LOS ANGELES -- Bruce Joel Rubin believes in ghosts.

"I've never seen them. I don't particularly want to," he says. "But I believe in that state of being."

For the screenwriter of "Ghost," the runaway summer hit of life and love before and after death, and the newly released "Jacob's Ladder," a dark tale of a man's demons and angels, forays into the realm of the otherworldly are not mere fantasies.

"We are infinite creatures passing through the material plane," says Rubin, who has spent 47 years on the earthly plane. "Death is in some ways that which defines life. I really very strongly believe that not to have a sense of death means you don't have a philosophy of life."

Never mind how the critics took it, "Ghost" was ultimately about real things.

"I believe," he says, then catches himself and chuckles. "I sound like the ad," he says sheepishly, realizing he has invoked the promotional line for "Ghost."

These are the things that Bruce Joel Rubin talks about, ensconced in a Four Seasons hotel suite, the lair of the successful Hollywood subject (actor, screenwriter, director, etc.) on promotional tour. From across the 14th-floor room, through the open balcony doors, you can see only the white haze of the sky, a strangely perfect backdrop for Rubin's ethereal ruminations.

The seminal event in Rubin's life was a journey through Asia when he was 22. What he learned about religion and spirituality and coming to peace with oneself has informed his writing ever since. That's not to say he hasn't been a pragmatic writer for hire, penning his share of never-made movies and gruesome television projects -- like a TV movie on women working their way through college as prostitutes ("that never went on, thankfully"). But he says he is most intrigued by the journey from life to death.

"To me, a movie that touches those subjects is a movie that touches you. And I want to make films about that. I want to make films that make you look at life through looking at death. Because then I think you can form a philosophy of life."

But the screenplay that most expresses his theories about life and death took 10 years to be produced. Rubin had reconciled himself to the idea that "Jacob's Ladder" might never be made when along came Adrian Lyne, the director of "Fatal Attraction" and "Flashdance." Lyne was supposedly so impressed that he disengaged himself from "Bonfire of the Vanities" to take on "Jacob's Ladder."

"Adrian and I had lunch the other day, and we just kvelled about how lucky we are," Rubin says.

As if it weren't enough to see your labor of love finally come to life, his movie "Ghost," which he wrote long after "Jacob's Ladder," debuted a season earlier. "Two weeks before the movie opened I would talk about having written 'Ghost' and people would say, 'Oh, you mean Bill Cosby's movie {"Ghost Dad"}.' "

Instead Rubin's "Ghost" outmaneuvered all the big brawny action movies at the box office and was so popular that "Jacob's Ladder" is being advertised as coming "from the writer of 'Ghost.' "

"Getting a movie made in Hollywood is the miracle," Rubin says. "Having two made and produced and up there at the same time, two that a writer is proud of" -- he seems at a loss for words. "It's remarkable," he says with quiet understatement. He's now so hot that long-dormant projects he once worked on are being unearthed and reexamined.

"It almost feels like you're dreaming -- that cliche of pinching yourself. I do wake up in the morning and think, 'My God, what an extraordinary joy this is.' And I literally can't go back to sleep."

He wrote "Jacob's Ladder" in 1980 in De Kalb, Ill. His wife, Blanche, was teaching at Northern Illinois University while he wrote and took care of their baby son, Ari.

His protagonist, Jacob, suddenly is terrorized by strange and frightening visions that he can't explain. A Vietnam vet, he discovers that some of his vet friends are having similar experiences. Making Jacob a veteran was simply an interesting plot device for Rubin (he wrote the movie years before the spate of Vietnam movies). His real inspiration was a dream of being trapped in a subway.

"I'm getting off late at night in New York, I go up to the exit and it's locked," says Rubin. "And then it dawns on me the only way out is down, and in a sense it's through hell. I didn't want to do it, and I was scared and I woke up in this sort of panic. And my first thoughts were, 'What a great idea for the opening of a movie.' "

He wrote the first draft in three months.

"My wife came and looked at what I was writing and said, 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' I'd never written anything like this."

But he was confident it was good when he sent it off to his New York agent, who was as enthusiastic as he was. She sent it off to producers in Hollywood. "They all said, 'Great writing, love to meet the guy, we pass.' "

Friends from his days at New York University film school -- like Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese -- passed on it. Director Ridley Scott ("Alien") was interested but "we had to wait for him to do 'Legend,' and after that was so badly received, he didn't want to take on another movie with special effects," Rubin says.

"It was too expensive, it was too pyrotechnical, it was too dark." He turned down the horrormeisters who wanted to make "Jacob's Ladder" into a low-budget horror movie. "All the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' guys came to me and said they wanted to make it. I thought, better to keep it on the shelf."

Rubin was still chafing from having sold a script called "The George Dunlap Tape" to a producer who turned it into the movie "Brainstorm" in 1983. He was paid $65,000. "To this day, I apologize for that film," he says.

