Artefact Concepts for Jacob’s Ladder

Working as a team to design an artefact for Jacob’s ladder has been no easy feat. The movie is extremely subjective to the viewer and choosing one key area or theme to focus on to create our artefact has been somewhat challenging.

Although the film is full of visually stimulating shots and imagery, we, as a group, decided to hone in on one part of the movie that we believe summed up the entire premise of the movie:


We believe this quote is one of the key reoccurring motifs of the movie that is the driving force behind the entire plot of the film.

The other key themes we looked at were:

  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Life vs Death
  • Angels vs Demons
  • Purgatory/Hell
  • Drug usage
  • Mental deterioration in an individual
  • The feeling of being trapped in a time/place
  • Fear/perception
  • War and conflict

Having thought about these themes in the movie, we moved away from our initial idea of doing a short film which would allude to these themes, to a physical object as our artefact. Although a visual abstract film would have been an interesting take on the movie, we felt that due to time constraints and lack of appropriate equipment, we would create something a little more physically tangible.

After a lot of team meetings, we decided to play on the meaning in the quote (picture above) spoken by the character Louis in the movie by creating an abstract photo album.

(Quote in depth) Louis:

Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you, he said. They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and… and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth. It’s just a matter of how you look at it, that’s all. So don’t worry, okay?’s_Ladder_(film)

Here is the clip from the movie where Louis explains this idea of life vs death (angels vs demons) to Jacob:

Here are some of the images of Tim Robbins (Jacob) that we might use in our photograph album:

The other visually thought provoking images we got from the movie were:

  • Bird cages and being trapped in a space (just like Jacob is in “purgatory”)
  • The image of a Ladder (the Biblical Allusion in the movie title)
  • Demon figures and distorted images (demons with violently shaking heads)
  • The colour white (to represent the afterlife/heaven)
  • The Subway (to represent the “journey” that is Jacob’s life)
  • Gabe – Jacob’s dead son (to represent childhood innocence and the loss of it)
  • Syringes/hospitals (to illustrate the use of drugs and play on the horror element of the movie)
  • The dog tag (to represent War and combat or our daily “battles” in life)

Some images which we felt we could take inspiration from when developing our photoshop portrait of Jacob:

In order to create our distorted Jacob portraits in our photo album, we are hoping to use Photoshop to give the images a eery feel. The photoshop tutorials below are ones we have taken inspiration from:

We are also hoping to physically damage and “age” our photo album to give it a weathered and nostalgic feel. We also want the book to look like it’s “been through hell” to allude to the theme of the afterlife.

Our ideas of how to stylise the photo album to make it more reflective of the movie:

  1. Burn the pages – make it look like it’s been through hell Rip and tear some of the pages
  2. Draw on the book – memories/ lines from the movie in relation to the movie themes
  3. Blood stains on the book from war – Jacob’s injury
  4. Draw on the book the symbol of a ladder to allude to the biblical connotations


Another idea we had for our photo album was to give it a good back story – an army case file, analysing Jacob’s life and the horrible effects of the drug. We would design the photo album with the viewpoint of a outsider studying his life from Vietnam and the visions he had.

  • Letters of the quotes from the movie as “evidence” for the manipulation of Jacob’s mind and body through the drugs



Here are some of the looks we were inspired by when creating our photo album:


Taking visual inspiration from the master minds behind the creation of the movie:

Special prosthetic effects designer Gordon J. Smith eschewed Rubin’s medieval depictions of demons (as seen in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch) – opting instead for a more ‘contempory vision of horror’ – inspired by the works of 20th century painter Francis Bacon and the disturbing S & M photography of Joel-Peter Witkin.


Detail of ‘Hell’ by Hieronymus Bosch (b.1450 – d.1516)


‘Portrait of Michel Leris’ 1976 by Francis Bacon (b. 1902 – d. 1992)


‘Mother And Child With Retractor Screaming’ 1979 by Joel-Peter Witkin (b. 1939 – )

Smith applied grotesque prosthetics to the actors and had them shaking their heads vigorously, as the camera ran at four frames per second, in order to capture the blurred sense of movement inherent in Bacon’s portraits – a simple technique, but unsettlingly effective. Actually, it’s interesting to note that no opticals or post-production visual effects were employed in this movie – everything you see was done ‘in-camera’ – giving the film a heightened sense of realism sadly lacking in the CGI-saturated genre movies of today.

