Pena Danny Aiello Matt Craven
NotesTim Robbins is a postman in New York City who has nightmares about Vietnam. Elizabeth Pena is his patient girlfriend. Danny Aiello is the chiropractor who is a kind of father substitute. Throughout the film Robbins has flashes which become flashbacks on what happened in Vietnam. These are confused with his memories of his young son in an earlier marriage who was killed in his an accident. His character is further broadened when we learn that he has studied for a doctorate but now works for the post office where he met his present partner. Then the real mystery starts. He is nearly killed in the subway, nearly run over by a car, his doctor and a friend are both killed by exploding cars. He becomes paranoid about being followed. The climax to this disturbed period comes when his temperature goes to 106f. And he is saved only by the intervention of his partner who puts him in a bath and fills it with ice cubes provided by their neighbours. His doctor says he has a virus but meeting an old buddy who says "he's going to hell" his suspicions become more concrete that something happened to his troop in Vietnam. But as his buddy leaves and gets into his car it blows up. Robbins than contacts the rest of the troop who have had similar experiences and they go to a lawyer. The lawyer says they have a case but then the rest of the troop and the lawyer back out. By this point we are fairly confused and only a good script and good acting keep us on course. But the pieces come together when Robbins gets a phone call from a guy who was in a chemical warfare unit. He says the army command were worried about their soldiers not being aggressive enough and that while in the army his troop were given injections to make them more aggressive. The unexpected result is that the soldiers killed each other. The ending will further confuse because it shows that Robbin's character died in Vietnam. Putting this aside the film does achieve the quite difficult task of a state of mind which we can see as drug-induced or war trauma. Though the film's emphasis is on the army's experiment during the time we are unaware of this we're asking all sorts of questions about the effects of war. Especially close combat (Robbins is bayonetted). Not a comfortable film to watch but worthwhile.

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