Some people celebrate their birthdays by going out to a nice dinner with friends. Or maybe staying in with family and watching a movie. Or hitting the town for a night of dancing. But if you’re an auteur filmmaker like David Lynch, you don’t play by such ordinary rules. The surrealist director celebrated his 74th birthday this week by dropping his short film, What Did Jack Do?, on Netflix. And if you’re familiar with Lynch’s work, you know this is no straightforward piece of work.
What Did Jack Do? is simple enough in its premise. Lynch plays an unnamed detective who sits down with a “man” named Jack on a train and interrogates him about a possible crime. Jack is actually a small capuchin monkey in a suit who is voiced by Lynch and whose mouth moves eerily as he speaks. He’s crass and difficult, but reveals more and more as Lynch’s detective pulls out all the stops. The two discuss everything from the Easter Bunny to love affairs with chickens to communism.
We won’t spoil any of the major revelations—like what, precisely, Jack did—but we will say that you’ll want to stick around for the end. The film is 17 minutes long and it’s the last two where things really get sad and beautifully strange. The black and white presentation and grainy film stock recall Lynch’s debut film Eraserhead, and there’s a musical number that made us think fondly of that film’s Lady in the Radiator. There’s something sweet and melancholy about everything Lynch makes, and What Did Jack Do? is a lovely addition to his oeuvre.
It’s also not technically new It premiered at Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris back in 2017. The art museum also produced the short film. Lynch talked about the project back in 2014, when he was working on the revival of Twin Peaks for Showtime. “Right now I’m mostly writing, I’ve got a painting going and I’m building a chair,” he told The Guardian that year. “I love to build things and this is for a monkey film. 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.”
Indeed, an odd pair of chairs appear in What Did Jack Do?, so they’re likely what he was referring to. The fact that he was working on this at the same time as Twin Peaks also has us wondering if there’s any connection between the two. Lynch’s detective doesn’t have a name… but is he meant to be Gordon Cole? And is this actually one of the Blue Rose task force cases from that franchise? Cole is an FBI chief who is also hard of hearing, so it doesn’t totally fit. But it’s kind of fun to think about even still.
What Did Jack Do? was written, directed, and edited by David Lynch, who stars alongside Jack Cruz the monkey, a chicken named Toototabon, and a waitress played by Emily Stofle (who is Lynch’s real-life wife). It was produced by Sabrina S. Sutherland. The fact that it was released on Netflix certainly has us wondering if we can expect more collaboration between Lynch and the streaming service. One can dream.
Featured Image: Netflix