Film Review: White Noise

Words: Francesca Beaumont
Monday 12 December 2022
reading time: min, words

Noah Baumbach has taken the seemingly impossible task of adapting Don DeLillo's seminal postmodern novel, here's our thoughts on the results...


Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle
Running time: 136 minutes

Advanced Nazi intellectualism, ecological catastrophe and a pop-art colour palette. White Noise is Baumbach on a big budget. A contemporary satire that seamlessly interweaves the ideas of author Don DeLillo into a two and a half hour adaptation of a post-modern pocket book.

White Noise is set in the 80s and has a narrative that plays into the absurdity that is our modern age of information. It follows academic Hitler aficionado Jack Gladney and his neurotic wife, Babette, who microdoses on a mystery drug in an attempt to assuage her American obsession with mortality. 

Baumbach fuses two sociological concepts throughout the film: the inevitability of death and the inescapability of constant consumption. The latter arrives in a torrent of information, fast paced, facetious, and commonly via the "cradle for misinformation"  the family. 

In one particularly comedic scene that follows a high-intensity montage of hundreds of people, as they all attempt to manically save themselves and find salvation without really knowing how, Jack finds his car stuck in a Ravine. As he unsuccessfully and desperately tries to reverse out, with the constant onslaught of chatter from his three children, he deadpans: "Doesn’t anyone want to pay attention to what’s actually happening?" 

It’s funny in the face of frenzy. But, really, it introduces society's off-kilter obsession with irrelevance. It’s 2022 and we really are emerging into a worrying age of content, where the importance of information is being blurred by tabloid gossip and post-covid "doom scrolling" An age where everything and nothing becomes the most important thing in the news. 

In Act three Jack runs into fellow college Professor, Murray Siskind. 

"I thought you were going to New York for the Summer?"
"I stayed back to watch car crashes on TV" 

Alongside our post-modern preoccupation with political nothingness is this self-referential refusal to do anything outside of consuming media. People's lives are so enmeshed in creating a personality around what they consume that it seems increasingly difficult for people to occupy space outside the confines of consumption.

A contemporary satire that seamlessly interweaves the ideas of author Don DeLillo into a two and a half hour adaptation of a post-modern pocket book.

The whole film has a pop-art fixture and alongside Siskind’s comedic indifference to experience, it seems slightly reminiscent of pop-art legend Andy Warhol’s personal philosophy: that if he "only had time for one vacation every ten years I still wouldn’t want to go anywhere other than my room to turn on a couple of TVs"

The infatuation with the television synthesised with car crashes is a pretty potent leitmotif in the drama. We open to a  montage of collisions. The film’s driving action (The Airborne Toxic Event) is caused by a car crash. Constant traffic jams act as a stop/start in the plot's progression. The collision of cars seems to act as a conduit for the audience to reflect on our current crash in culture. 

"Each crash is better than the last"

Secondary to this, is the infatuation with immortality. Because when we experience momentary luls in our information overload the fascination with suffering can only ever be intensified.  Babette takes a secretive drug named Dylor. What is Dylor? We don’t really know. The drug retains a factor of untraceability and Baumbach never satiates the viewer with a grand reveal. 

In the films denouement, Mr Gray, enigmatic supplier of the aforementioned mystery drug, can only claim that the pill stops you from dying; although this explanation is soon overshadowed by some vague reflections on Tibetan rebirth.

Even as Babette cries in the arms of Jack about how "the greater the scientific advancement the more scared I get" we still arrive at no definitive scientific explanation of Dylor. By having her addiction remain purposefully ambiguous Baumbach gives time for Babette’s mental anguish to be fleshed out in all of its complexities - allowing himself to not fall into the trap of being a male director fetishising feminine misery in an attempt to encapsulate the female psyche. 

White Noise is showing at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 15 December

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