Writes Roger Ebert: I ordinarily am more than a little impatient with movies that deal with hallucinations, with dream states and delusions, because I feel artificially manipulated; the filmmakers are jerking my chain, and often it's a lazy substitute for the bother of constructing an intelligent screenplay. "Jacob's Ladder" is so well made, however, that I didn't feel impatient this time, because I didn't have the opportunity. The movie lives right on the raw edge of insanity, and carries us along with it.
Coming out of the film, riding down in the elevator with some fellow critics, I got involved in a conversation about the underlying reality of the film. Was it all a flashback - or a flashforward? What was real, and what was only in the hero's mind? Are even the apparently "real" sequences the product of his imagination? More than this I should not say, because the film should have the opportunity to toy with you as it toyed with us.
Making a chart of the real and the imagined is not the point of "Jacob's Ladder," anyway. This movie is the portrait of a mental state, as Orson Welles' "The Trial" and Ken Russell's "Altered States" were. The screenplay is by Bruce Joel Rubin, who also wrote the completely different "Ghost," and I've read an essay by him in which he talks about his original ideas for the film, and the way they were translated into visuals by the director, Adrian Lyne.
Judging by the essay, Lyne has done a good job of determining what could be translated, and what could be safely left behind. Rubin's original material, with its visions of demons and heaven and hell, has been replaced by the more frightening notion that paradise and the inferno are all about us here on Earth, and that we participate in one or the other almost by choice.
The Complete Review Here. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19901102/REVIEWS/11020301/