What Did Jack Do? (2020)

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What Did Jack Do?

On one side of the spectrum you have Netflix writing Scorsese a cheque to the tune of $159 million, in large part to de-age the cast of The Irishman. And on the other, you have David Lynch editing a talking human’s mouth onto a monkey.

In some ways, this is all you need to know about Lynch’s surprise 17-minute short film What Did Jack Do?  With some version of this film floating around since the end of 2017, it has received an unannounced wide release through Netflix last week landing on the director’s birthday.

This has been his first narrative release since 2017’s revival “Twin Peaks: The Return”. I specify “narrative” here, as I’m choosing to ignore his 2018 short film, Ant Head, which as the title gives some suggestion, is a 13-minute video of ants crawling across a ball of cheese, raw chicken, and morticians wax. If you’re uninitiated, this is the realm you step into with this particular director.

The film is focused on an interrogation in a train station between a detective (David Lynch), and a ‘plastic bag specialist’, Jack Cruz, a talking monkey who’s been accused of murder. All taking place in a single room, the perspective jumps from character to character as the monkey is grilled by the harsh interrogation. This, only ever interrupted by Emily Stofle as a waitress, delivering them both a cup of coffee. As well as Tootobon, a chicken, the monkey’s lover.

Lynch, as he usually does when acting in his own stuff, plays some warped version of himself. The discussion between the two have makes sense only in the way you’d expect in one of his films, which means, it doesn’t. The detective interrogates harshly, while Jack the monkey uses distraction tactics, refusing to answer, but eventually giving in, but begins to discuss the importance of love, and what it’s like to feel the warmth of his lover’s breast under her feathers.

It’s difficult to give any sort of praise for the Jack Cruz in a voice acting role, as he’s only credited as “himself”. After some research, I can’t find out who does his voice, by ear I want to assume that its Lynch’s own voice slightly slowed down, but I can’t say for sure.

The monkey is obviously a big part of this. The monkey has had humans mouth edited on top of his own, this continues in Lynch’s recent artistic direction since turning to digital film making. Which is of either rejecting, or not utilising the possibilities of digital in its intended way, and instead opting for a deliberate low-fi aesthetic.

The short is completely in black and white, distortion and flicker have been added to give the impression of being recorded on film, visually becoming reminiscent of some of his earlier movies, like Eraserhead, Elephant Man, and some of the wilder segments of Twin Peaks: The Return. Like everything else he’s made, with its style, Lynch manages to create a strange effect of being slightly unsettling, hilarious at the same time, all the while never really being able to state exactly why.

Along with the film’s visuals, the soundtrack could be considered classic Lynchian, all the trademarks are there. It’s minimalistic and used for mood music, with a soft strumming guitar quietly in the background occasionally building into a loud brass band when the story requires. The main set piece however, both musically, and for the short as a whole is an original song by Lynch and Dean Hurley, “True Love’s Flame”. Of course, performed by the monkey and shown almost like a short music video, in the middle of the interrogation.

At the end of the day, its Lynch, you will get what everyone has come to expect from him wherever you stand on him. If you’re someone in the camp of seeing him as a pretentious tool, I’d still recommend giving this a shot, at a crisp 17 minutes, and leaning more into his comedic angles, even if you hate it, it’ll at least be quick. Plus, if you don’t like it, you’ve got a free pass to make a joke about Lynch spanking the monkey yet again. That’s yours!

If you’re a die-hard fan, you be delighted at a new morsel of David Lynch’s creative output.

With Netflix’s recent releases, they seem to be giving a home to things like What Did Jack Do? that maybe never would have landed anywhere else. Perhaps the fanboys can dream of maybe seeing more, and with Lynch’s slew of unrealised films, one can only hope.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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