David Lynch chose to celebrate his 74th birthday with the release of the short What Did Jack Do?, an absurdist plunge into surrealistic self-reflection that’s held together by distinct noir stylistic cues, echoing a bygone era. In only 17 minutes, he delivers a filling “To-Go” Lynch experience, while still managing to fit in his trademark style.
Twisted tropes, upside-down clichés, and hard-boiled language dance under high contrast lighting to further pull us out of reality and into deeper abstract contemplation. When approached in this way, the film can give audiences a catalyst towards their own reflection in tandem with Lynch. Sadly, there hasn’t been enough conversation about this striking, self-aware, and humorous commentary on the human condition. It’s sad because Lynch has a lot to teach us, even in this short. To dismiss it as mere absurdist comedy would be a wasted opportunity.
Lynch is aware of and calls attention to his current public persona, as he plants familiar symbolic elements, yet plays with the audience’s expectations of his tone. He’s still embodying the styles of Buñuel and Dalí, by revealing surrealism in the everyday, but is now moving away from his own traditions of dread. As an auteur who has spent most of his career uncovering the horror that lies behind what most find innocent and trivial, we now find him wading in the waters of comedy in an effort to contemplate the legitimacy of his career in hindsight.
The character of Jack acts as a symbol for Lynch and his career, while Lynch plays the part of his inner dialogue. The question in the title isn’t even answered, because it’s more important to ask why Jack did what he did. Jack goes on to tell Lynch that he did what he did out of love and doesn’t care about the consequences, as he was following passion above all. Even during this interrogation, Jack barely makes sense, nor does he explain his absurdist nature. He is unapologetically himself, much like David Lynch.
Lynch has consistently worked outside of the mainstream, motivated only by passion and love for the art itself. He has never submitted to industry standards or compromised his vision, regardless of consequences, which can be seen throughout his career. This dramatized inner dialogue allows Lynch to reflect and properly support his satisfaction with his own life path. He’s reached a goal everyone wants to achieve: self-actualization, and has given people more clues and tools to join him in that state through this meditative film.
About The Author:
Keagen Fritz is a screenwriting and production major at California State University Fullerton with growing industry experience.
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