Film Review: What Did Jack Do? (2020), by David Lynch

Monkey business with a noir twist is afoot in What did Jack Do? a 17 minute film by David Lynch made under the auspices of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Jack Cruz, a capuchin monkey playing himself, is suspected of murdering Max Clay, a rabbit probably, and David Lynch plays the unnamed police detective who catches up with his murder suspect in a bleak train station right out of Eraserhead. Man and monkey trade a mix of cliché police procedural dialogue and abstract innuendo as the detective manipulates his suspect into making a confession.

References to the hysterics of the McCarthy Era, one that Lynch grew up in, provide some clues to deeper meaning. “You’ve been seen with chickens! Associating with chickens!”, says Lynch, parodying the language of the paranoid state. The detective proceeds to cite a dark chapter in US history when he asks “Are you now, or have you ever been a card-carrying member of the Communist Party?”, a stock question used by the once notorious House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities. Jack answers with a story about his father being a pipe-fitter and claims that he himself would lay his life on the line for “any chicken or rooster,” an oblique declaration of bygone class solidarity. The dated language of flagrant bigotry and casual misogyny, things that have made big comebacks in recent years, also have a reference or two in What Did Jack Do?

I began to feel sorry for the monkey as Lynch’s detective chipped away at his defenses. Jack knows that language can be used to deceive and manipulate, but he is no match for the ruthless “strong-arm man” detective. The statements made by the anthropomorphic mouth digitally grafted onto Jack’s face rarely match the cute, pleading black circles of his eyes. This is also a film about a man interrogating nature, absurdly demanding that it conform to his rationality. When Toototaban, the femme fatale chicken Jack allegedly killed for, briefly makes a wordless appearance at the end, Jack screams like a monkey and gives himself away.

The cop gets his monkey and we get a surreal experiment in language and representation. Despite the film’s archival, scratched and dusty look, What Did Jack Do? is very much a timely comment on our relationship to nature and the illusive use of language.

The film is available on Netflix.

Country: USA
Running time: 17 min
Written/ Directed/ Produced by: David Lynch
Producer: Sabrina S. Sutherland
Cast: “Jack Cruz”, David Lynch, Emily Stofle
Director of Photography: Scott Ressler
Special visual effects/ Assistant Editor: Noriko Miyakawa
Sound Design: David Lynch
Sound Mixing: David Lynch, Dean Hurley
Sound Editing: Dean Hurley
Set Design: David Lynch