In the film Jacob's Ladder (1991) there are two character's that die in car bombs/explosions. This leads Jacob and his other Vietnam War buddies to start to believe there is a government conspiracy to cover up things that were done to them in the war. Depending on one's interpretation of the movie however, we later learn that...

Jacob actually died in Vietnam and the entire film was either a hallucination or time spent in purgatory.

If this is the case then I assume there is some sort of significance or symbolism behind the car bombs but what could it be?

  • 3
    Car bombs = ied or land mines.
    – cde
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


My interpretation has always* been that the entire movie takes place inside his head while he's on the operating table dying and is telling the story of his own coming to terms with his imminent demise and journey to the afterlife.

Given this, I believe that the presence of explosions in the main story represent the real world around him 'leaking in' to his subconscious in the same way that your environment (particularly sounds) can sneak into your dreams. Explosions are happening around him as he lies on the operating table and are therefore incorporated into his internal narrative as explosions in that context.

*When I say always; I obviously didn't get this on the first viewing or possibly even the second or third, but having watched this movie several times over the years, this is my conclusion.

  • Nice and novel perspective, but I think I disagree a little. If the car explosions were caused due to actual explosions outside, they'd be more random, appearing out of nowhere. However, in his head, the car explosions actually happen after an intricate build-up (for instance, Paul had become extremely paranoid and talked about this to Jacob... and then the explosion happened).
    – Arjun
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 11:37
  • Also, after the movie's end, when we discover that Jacob's dead, the doctors who had been trying to treat him seem rather relaxed and the setting doesn't look intense, ie it doesn't seem like explosions had been occuring nearby. (I might be wrong though as I've never fought in a war :P)
    – Arjun
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 11:41
  • I learn something every day. I was a under the age of 21 when I watched this, and I didn't realize that there was much to "interpret" - for my recollection the ending was a kind of twist/reveal when suddenly it became clear that this is what had been happening in the movie.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 0:57

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