So, below are the details of how we plan to layout our photo album:

Visual Timeline of Photo Album:

  1. First few pages are of Jacob and family (happy times)
  2. Then the drugs are used on Jacob (could be represented by eery green colour over Jacob’s image or writing on picture)
  3. Then blank pages with blood splatters to represent his wound and death in Vietnam.
  4. Then an image of a bright white light to represent Jacob passing on
  5. Flick through to gradually distorted images of Jacob
  6. Last image of bright white light from a room to represent heaven or the afterlife (sense of peace)
  7. Very last image near the back of Gabe (how we hold on to loved ones no matter what may come our way) OR, the quote from the top with a drawing of a ladder (a symbol)

Quotes which could be incorporated into the album as captions:

Elsa: [reading Jacob’s palm] See. According to this, you’re already dead. 

	Hey, is someone in there?
	Why didn't you turn on the light?
	Look at these, will ya? I don't
	believe it. Jesus, these are
	fantastic. Look, here's my Dad ...
	And here's my brother, when we were
	down in Florida.
		(rummaging excitedly
		through the pile)
	Here. Look. This is me and Sarah when
	I was still at City College.

Why we have a Gabe photo at the end:

To JEZZIE's surprise and his own, tears well up in his eyes.
For a moment JACOB is unable to speak. He just stares at one
of the photos. JEZZIE looks at the picture. It is an image
of JACOB carrying a small child on his shoulders.

	Is that the one who died?


JEZZIE is silent. JACOB grabs a Kleenex and blows his nose.
	Sorry. it just took me by surprise. I
	didn't expect to see him this morning
	... God, what I wouldn't ... He was
	the cutest little guy. Like an angel,
	you know. He had this smile ...
	It's amazing, huh Jake? Your whole
	life ... right in front of you.
		(she pauses before
		making her final
	What a mess!
	Please! I never hurt anybody when I
	was alive. Believe me. I don't belong
	Right. She doesn't stop talking about
	you. You're always on her mind.
	That's love, Jake.
	I don't know. I've been having them
		(he thinks a moment,
		then changes the
	You know, you look like an angel,
	Louis, an overgrown cherub. Anyone
	ever tell you that?
	No. No. It's okay. I'm okay.
Evil Doctor: Where do you want to go?
Jacob Singer: Home.
Evil Doctor: Home? This is your home. You’re dead.
Jacob Singer: Dead? No. I just hurt my back, I’m not dead.
Evil Doctor: What are you, then?
Jacob Singer: I’m alive.
Evil Doctor: Then what are you doing here?
Jacob Singer: I don’t know.
Jacob Singer: This isn’t happening.
Evil Doctor: What *is* happening?
Jacob Singer: Get me out of here.
Evil Doctor: There is no out of here. You’ve been killed, don’t you remember?

Jezebel: You sold your soul, remember? That’s what you told me.

Jezebel: Jake, New York is filled with creatures.

	Help me. Someone.
	Jake, you little devil. You never
	told me you could dance like that.
	I wanna leave. Get me out of here.
	... I love you.
	They keep telling me I'm already
	dead, that they're gonna tear me
	apart, piece by piece, and throw me
	into the fire.
	Something weird is going on here.
	What is it about us? Even in Nam it
	was always weird. Are we all crazy or
	We're all angels, you know ...
		(she bites his earlobe.
		He winces)
	... and devils. It's just what you
	choose to see.
	You know what? I feel ... exorcised
	... like the demons are gone.
	Maybe the demons are real.

Good visual references in this quote:

JACOB hurries into the BEDROOM and pulls an old shoe box
from the closet. The box is filled with yellowing army
papers, dog tags, and photos of old comrades. Beneath his
discharge papers he finds a sheet scribbled with the names
and addresses of platoon buddies. JACOB grabs it. Then his
eyes fall on the frayed remains of an old letter. He picks
it up and unfolds it with great care. The letter is written
in a child's handwriting. "DEAR DADDY, I LOVE YOU. PLEASE

We hope to create an artefact that pays homage to the movie and makes the individual really think about their own thoughts about life and death; not simply replicate or even duplicate what is already explicit in meaning in the movie.


Image references:

all images above are not my own – can be found on Google Images


3 thoughts on “Artefact Concepts for Jacob’s Ladder

  1. Pingback: Jacob’s Ladder Schematic and Artifact | Jack Ellison

  2. Pingback: Assignment 2 – Jacob’s Ladder – Further Research and Ideas – Scrappy Dappy Doodles

  3. Pingback: Creating our artefact – Matthew Duddy's Blog

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