The last thing of director David Lynch’s to get what could be defined as “major distribution” was the 2020 short film What Did Jack Do?. Though originally premiering three years prior in Paris at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, the bizarre 17-minute short surprise dropped on Netflix on January 20, 2020, almost exactly two months before the COVID-19 pandemic first shut the world down. The film is mostly simple on the surface: In a train station, a detective (played by Lynch) interrogates a talking monkey named Jack who is suspected of murder. In actuality, the film takes the form of a never-ending series of non sequiturs. Questions and answers illogically flow from one path of conversation to the next, producing few answers at all. There is little context as to the relationship between the detective and Jack, who clearly have long-standing prior rapport with one another. About three-quarters of the way through, the monkey breaks out into a musical number about his love for a chicken named Toototabon.
As much of Lynch’s work tends to do, the film functions like something between a dream and a nightmare. Meaning is obscured, or completely absent. It is best watched under the pretense of no pretense at all, and it is a supremely strange and entertaining work of abstraction. For those familiar with Lynch’s work and signature stylistic tics, What Did Jack Do?’s confounding, speculative and often funny nature is merely a welcome addition to the director’s oeuvre—one which his fans are desperate for more output from. Since then, Lynch has released a handful of much shorter films on his YouTube channel under the banner of the “David Lynch Theater.” These are in addition to his daily weather reports—resurrected from his now-defunct early ‘00s website—and two other segments, entitled “What is David Lynch Working on Today?” and “Today’s Number Is…” the latter of which, unsurprisingly, details Lynch picking a random number from a jar and announcing it. All of this has kept fans going during and ever since the COVID-19 lockdowns—even when his new Netflix project, Wisteria, was mysteriously abandoned.
Enter the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It hasn’t started yet, and Lynch doesn’t have a film premiering there. But for a few brief days, everyone thought that he did. And they were fucking electrified. Lynch, who once swore he would never make a feature film again after 2006’s Inland Empire, had apparently made an entire film in complete secrecy and was now going to bestow it upon the world in just one short month. First, a cryptic tweet was sent out by a film festival director, later confirmed by a Variety announcement. Variety claimed that more than one reputable source had confirmed knowledge of this new, mysterious Lynch film that would be premiering at the prestigious festival and it was set to feature Laura Dern. The French publication Le Figaro wrote that not only would Lynch’s new film be opening Cannes, it would be—in a situation near-identical to Mulholland Drive—the extended pilot-turned-film of Lynch’s abandoned Netflix show, Wisteria.
Then, Lynch denied the rumors, both in an interview to promote the 4K remaster of Inland Empire that has hit theaters this month and in one of his daily weather reports:
Still, some held out hope that it was all a ruse (not me, of course). But then the Cannes lineup was officially announced, and there was no Lynch film to be found. The final coffin nail seemed to be implanted. But it’s a peculiar scenario, and not all the facts add up. How could a major publication like Variety get burned by their “reputable” sources? Why would multiple sources lie about there being a new film from David Lynch? What is there to gain from creating excitement and confusion over something like that? Did all sources simply mistake this “new film” for the 4K remaster of Inland Empire? That seems like an absurdity. Some fans felt that Lynch might be covering up the truth by denying the rumors in order to maintain the element of surprise. And some still do, despite the lack of Lynch in the official Cannes announcement. Unless one particular chaos-creator got to all these sources with the sole intent of stirring up trouble, there are simply too many sources claiming new work from Lynch for absolutely nothing to come out of this, Cannes premiere or not.
As a desperate David Lynch fan myself who is struggling for optimism in this dark, dark world, that is, tentatively, my position on the scenario: Lynch has something brewing, something that people have somehow misreported on, but which nonetheless does exist. In what capacity, however, it remains to be seen.
For instance, the circumstances surrounding the aforementioned Wisteria are exceedingly curious. In November 2020, industry trade Production Weekly reported that Lynch had a new series for Netflix under the working titles Wisteria and Unrecorded Night, set to start production in May of the following year. More curious, the foremost source of the series’ eventual cancellation or postponement or what-have-you was a tweet citing a Reddit tipster with a relatively reliable track record. In July 2020, Lynch said that “there might be things coming along that would mean less time could be spent on the [YouTube] channel.” And as Lynch had already once brought a rejected pilot to life on the silver screen—and indeed dismissed the possibility of ever doing a film again—it makes a lot of sense that the only way we would ever get another feature out of him would be from the scraps of a rejected television show. Despite having once disregarded diving back into filmmaking, Lynch admitted in 2020 that he would be making a new film or “continuing story” if not for the pandemic lockdowns at the time.
Of course, this is entirely hopeful speculation. The “things coming along” Lynch once spoke of that might’ve meant less time spent on his daily weather reports could have just been foreshadowing his recently announced Transcendental Meditation World Peace Initiative, a multi-million dollar project which will fund the teaching of TM to international college students in the hopes of bringing about a better world from calmer, more creative minds. And the same week as the Cannes fiasco and TM announcement, Lynch expressed interest in revisiting and reworking his 1984 Dune adaptation which he famously reviles—though he admits that the opportunity is unlikely to be presented to him.
Ultimately, the takeaway from this article—which, in my mind, equates to me, bug-eyed and chain-smoking, stringing tacks feverishly across a corkboard and repeating David Lynch’s name like Charlie Kelly screeching “Pepe Silvia”—is that there is definitely something going on with Lynch. For the past two years, he has expressed the explicit desire to create something bigger and more expansive than his humble YouTube videos. And now, sans the burden of COVID-19 lockdowns, he has been relatively free to pursue his creative whims. It would not be altogether unsurprising for Lynch to have had something in the works with zero outside reporting. Lynch is just a bit volatile like that. A third season of Twin Peaks might have once seemed like a complete impossibility, marginal interest in taking a second stab at Dune a non-starter; What Did Jack Do? just appeared on Netflix one day with little to no forewarning.
Lynch-heads are used to the inscrutability of their favored auteur. It’s part of his charm. Who knows what his next move will be? Maybe it’ll be a short film called What Jack Did.
Update: This piece has been edited to better reflect the contents of Twitter user @FateColossal’s post.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.