"Part of being in Hollywood is that if they want to abort your material, they will -- in front of you with no anesthesia," Rubin says. "I bought into Hollywood. I have to accept that."

So he guarded "Jacob's Ladder," and it became something of a legend. In 1983 American Film magazine called it one of Hollywood's 10 best unproduced screenplays. "When they called me about it, I said, 'How did you find it?' " recalls Rubin. In a 1987 follow-up article, the magazine noted it was still one of the best -- and "still available."

Paramount wanted to do it -- and then they didn't want to do it. Rubin was deeply disappointed. So when Adrian Lyne said he wanted to do it, Rubin was more philosophical. He knew that was no guarantee. "A magazine wrote that 'Jacob's Ladder' was the movie that no studio dared to do. Adrian's first words to me were, 'I dare.' "

Rubin is an ordinary-looking man, with his portly stomach and thinning gray hair. Only his smart, well-tailored sport coat telegraphs a hint of the financial success he is now enjoying. When he was a child, it pained him that he was an awful athlete. He still has a self-effacing, low-key physical presence.

There is a priestly air about Rubin. He speaks of spirituality and journeys through life and death in a soft, low tone. He meditates every day and holds classes in meditation on Sundays at his home in the San Fernando Valley. "Given the opportunity, I tend to be quiet," he says, lamenting the constant noise of modern life. "That for me is a great pleasure."

Possessed of a gentle, direct manner, he connects easily with people. When he was a film student in New York, he says he loved traveling on the subways, taking in the passing show.

"Life is this extraordinary experience to me, and it has great pain and great excitement. It has great joy and great terror. It has everything in it. If you learn to detach from it a little bit, it's like great theater."

He was visiting Los Angeles in 1983 for the premiere of "Brainstorm" when Brain De Palma urged him to relocate to the West Coast if he was serious about a scriptwriting career. "I'd heard that and always been terrified of that. I didn't want to come out here and fail. I'd rather be in the Midwest." But Rubin's wife took De Palma's words to heart, quit her teaching job and announced that the family -- they have two sons -- was moving. "I was scared to death," Rubin recalls.

He hadn't even arrived when his new L.A. agent dropped him. "The day we sold our house, my then-agent called me up and said, 'I don't want to represent you anymore. Your work is too metaphysical.' I said, 'What do you mean? You've set up all these meetings for me. I'm supposed to pitch these ideas.' One of which was 'Ghost.' He said, 'Nobody wants to do a ghost story.' " Rubin is gracious enough to decline to name the agent.

He came out anyway and quickly signed with another agent. "I found a guy who's my agent to this day. He knew I had enough money to live for four months in L.A. with my wife and two kids. He had me working within four days, and" -- Rubin knocks on wood -- "has had me working ever since."

And now he's making a ton of money. He earned about half a million from his work on "Ghost," and he was paid $1 million for "Jacob's Ladder." (He's also listed as associate producer on both films.) For his current job rewriting a Goldie Hawn movie, he gets $100,000 a week to closet himself in the Chateau Marmont and work day and night. So far he's put in about four weeks on the project.

"You think about your house, your children, your landscaping," he says with a smile. "Every new page is a new bush for your house."

His spirituality does not demand an asceticism. "I love my material life," he says. "But I also keep it very much in perspective." He drives a Ford Taurus station wagon. He and his wife have torn down their house in Northridge and are building a new, bigger home on the site.

"For people to look at someone who practices meditation and say, 'Why aren't you in a cave? Why don't you give up the whole world?' -- it's not about giving up the world. It's about really having the world."

Although "Ghost" and "Jacob's Ladder" explore the notions of life and death, they are very different movies. "To me, 'Jacob' is the deeper version of 'Ghost,' " Rubin explains. "It mines the same territory, but it just goes for the jugular."

The visualization of the demonic images that haunt Jacob proved a challenge for Lyne and Rubin. "One of my lines in the script is 'The wall shatters, and behind it we see a vision of Hell,' and Adrian said to me, 'Great. How many carpenters do I need to build it?' I needed to know there's a difference between paper and celluloid."

Rubin wanted to evoke Hell in a truly grand, old-fashioned way. Lyne wanted something more contemporary, scarier. "And out of that the hospital as Hell began to emerge," Rubin says. "In a sense for 20th-century man, the hospital is his final resting place. And it's a very frightening place for people."

While "Ghost" is endearing and warm and features a comic medium who discovers she really has a gift, "Jacob's Ladder" is complicated and confusing, and ultimately a viewer may come away neither agreeing with nor satisfied with Rubin's vision of life and death.

But as with any writer, Rubin's greatest wish for "Jacob's Ladder" is that people just sit down somewhere afterward over coffee and talk about it. "I don't care if people hate it," he says, "but I don't want them to just ignore it."