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“This above all: to thine own self be true…”
“You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you.”
To thine own self be true. It’s an age-old turn of phrase, but what does it actually mean? To deny one’s character to one’s self, no matter how dissolute that disposition, was considered to be the greatest transgression against the Natural Order of the Universe. A crime, in Shakespeare's time, which was thought to incur the wrath of God.
Mr. Jack is a film which addresses this question in a contemporary situation. It is the story of Val Shepard, a painter with the inability to accept praise or love. Returning to New York after a self-imposed exile Val meets Jackson King, 'Mr. Jack' and by living vicariously through Mr. Jack, Val discovers what he could have accomplished had he not succumbed to his fears.
Thematically, Mr. Jack addresses questions of self-awareness and the cause and effect of denying one’s self. As the story unfolds, Val begins a manipulation of the present that he believes will undo his past. However, by not being true to essences, Val sets a series of events into motion that, in the end, will destroy all which he cherishes.
Val Shepard returns to New York City with the intention of picking up the life he left behind. With nowhere to go, he arrives on the doorstep of his ex-landlord, and father figure, Jimmy Alfano. None too happy to see Val unannounced, Jimmy allows him to stay in the vacant custodian's storeroom across the hall from his old studio.
Val soon learns that life on the Lower East Side has moved on without him, yet nonetheless attempts to reconnect with his girlfriend, Jenna Bardi. After leaving her without warning, Jenna wants nothing to do with him. Val tries explaining why he went, but Jenna tells him that it’s too late, she’s moved on with her life.
Thinking he can win her back, Val asks to see her one last time under the guise of obtaining closure. Jenna agrees to one final meeting. That evening, upon arrival at her apartment, Val is surprised to see they are not alone. Jenna introduces Val to her friend Lara, and to Ian, her new husband.
Val is taken aback by the news. Further to add insult to injury, Val learns Ian is a successful painter and holding a show in a few months at the prestigious Turner-Prince Gallery. The same gallery where Val would have shown had he not sabotaged his career. Realizing he has lost Jenna, Val capitulates, and as he is about to leave, the disastrous dinner is interrupted by a phone call.
The call sparks an argument between Jenna and Ian, and as they bicker in the kitchen, Lara informs Val, the call is from Ian’s lover, Ruta. With her short marriage already in jeopardy, Val feels maybe he still has a chance.
Later Val confronts Jenna about Ian’s infidelity. Jenna admits to Val, she knows but doesn’t care. This news devastates Val even further.
Val eventually meets the new occupant of his old studio, Jackson King, who claims to be a painter as well. Jackson lives a decadent lifestyle, using heroin and throwing extravagant, well-attended, Warholesque parties. Val begins to admire Jackson and live vicariously through him, ignoring his career and responsibilities.
Jenna visits Val to try an amend their friendship. As she is about to leave, Jenna meets Jackson. The two have an instant attraction for each other.
Val then conjures the idea, if Jenna were to get involved with Jackson it may bring her fragile marriage to an end. Val begins to encourage Jenna to have an affair with Jackson, going as far as to fascinate their first date. While Jenna and Jackson start seeing each other, Val begins to date Jenna’s friend Lara in hopes of hearing gossip about the affair.
Val discovers that Jackson is not an artist, but a fraud, he plagiarized his artwork. At first furious with Jackson, Val tells him to continue the charade rather than admit his plagiarisms to Jenna whom Val feels is not quite ready to leave Ian.
Suspecting his wife’s infidelity, Ian shows up at Jackson's studio with two gallery owner patrons. Ian invites Jackson out for drinks with them in hopes Jackson will implicate himself. While they are out Jackson gets sick from a dirty shot of heroin and must cut the evening short, narrowly escaping with Val’s assistance.
Not wanting to be upstaged by Ian, Jackson throws a party a few days later to show off to Ian. During the party, Jackson tells Jenna he has fallen in love with her, and he asks her to leave Ian. Jenna goes home with Ian without giving Jackson an answer.
Convinced now that his wife has been unfaithful, Ian arrives at Jackson’s studio with his lover Ruta to confront him and Jenna. Ian tells Jenna to choose between him and Jackson. She picks Ian. The decision devastates Jackson who walks out of his studio in despair.
Val sees Jenna home, and Ruta and Ian stay behind in Jackson's studio. Ian and Ruta have one final fling, during which, Ian unintentionally shoots Ruta with an overdose of heroin leaving Jackson and Val with the corpse. Believing they have no other option, Val and Jackson dump Ruta’s body near the East River.
After they dump her body, Val takes Jackson home before paying a visit to Jenna and Ian. Jenna refuses to let Val see Ian and asks him if he has taken care of everything. Val asks her how she can be so callous when a young girl has just died. Jenna tells Val, she knows nothing about it. There was no involvement by her and Ian, and Val should forget about it. Val asks her, how he could ever have been in love with a woman like her. Jenna tells him, he should have never have come back to New York and should have stayed gone.
On his way home Val realizes, although a plagiarist, Jackson is the most sincere man he has ever known and is looking forward to seeing him. When Val arrives at his home, he finds police cordoning off the building with crime scene tape. Upon learning of his wife’s death, Ruta‘s husband Peter tracked her down to Jackson's studio. Thinking he was his wife's killer, Peter threw Jackson off of the roof.
Although Jackson’s parties were well-attended, his funeral is sparse. Apart from a few curiosity seekers, the only attendees are Jimmy, Val, and Jackson’s uncle, Jedidiah. After the funeral, they return to Jimmy’s, and the three men raise a toast, to Jackson King.
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