It’s David Lynch’s birthday — the renowned artist turned 74 on Monday — but we’re the ones who got a gift. The latest arrival on Netflix is a 17-minute short film called What Did Jack Do? that was written, directed, and edited by Lynch.
Netflix lists What Did Jack Do? under the genres “dramas,” “crime dramas,” “mysteries,” and “experimental movies,” and describes it as “offbeat” and “cerebral.” If it helps, I can lay out the basic premise for you: A detective (Lynch) grills a suit-wearing capuchin monkey suspected of murder, a crime for which the train station where the interrogation takes place has been put on lockdown. The film’s black-and-white look, with dirt and grain in the image, brings to mind Lynch’s first feature, 1977’s Eraserhead.
While all of that is true, it fails to encapsulate the essence of this bizarre work. Lynch puts the screws to the monkey, and the monkey returns fire with plenty of sass. Credited as Jack Cruz playing himself, the primate speaks through an unnerving visual effect similar to Syncro-Vox, which you may know better from that old Late Night with Conan O’Brien bit in which Conan “interviewed” celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It doesn’t appear to be a CG monkey, though; Bob Dunn’s Animal Services is listed in the credits as providing animal trainers for the production.
Here’s a sample of the tough-talking dialogue straight out of the noir genre:
Jack: You are a strong-arm man?
Detective: You could say that.
Jack: I just did.
Detective: Well, there is no Santa Claus.
Jack: I won’t be here for Christmas.
Their back-and-forth is full of non sequiturs, as you can see, and I’m still not quite sure exactly what the plot is except that it involves a murder, interspecies love, and a veritable zoo’s worth of animals (although Jack and a, um, fetching hen named Toototabon are the only ones we actually see). The only person in What Did Jack Do? aside from the detective is a waitress played by Emily Stofle, an actress who is also Lynch’s wife. And the film features a song, “True Love’s Flame,” written by Lynch and longtime collaborator Dean Hurley. This all combines to be ... well, it’s a lot.
While What Did Jack Do? just debuted on Netflix, it’s not new per se — the very end of the credits says “© 2016 Absurda: The Year of Monkey.” (Absurda is listed as “A David Lynch Company,” apparently named after a 2007 short film of his, and 2016 was indeed the year of the monkey in the Chinese calendar.)
What Did Jack Do? premiered in November 2017 at Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, a modern art museum in Paris that also produced the short film. And it turns out that Lynch was working on it as early as 2014, when he was already in the midst of preproduction on the third season of Twin Peaks. He hinted at the project in a December 2014 interview with The Guardian, saying, “I love to build things and this is for a monkey film.” (Lynch is also credited for set design and set construction on the film.) He continued, “I’m working with a monkey named Jack and that’ll come out sometime. It is not a chimpanzee, the monkey came up from South America.”
Glad that’s settled, then.