One person I wasn't able to get on the phone for my recent 25th anniversary retrospective on Jacob's Ladder was the film's lead star Tim Robbins, who turned in a riveting performance as haunted Vietnam war veteran Jacob Singer in Adrian Lyne's cult existential horror film (the director called his performance “extraordinary” when I spoke with him last month).
Well, better late than never: while out promoting his forthcoming Yugoslav war drama A Perfect Day, Robbins reflected fondly on the 1990 film, which failed to catch fire with audiences at the time but went on to greater success in the home video market, thereby scarring a generation of kids in the process: “I've [talked to] a couple people that were like 10 when they saw it and have been damaged forever by it,” laughed the actor, who said that he's “proud” of the “interesting, disturbing, but important” film but feels it suffered from “bad timing” being released near the beginning of the first Gulf War.
“That would be almost anti-zeitgeist,” said Robbins. “That would be like the worst movie to release in that particular time. Because people didn't want to think about a Vietnam veteran at that point. They wanted to think about reclaiming glory. It was not meant for that specific time that it was released.”
Robbins feels that the film's lasting impact with audiences is a tribute to its power, and indeed, Jacob's Ladder has accrued quite a following amongst both older and younger viewers compelled by its startling blend of surrealistic horror and human pathos.
“I think if you do something good that you're proud of, and you're telling the story that you want to tell, there is in this world another life for that movie after it's released,” Robbins continued. “It's the lasting power of movies that essentially…define a life or a career. It's the ones that still resonate now after so long that I think are the ones that matter. And so Jacob's Ladder is that way. I'm so proud of that movie.”