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Movie Review

It's never good to get shot in the head. That's what Jack Starks, an American Army soldier, discovers when he greets a young Iraqi boy in the first Gulf War, only to be rewarded with a bullet to his skull. Jack's voice-over tells his story while Army doctors examine his lifeless body: "I was 27 years old the first time I died." Then, inexplicably, his eyes open—and he's alive again.

Unfortunately, significant parts of Jack's memory don't make the trip back from the great beyond. Ongoing amnesia ("acute psychological suppression") renders him incapable of serving as a soldier, and he's shipped home to Vermont.

Trouble finds Jack as soon as he arrives Stateside. Wandering down a rural road in the dead of winter, he hitches a ride with a stranger who reacts badly when a policeman pulls him over. The policeman ends up dead, and Jack takes the rap—even though he has no memory of what happened. The court deems Jack "not guilty by reason of insanity," then remands him to a psychiatric hospital.

Things go from bad to worse when Jack comes under the "care" of Dr. Becker, who seeks to "reset his violent proclivities" by drugging him up, cinching him into a full-body straight jacket and locking him in a morgue drawer (where corpses are stored) for hours at a time. The doctor claims the enclosure provides a therapeutic "womb-like environment." Right.

This ill treatment provokes flashbacks from Jack's violent past. And it serves as a gateway to the future, 2007 to be precise, where Jack meets a dissolute waitress named Jackie—and discovers that he actually died again on Jan. 1, 1993, just seven days away. A race against time (of sorts) ensues, as Jack and Jackie try to unravel the mystery surrounding his impending death.


Positive Elements

Jack must convince Dr. Beth Lorenson to help him in the present if he is to ever figure out what's going on. She is a conscientious psychiatrist who seems genuinely interested in helping her patients. She questions (but doesn't stop) Dr. Becker's unorthodox, unethical and abusive "treatment" of Jack; later she helps Jack deliver an important message. Dr. Lorenson also works hard to treat the young son of a friend who suffers from severe psychiatric problems.

Jack exhorts a character to stop smoking because he's learned the damage it will do to her and her family in the future. She responds by promptly putting out her cigarette. (Given the prominent role of smoking in the film, it's conceivable that the director decided to emphasize smoking as a set up for this anti-smoking message near the end.)

The movie concludes with a voice-over monologue from Jack about what death has taught him about life. He says, "The one thing in life is to believe. While you're alive, it's never too late." I was caught somewhat off guard by how this otherwise dark film ends on a note that strongly affirms the importance of hope and second chances.

Spiritual Content

Jack's musings about life and death suggest the possibility of an of afterlife. A patient tells Dr. Lorenson, "The four horsemen of the apocalypse are coming to see me today."

Dr. Becker promises, "I'll say a prayer for you, Jack. Maybe God will pick up where the medicine leaves off." (It's hard to tell whether the doctor is serious or joking.) Jack responds, "You should know where to find Him." In 2007, Jack intercepts Dr. Becker coming out of church, perhaps implying that the man has begun to seek God. Or perhaps Dr. Becker's warped spirituality has been twisted into his God-complex all along.

Sexual Content

Jack and Jackie make their way to bed for a love scene that includes brief (about a second) shots of Jackie's breast and Jack's backside, plus a lot of rolling around together. Two other scenes include quick glimpses of Jackie's uncovered breast, though shadows and dim lighting cloak her nudity somewhat.

Violent Content

When the Iraqi boy shoots Jack in the head, the scene is bloody and graphic. Later, a policeman is shot several times at point-blank range, and Jack is apparently hit during the shoot-out as well. (These events serve as fodder for Jack's flashbacks.)

Doctors hold Jack down, tape his mouth shut and shove a big needle into his forearm; blood pools around the needle's puncture. Several scenes depict him receiving other injections—including one is his belly button. Once, Jack pulls a bloody IV needle out of his wrist. And he grabs the straight jacket he's being forced into and swings it at Dr. Becker, cutting his right cheek badly.

Jack receives a blow to his head that leaves his hair matted with blood. He's on his way to the morgue drawer when it happens, and when he lays down on the tray, blood spills out in an ever-widening pool around his head.

Dr. Lorenson performs electro-convulsive therapy on a young boy who shakes violently as the electricity courses through him; the therapy cures him of seizures he was suffering.

Crude or Profane Language

Frequent use of foul and profane language in The Jacket includes roughly a dozen f-words, half-a-dozen or more s-words, about 10 uses of God's name in vain (including two or three exclamations of "g--d--n"), one misuse of "Jesus" and a few milder profanities. A quip includes a crude reference to breasts.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The so-called "Smoking Man" from The X-Files would feel right at home in The Jacket. In almost every scene the main characters smoke. Jackie, Dr. Becker, Dr. Lorenson and another character named Jean could all reasonably be described as chain smokers; Jack doesn't smoke as frequently, but he too lights up.

With the exception of Dr. Lorenson, all of the characters mix smoking with hard liquor. The lines, "Do you want a drink?" and "Do you want a smoke?" turn up at least four times. Jackie and Jean are visibly drunk in several scenes. Jackie drinks, smokes and drives; she drinks and smokes in the bathtub; she falls asleep smoking. Dr. Becker mixes unnamed pills with his smoke and liquor cocktail. Jack takes several doses of psychiatric medication as a part of his "treatment."

Other Negative Elements

Jack's trips into the morgue drawer wearing the jacket are psychologically disturbing to watch. He screams, moans, swears and cries, "I can't breathe in here" as the camera focuses on his terrified eyes. The jacket itself has obvious blood, urine and fecal stains all over it.

Dr. Becker is unwilling to yield to two doctors who question whether this "therapy" helps. He responds, "You can't break something that's already broken." Later he justifies the experiments to Jack by saying the patients were criminals.

Roughly half-a-dozen scenes show Jack and/or other patients in their underwear or various states of undress.


Just seeing trailers for this film in which a man in a full-length straight jacket gets shoved into a morgue drawer flat-out gave me the creeps. So I fully expected to encounter a no-holds barred horror movie. After all, the trailer bragged, "Terror has a new name."

But The Jacket isn't as narrowly focused as I expected it to be. Jack Starks' initial trips into the morgue are horrible to watch, no doubt about it. These scenes are the stuff of nightmares. But Dr. Becker is no arch villain. Instead, he seems a sad, deeply misguided man bent on testing his flawed theories. When Jack confronts his former tormenter in 2007, the old man's sins have clearly weighed heavily on him. He's more broken and pitiable than wildly wicked.

Adding time travel further fragments the film's thrust. Is this still a horror movie? Or is it sci-fi? Or a psychological thriller? From a purely cinematic standpoint, the film's confusion of genres goes too far and makes for an uneven ride at best. It's as if The Jacket can't decide what it really wants to be when it grows up, and as a result it ends up underperforming across the board.

What is clear, however, is the film's harsh, R-rated content. Ultimately, obscenity, nudity, sex, violence and morbidity do as much to constrict this story as Jack's jacket does to restrict his movements. The ending's momentary glimmer of light and meaning simply cannot penetrate such a bleak and hopeless atmosphere.

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