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There is a 100% chance that we will die. Our attachments cause us to suffer.
Whoa there! Yeah, I was originally going to make a post in the films that make you cry thread, but I want to dedicate a whole thread talking about this. Namely why my favorite movie, Jacob's Ladder, makes me cry every time I watch it.
It's not easy talking about just why this film makes me cry. The reason being is that it deals with perhaps the most complex and morally grey subject life faces: death. No one wants to talk about death. Death is bad. We don't want to die. We want to stay alive forever and share our experiences with our loved ones and objects for as long as we can.
Yet death is all around us. I'm not just talking about the news reports either. I'm talking about when your car dies, when an object you adore breaks, or even when the power goes out.
In fact, the power going out is a great example. Next time you lose power for an extended period, make a note of how often you flip the switch and sigh as you realize that the power is gone and note how much you miss it. You are essentially mourning the loss of your power, whether you realize it or not.
Jacob's Ladder is a story about a mourning father named Jacob Singer who lost his son, Gabe, before entering the Vietnam War. When he returns from the war, he is estranged from his wife and his other children and lives with his new girlfriend named Jezzie. His past, his experiences, his attachments come to haunt him in various ways. He has flashbacks to when he was a father. He has flashbacks to when he was in the army. He has flashbacks to the son he mourns so much. He tries to get help from a therapist he once knew only to go to the mental hospital to find that the therapist's car blew up when he was in it. Nothing makes sense. He reunites with his family (excluding the son he mourns so much) at the hospital for a broken neck after a freak accident involving the government that literally sent him to hell (if I have time, I'll explain this later) and reconciles with them. He then gets picked up by his chiropractor whom after Jacob explained his journey to hell says:
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 ... 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.” (This quote was taken from the Wikipedia article b/c I couldn't be bothered to write it all out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob's_Ladder_(film)
Jacob goes back to his apartment where he and his family once lived. He sorts through mementos of his past and sees Gabe on the stairway (to Heaven?). After crying in Gabe's arms and having Gabe comfort him, they move up the staircase into a bright light.
Jacob is dead. He was killed in Vietnam during a government experiment done without his knowledge on his Platoon where they attacked each other. His body, his face, on a stretcher in Vietnam, is at peace.
What does this all mean and why does it make me cry? My tears are not of sorrow, but of elated hope. No other piece of media has made me more happier and empowered after viewing than this movie has. Some people call Jacob's Ladder a horror movie. I do not. While Jacob has visions of demons and he goes through a literal hell filled with bloody limbs and deformed humanoids, the demons aren't there to harm us, remember? Remember that quote: “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, they’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying 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.”
The demons here are not to scare us, they're here to free us, to help empower us, to give us clarity.
Now, I'm no expert on Buddhist philosophy or the Tibetan Book of the Dead where this film draws inspiration, but I don't think you have to in order to understand the message. Everything we are attached to, our experiences, our objects, etc. are going to die. They are impermanent. When we are attached to something, we have to accept that it will end and won't be coming back. You have to mentally and physically adjust to the notion of not being able to have that experience, that attachment ever again. When you make your peace, when you accept that the ones you love, the things you love, the experiences you shared and had with others will disappear, you see the angels, you'll see inner peace. The demons tearing us away from that inner peace, that suffering, isn't a punishment, it's a natural response.
Eventually, I can conquer my suffering. I can see that death isn't a bad thing, it's a natural thing. I can live my life with confidence knowing that I will die and I will suffer, but what makes me suffer and the attachments that I lived with will also be what frees me and gives me peace.
Phew, that was a lot to digest. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh......