What Did Jack Do? (2020)

★★★½

There’s an elephant in the room. I’d like you to talk turkey.

Plopping his two cents into the streaming current, David Lynch is the latest A-list director to randomly drop a workout video online. Following Paul Thomas Anderson’s dance piece Anima and Jonathan Glazer’s 6-minute nightmare The Fall, Lynch’s characteristically bizarre and hilarious two-hander is now available on Netflix and is entitled What Did Jack Do?

This quirky 17-minute short, which premiered in 2017 at the Fondation Careier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris and released on Netflix nearly two-and-a-half-years later on Lynch’s 74th birthday, is a fine present from the director. Drenched in nonsensical, noisy noir and presented on a grainy black and white screen, the film nurtures a timeworn, otherworldly look, as if it had been dug up from the ruins of a mid 20th-century UFO convention.

Lynch himself stars as a dark suited detective, whose gloriously waved hair may have been shoved back by all his cigarette smoke. Sitting across a table in a train station café, he interrogates a suspect. The twist? It’s a capuchin monkey in its own suit named Jack Crus (perhaps voiced by Lynch).

The wide-eyed monkey, who fiercely asks, “are my pupils dilated?” and whose lower face has been replaced by that of a human, was in the final acts of skipping town, but a train delay has cornered him into this eerie and uncomfortable conversation. Steadily, it becomes clear that Jack could quite possibly be guilty of murder: the killing of someone named Max whose infatuation with a chicken called Toototabon crossed Jack’s own passionate love for her.

The talking points between Jack and the detective are surreal, disjointed, and hazy. Though it’s fluttered with dropped droll phrases like “I know why the chicken crossed the road,” “you ever ride the rodeo?” and “well, there is no Santa Claus,” the conversation feels delayed. The sparring and swapping close ups between the two often, if not always arrive significantly before its subject delivers their line. The resulting waltz of words comes across like a war of one-upmanship – though there’s a blurred line between offense and defense.

Laced with mammal commentary (“You toss an animal on the roof just to see the look on his face!”) and topped off with a sidesplitting musical number, What Did Jack Do? is similarly and pleasantly jerky. Blending the director’s standard surrealism with the dryness of deadpan comedy and the starkness of serial capers, it’s simply an excursion of style, one which deserves as many logical rematches as your brain can handle.

by Luke Parker

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