What Did Jack Do? (2017)

Yeah, The Monkey speaks his mind.

What Did Jack Do? is a short two-hander written, directed and edited by David Lynch, a surprise release on Netflix. A low-budget black-and-white film noir parody, it’s a lot of fun.

Lynch is the cop interrogating a suspect named Jack (played by ‘Jack Cruz’) in a locked-down train station. There’s been a murder and the cop suspects Jack of fowl play. The thing is Jack’s a capuchin monkey.

The monkey has an uncannily human mouth and his speaking voice sounds not entirely unlike Lynch himself. The dialogue at first seems absurd, each line seems like a randomly generated non-sequitur that just about hangs together, a bit like a William Burroughs cut-up where your mind tries to make sense of chance snippets of prose. On a second viewing some of the lines do make a bit more sense. But only a bit.

It’s quite impressive how Lynch has crafted dialogue that initially seems entirely random, but just about comes together as the plot unravels. Lynch has that hard-boiled cop dialogue down pat, a pastiche of a second-rate noir infused with Lynch’s own quirky absurdist turn-of-phrase.

Layered with fake scratches and blemishes mimicking old unrestored film stock, this conversation remains bewilderingly entertaining for its full 17-minute duration, only interrupted by a brief appearance by a waitress or a long focus on a cup of coffee (a Lynch obsession, of course, this is like a guest episode of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes). The waitress is played by Lynch’s wife Emily Stofle, who previously had small roles in Inland Empire, Twin Peaks: The Return and his Dior short Lady Blue Shanghai, and was the narrator of his short film Boat.

David Lynch in What Did Jack Do?

As usual with Lynch, his sound design is carefully crafted. The voices are slightly compressed as if from an archive film soundtrack and some of the bottom-end has been taken off ‘Jack’ so he doesn’t sound too identical to Lynch himself. The background rumbles of the train station are reminiscent of the industrial soundscapes Lynch has revelled in from Eraserhead onwards. It even ends with a song, ‘True Love’s Flame’, written by Lynch and Dean Hurley (Twin Peaks, Inland Empire). If you ever wanted to hear Lynch through a vocoder, now’s your chance!

This is a surprisingly accessible and amusing offering from Lynch. A dark tale of forbidden love and deadly jealousy. No matter Jack’s fate the nature of Monkey is irrepressible!

Just never bring up Bristol!

What Did Jack Do? was made in 2016 (the year of the Monkey) and was first shown on 8th November 2017 at the Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris. It was released on Netflix on 20th January 2020, Lynch’s 74th birthday.

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