What Did Jack Do? Film Review: A Surreal Noir

Maciej Pradziad ’23

A&E Editor

WHAT DID JACK DO? (WDJD?) by David Lynch is a short film that speaks to the deepest crevices of the unconscious mind and manufactures the experience of dreaming in your conscious state. The two greatest contributing factors to the grimy, noir inspired atmosphere tainted by surrealist elements were the editing and writing, both masterfully done by Lynch himself. Although general audiences may find this movie pointless due to its apparent lack of objective meaning, the true beauty of this fever dream lies in its attempt to enwrap you in its unique world and to make you forget about logic and reality. 

WDJD? tells the story of a nameless detective (played by David Lynch) interrogating a talking Capuchin monkey named Jack, who is suspected of murder. The story may seem like a simple noir tale at face value, but surreal stylization of the 17-minute short is a truly captivating experience to behold. 

The screenplay by Lynch is one that can either be nerve wracking, hilarious, or both simultaneously, depending on the personality of the viewer. The dialogue is filled with animal and food related puns that are delivered with deadpan seriousness, creating a tension in the viewer that not only confuses them about the actual subject matter at hand, but also the way in which they should be reacting. This beautifully sets the stage for the famous portrayal and use of “dream logic” in Lynch’s films, where the onscreen action and dialogue doesn’t make sense initially due to the drastic inconsistencies and contrasts between characters, setting, and tone. However, as time goes by and the film starts to complete itself, the seemingly illogical “logic” of the film completes itself, fulfilling the viewer’s emotional understanding of the dream world onscreen. This is best exemplified by the constant use of non sequiturs, which seem to be going nowhere as the dialogue initially jumps around from topic to topic, but by the very end, the story of what Jack did becomes whole. 

The use and portrayal of dream logic does not end in the mysterious and absurdly funny dialogue, it also lies in the editing by Lynch. In order to enhance the noir atmosphere of the film, Lynch added a film stock reel effect over the digitally recorded film in post-production to make it seem as if the film was recorded during the golden age of film noir in the 40s. To heighten the surrealist aspects of such a gritty, dark setting, Lynch pasted crude human lips over the mouth of the monkey, creating a clear juxtaposition between the two differing subjects that adds to the layers of comedy to the dreadful atmosphere. This clearly follows Lynch’s dream logic as two completely opposing tones are forced to work in unison in an emotionally illogical way. This gradually grows on the audience as they’re enwrapped in the rules established by the dream world, directly opposing that of human reality. Lastly, the tension of the film is intensified by the simple back and forth cuts of the detective and Jack that take up about three-fourths of the movie, making the impact of any shots that lay outside their simple back and forth more intense as the fate of Jack lies unknown. 

WDJD? is a wonderfully surreal experience worth having, whether you are or aren’t an already established Lynch fan. The interplay between gritty, noir realism and off-the-wall surrealism lends the short film a humorous, dreamlike quality that echoes the wildly imaginative state of the unconscious mind.  

This short film is currently available to stream on Netflix. 

bclark

Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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