David Lynch’s newly released short is a haunting and minimalist crime drama with a murderous monkey at its heart.
Popping up out of nowhere on his birthday, David Lynch‘s latest film release is as far removed from the eighteen hours of Twin Peaks as you might imagine – What Did Jack Do? is a seventeen-minute single scene detective story, where a cop – played by Lynch himself – interrogates a murder suspect called Jack Cruz. Jack happens to be a capuchin monkey, albeit a talking one thanks to a human mouth that is superimposed both seamlessly and ludicrously into the monkey’s face. Jack is suspected of killing someone called Max, possibly as part of a love triangle with a chicken called Toototabon.
For anyone else, this might be a one-joke concept – a comedy sketch stretched beyond breaking point. In Lynch’s hands, it becomes something else. This is a director who has long taken the absurd and made it both authentic and emotionally haunting, and he manages that here. Jack increasingly feels more like a tragic character rather than a talking monkey, with everything played straight down the line. Even the sudden moment where Jack bursts into song with a rendition of True Love’s Flame seems more unsettlingly dark than comical, similar to Leyland’s dance in Twin Peaks or the Radiator Lady in Eraserhead. It would be a stretch to call this film bleak, but it’s certainly no comedy.
Made back in 2016 for the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris, the film is shot in black and white, complete with oh-so-fashionable fake film scratches – the latter cliché the only unfortunate aspect of the film, really. The moody, shadowy style ensures that What Did Jack Do? feels like noir – but then, so does much of Lynch’s work. More accurately, it’s something that exists in its own little universe, even within the Lynch oeuvre- though of all Lynch’s earlier films, the one that comes to mind most here is Rabbits. Like that collection of shorts, this plays with genre, revels in unconnected dialogue and asks more questions than it is prepared to answer. But in a curious way, it’s also one of Lynch’s most immediately accessible works – if you want to simply enjoy it as a weird short where a cop interrogates a talking monkey, that option is there for you. If you want to sink into the strange world that the film hints at, that’s an option too. Either way, it’s an unexpected delight, made by a filmmaker having fun and still at the top of his game. Let’s hope that there are more Lynch mysteries to be unearthed.
What Did Jack Do? is available on Netflix.