I recently viewed 2005’s “The Jacket,” directed by John Maybury, and I would definitely recommend this underrated film to movie buffs.
With the tagline “Terror Has a New Name,” it’s no wonder that this film went under the radar or was classified as a horror film when it was anything but.
In short, “The Jacket” is a psychological thriller, but thrilling in the sense of science fiction and time travel. The film is loosely based off of the novel of the same name (also known as “The Star Rover”) by Jack London.
The film has an all-star cast to begin with, starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Kris Kristofferson, Kelly Lynch and Brad Renfro.
“The Jacket” opens up with main character Jack Starks (Brody) being shot in the head by a young boy while in the Gulf War. We then see him go to a hospital, where he is miraculously saved, but immediately discharged from the military. On his wanderings home, he helps fix a drunk mother’s car (Lynch) and befriends her daughter, giving her his dog tags as a gift. He than gets picked up hitchhiking (by Renfro), and next we see a blur of images of a cop getting shot and Jack going to court for the charges. Due to the amnesia caused by his war wound, he is sent to an asylum vs. a prison. It is here where much of the plot takes place.
As part of his treatment, Jack is forced to take medicine and is put in a very strict straitjacket, where he then is placed into this drawer/compartment that would make anyone claustrophobic cringe. His only sources of contact are Dr. Becker (Kristofferson) who is administering the treatment, Dr. Lorenson (Leigh) who attempts to understand Jack and Rudy (Craig) who is another patient at the asylum. When put into the jacket, however, Jack has visions from his past and future that he wasn’t able to remember or see before. While it disturbs him at first, eventually he wants to get back in the jacket more often, as it helps to reveal his past and future history.
So while in the jacket, Jack travels from 1992 to 2007, where he coincidentally runs into the grown-up version of the little girl he befriended earlier in the film (Knightley.) She remembers meeting Jack and still has his dog tags, but claims reading that Jack died almost fifteen years earlier. As Jack goes into the jacket more and more, Jackie (Knightley) begins to believe that Jack really is still alive in some past form, and she helps him to unravel his past and how he died.
While many films examine how current actions effect future ones, this film takes a unique perspective in showing how information from the future can travel and be dispersed among the past, affecting your present and the outcome of your potential future. For example, when traveling in the future, Jack tracks down Dr. Lorenson and she tells him that the deceased Jack (she believes the future Jack is a mere relative) gave her valuable advice on how to cure a little boy in her life. Once Jack is taken out of the jacket, he relays this information to the Dr. Lorenson of 1993 and she is amazed that his advice works.
What many who viewed this film most likely failed to recognize is the loop of connections between all the events, characters and places. The film did look into the future in order to change the past, but it also was a reflection of an idea called an “ontological paradox.” This idea reflects that an idea or physical object (or person) can travel back and forth between the past and future, with virtually no effect on the object traveling. The only feasible way someone could due this without change in appearance (such as aging) would mean that this person had no concrete origin; moreover, in order to pass through one’s past and future, they would have to make a loop, meaning that they would inevitably have to live out their fate by performing actions that would result in the same outcome in their future or former life.
While this is simply my opinion, I feel The Jacket was a portrayal of how one’s life is a series of events that may be altered or simply are meant to happen despite what we try to change. No matter what, Jack was meant to die in 1993, yet by looking into the future, he was able to attempt to intervene in Jackie’s life, preventing her mother from dying and therefore having a possible positive effect on her future life (we see these results while Jack is dying, so we never really know whether his actions had an effect on Jackie’s future.) He also put out a cigarette of the older Jackie when she was asleep, preventing her from having the same fate as her mother. But going back to the “loop” idea…
Jack traveled to the future and was able to find the future Dr. Becker. This future Dr. told Jack that Jack died shortly after muttering the names of his past patients who also were administered the jacket but were not successful in treatment. Jack already knows he dies from a blow to the head. We than assume that the Dr. or one of his co-workers hit or attacked Jack after he takes the jacket off, causing his death. When Jack does come back to reality (1993) he mutters out the names of the Dr’s patients, just as the future Dr. said he would. He then continues to live, and we see later in the film that the cause of his death is slipping on ice and hitting his head. Therefore, what happened in the future did determine his past, so the events of the past were meant to happen, yet although Jack was meant to die from a blow to the head no matter what, his specific cause of death was altered by his future awareness.
Another example of this is how a result of Jack’s change in death was due to his urgency of getting Jackie’s mom the letter that warned her of future events. If he never was sent to the future, he would have never foreseen the miracle that Dr. Lorenson needed in 1993, and therefore the Dr. in 1993 would not have been so eager to drive him to Jackie’s home before he died. Furthermore, he would have never been sent to the future if he never entered the asylum, and he would have never entered the asylum unless he didn’t get shot in war. While the image is brief of the little boy that shot him, it is eerily familiar to the foreign boy that Dr. Lorenson helps save, and towards the end of the movie, we see the boy clutching a soldier doll to his heart. In this sense, whether literally or metaphorically, Jack ends up saving the boy who ends up killing him, OR Jack sacrifices his life so the boy lives. However, by shooting Jack, Jack meets Jackie, who in the future ends up helping him solve the mystery of his own death. I do not think it’s a coincidence that the jacket, Jack and Jackie are all similar words; they are all connected as one.
There is tons more going on in this film, and it can be viewed from various different angles. I would say this movie is in the same vein as “The Butterfly Effect” or “Momento,” but I prefer this film over both.
If I haven’t spoiled the plot too much, I urge you to check it out and form your own conclusions.