The Jacob's Ladder Syndrome



No announcement yet.
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Jacob's Ladder Syndrome

    Just wondering how everyone feels about movies in which we discover in the end that everything we've just seen is either 1) an hallucination by the protag, or 2) a supernatural experience, i.e. stages to death.

    The whole circular structure, where we end where we began, i.e. on a battlefield or a hospital room, has been done over and over for decades. But has it been overdone? And is there something new one can bring to it these days?

    Curious to see what everyone things.

  • #2
    I'm not a fan of those kind of stories. I think it's a lack of honest writing. The protagonist is not in a normal state, for the protagonist, so we don't get to see any sort of real change.

    The exception that has just occured to me is, perhaps, the orginal Matrix movie. But it doesn't fit the whole criteria- Neo wakes up earlier in the movie and we get to see a change in him.


    • #3
      I'm not sure it's exactly dishonest writing. It's more like the kind of metanovel that was popular some years ago in which we discover in the end that the book we're reading is the book that's been written by the person telling the story (there are elements of this as far back as Don Quixote and, in the last century, the great In Search of Lost Time by Proust and Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual.

      I think if there's some some firm structural reason for it it could work well. Think of "The Usual Suspects", which, for me, worked very well, giving the audience that all-necessary holy-sh!t moment in the end.

      But I agree that if it's just there for effect it's like watching someone sitting in a corner masturbating.8o


      • #4
        Jacob's Ladder is one of my all time favorites.

        I think it is the first published screenplay I ever bought (way back before the internet). Not that it helped any, because the thing reads like a novel, but it includes a history of the film's production (it was constantly on the Ten Best Unproduced Scripts lists all through the 1980's).

        It is an obvious homage to the french film Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, and yes it has been done before, but rarely this well.

        IMO the It Was All A Hallucination ending is not a cheat, because the entire film is like an LSD flashback.

        Not so much a twist ending as a WTF? one. Unfortunately, Ambiguity = Commercial failure.

        Personally, I think the whole Vietnam Vet thing was more exploited than the twist.

        Also, to answer your question, nothing has been overdone so much that you cant rework it.

        If I did it, I'd probably let the audience in on it from the beginning, because they will either feel cheated or (more likely these days) start yelling 'I knew it in the first ten minutes!'.

        I would probably make it a near death experience, or someone in a coma having an imaginary alternate life.


        • #5
          Excellent points. I think the "pulling-the-rug-out" ending can be used to very good effect, as long as it's not a case of the tail wagging the dog. I like "Jacob's Ladder", I like the mood of the piece and the way it's sustained throughout.

          I think the time has come for a new way to look at this structural concept that deals not so much with drugs or a supernatural experience but with memory itself.


          • #6
            Well, one can only hope that A Scanner Darkly fails at the B.O. (not likely, with Linklater in charge), otherwise the whole drugs/memory genre will get hacked to death quick.


            • #7
              I think Jacob's Ladder was flawed because it failed to tell us the real story at the same time it was telling us the false story. Film's that do this "twist" successfully are those that tell us the real story and don't just hide it. When the twist happens we should be able to process what we have already seen and have the twist make perfect sense. IOW the real story should be hiding in plain sight. Stories that withhold the real story and deny the audience to deduce what the real story is are IMHO exceedingly manipulative and create false dramatic beats that do not resonate. Other films like Identity fail by not making us care about the real story and actually wanting the hero to fail because we dislike the real story so much. You have to weave the real story with the false story so that when we discover the real story we want the hero to succeed as much or more than we wanted the hero to succeed int he false story.

              My 2 cents.


              • #8
                IOW the real story should be hiding in plain sight.
                I second that. Deus is absolutely right. It should work like literary allegory, where we read one, highly symbolic story (or poem) while being constantly aware that it's simultaneously telling another, more realistic story.


                • #9
                  For what it's worth, it would probably be more apt to call it "The Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge Syndrome," since Ambrose Bierce did a fine job with it back in the 19th Century.


                  • #10

                    I would call this script more science fiction than metaphysical. Time travel is an overt device and the lead's perception of where he is, physically or mentally, not really called into question.

                    It is worth reading.


                    • #11
                      Apparently there is a French film from 1994 called A Pure Formality that employs the Owl Creek Bridge ending. (I would love to see it, but it's not on dvd, and I'm not renting any @!*&$% VHS.

                      I think part of the audiences' confusion over Jacobs Ladder was due to the fact that the film was set in 1990. I guess it was for budget reasons, but why would a man


                      dying in a tent in 1971 imagine himself twenty years later? (How would he know what cars were gonna look like?)

                      Sixth Sense employs the same trick, but the craft and misdirection that went into the setup was brilliant,(we were fooled, not cheated) and it's a great example of how to make the same old ideas new again.


                      • #12
                        if you have problems with The Jacob's Ladder Syndrome, don't read or watch Stay, the script penned by David Benioff.


                        • #13
                          Stax script report:

                          While there were a few nifty ideas employed in Stay, the entire story was merely a vessel for a big, climactic gimmick. Stay suffers from what I'll call "The Shyamalan Effect." Ever since The Sixth Sense (and maybe The Usual Suspects) I've seen and read several mysteries that were built around a twist ending. Problem is, thanks to The Sixth Sense, we've come to anticipate such endings now; any savvy viewer/reader can pretty much figure out where the story is headed well before it gets there. What made The Sixth Sense work (at least for the many of us who enjoyed it) is that you didn't see that ending coming. It was a "shocker" in the most legitimate sense of the term.

                          Subsequent thrillers, even enjoyable ones like The Others, are hurt because audiences now know they can't trust what they're witnessing since a twist ending is on the way. Sadly, the only thing many such thrillers really had to offer was their (now not-so-novel) twist ending. Without spoiling anything, all I'll say is that Stay essentially renders its entire narrative moot thanks to its finale. Even worse, Henry seems to know what the ending holds and then goes about revealing it to certain characters. That completely undercut whatever shock value such a twist ending should have.


                          • #14
                            Does anyone have a pdf or FD file of "Stay" they can email me, please? PM, if you do.


                            • #15
                              If you mean films like Fight Club, where we learn we can't trust a damn thing Norton says or does, or The Usual Suspects, where we're fed slowmo images of some Fabio-like Hungarian gangster that turn out to be a bare-faced lie -- then yeah, these kind of movies piss me off. There's nothing clever about lying to the audience, and that's all the writer is doing. I feel cheated and made a fool of, rather than entertained.

                              My Web Page - naked women, bestial sex, and whopping big lies.