So, you might well be wondering what the fuck just dropped to Netflix and who the fuck let these fuckers anywhere near the controls. Some of you may be picturing elaborate, ‘White House Down’ style scenarios where a mad band of meth fuelled third-year film students highjacked Netflix HQ in an attempt to send their art film out to the world. No, none such are true. The truth is; David Lynch happened.
I cannot tell you how deliriously excited I am to review a brand new David Lynch movie even if it is just a 17-minute-long short film about interrogating a monkey. I’m a sucker for Lynch anyway. As you’ll know if you read our recent Lynch Retrospective, ‘Eraserhead’ is part of the reason I’m the critic & filmmaker that I am. Aside from maybe ‘Lost Highway’ which is even now a bit too hard to grab a hold onto for me, I am up for pretty much anything Lynch is going to throw at me. With my relationship to Lynch, it’s strange. Because what I like about Lynch is the fact that he will make choices that no one else will. What I love about Lynch is his reinvention of cinema and the fact that he’ll deliver a unique experience to me. So really Lynch could make pretty much anything and I’ll be up for it. Episode 8 of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’? 10 minutes of a guy sweeping a floor? Honestly, yes, please? Please sir can I have some more? Inject it straight into my brain, please? The fact is that exactly what I want from Lynch is exactly what he’s doing in this phase of his career, unique, boundary-pushing, and absolutely nothing like what else is on the market. That goes some way to explain why this is on Netflix. Netflix will put anything up as long as it gets them subscriptions, and a 17-minute brand new short film from one of the true masters of cinema is definitely going to do that, and from Lynch’s perspective, his shorts are hardly seen by people but he makes a lot of them, so why not put it out on Netflix where it’s going to get a lot of eyeballs immediately. It’s why Scorcese bought ‘The Irishman’ there.
So I turn on ‘What Did Jack Do?’ Because I was to write this piece that you’re now reading about it. I see gorgeous black and white cinematography, David Lynch playing himself, interviewing a monkey with a badly CGI’d on mouth about the murder of a partner in a typical kind of noir pastiche. Okay, this is absolutely solid Lynch territory that’s still pushing the boundary of cinema itself and what we’ll take as an acceptable narrative. I’m in, immediately sold. I was so impressed at how well Lynch immediately creates a sense of gripping tension that draws you in just from a dialogue scene… with a monkey… sure. Anyway. What I didn’t expect was how emotionally resonant and sad it would be. We get musical numbers a la ‘The Shape Of Water’ and noir style bleak, ambiguous endings, as well as a very noir style story about love, betrayal, and jealousy that reminds one of ‘Double Indemnity’.
Although the first few minutes on a first watch could seem like just people talking in surrealist noir cliches, (a cliche Lynch himself creates, so fair I guess), but on a rewatch the whole thing seems so much more resonant. Lines that seem initially like a flat noir pastiche take on whole new meanings in context, like the best of them. The film plays like the second half of the third act of a movie where we’d already have all the context if we’d seen the rest of the movie, so phrases like “you’ve been seen with chickens” just serve to create the strange Lynchian noir pastiche-y weirdness the first time but on a rewatch are painfully emotional given the direction the film goes in.
What Lynch accomplishes here is quite astonishing. In 17 minutes he creates one of the most striking, experimental, innovative, and sad pieces of art of the last few years. If 2020 has already produced ‘Uncut Gems’ & ‘What Did Jack Do?’, well we must be doing pretty good. While yes, it is ‘Zootopia’ goes to hell, it is shockingly entertaining.