“What Did Jack Do?” offers the director’s signature style to a wider audience on Netflix.
On Jan. 20, a new short film by acclaimed director David Lynch was released on Netflix, taking audiences and fans of the unique director by surprise.
Lynch, famous for directing films such as “Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” and “Mulholland Drive,” is seen by many as the most avant-garde filmmaker in Hollywood today. His films are known for being surreal, strange and sometimes funny. His new short film, titled “What Did Jack Do?,” is no exception.
The film is about 17 minutes long and shot entirely in black and white (same as Lynch’s first two films), with an excessively grainy sheen over the film stock, making it look visually like an old 1940s noir film in need of digital restoration. As strange as that may sound, it’s no match for the story.
Lynch acts in this short film himself, playing a police detective who interrogates a talking capuchin monkey at a train station, suspecting him of murder. Yes, you read that last sentence right. He’s interrogating a talking monkey, which speaks with a human mouth superimposed onto its face with CGI, with a wild head of furry hair that can be beaten only by Lynch’s wacky hairdo.
This monkey has to be the shiftiest monkey in all of cinema, as most of the short film is comprised of Detective Lynch asking “Jack” odd, seemingly non sequitur questions, while trying to get to the bottom of a crime of passion committed over a beautiful chicken. Meanwhile, Jack is waiting to board a train to skip town, and is not pleased at all with the detective’s probing questions.
Despite being petite with a cute face, this little fella is assertive and brash, cursing at the Detective’s accusations while morosely reminiscing about the lost loves of his sordid past. If it weren’t a monkey saying these things, I’d be tempted to take the whole thing seriously. And that’s what makes this short film work.
While the two mammals talk, the usual Lynch motifs play out in a spellbindingly strange fashion. A beautiful waitress (Lynch’s wife in real life) delivers a cup of fine, black coffee to the monkey, who doesn’t drink it. Conversation strands and topics are brought up and then seemingly abandoned moments later. A song and dance number is played at the end, in which the monkey confesses his love for the female chicken he possibly killed a man over. And all the while, Lynch sits in the foreground, blank faced, scrutinizing his (non-human) prey.
If all this sounds weird to you, then welcome to textbook David Lynch. If it sounds funny to you, you should hop on Netflix and give it a shot, because in many ways it seems like the director is attempting to replicate the magic of today’s absurd viral videos, only with a very retro visual aesthetic. If this sounds like something totally out of left field for the director, though, you might be surprised to know that this is not his first run in with the motif of talking animals.
Lynch directed a 40-minute short film called “Rabbits” back in 2002, which focused on a family of talking rabbits who are the subject of a sitcom with oddly timed laugh tracks. Furthermore, hardcore fans of Lynch will remember the iconic and scary scene in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” where a young kid (played by Lynch’s son Austin) puts on a clay mask, only to take it off moments later, his face replaced by that of a whispering monkey. And of course, Lynch directed “The Elephant Man.” Perhaps he should have titled this short film “The Monkey Man” while he was at it.
This is the first film David Lynch has released since “Inland Empire” in 2006, but strangely enough, “What Did Jack Do” was made four years ago, in 2016. What took so long for it to be released? In any case, it’s out now, on a streaming service that everybody and their mother has. And what better time to release it, with Lynch having just won his first Academy Award last year? Hopefully this odd short film is a sign of Lynch’s next big film project, which might also drop on Netflix.
Even if he isn’t working on anything big on the horizon, this Netflix film is just another reminder that talented directors like Lynch and Martin Scorcesse are catching on to the fact that streaming services are the best and easiest way to reach newer, wider audiences, so that their unique artistic decisions can continue to wow audiences.