White Noise Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

On December 30, a new film by Noah Baumbach was released on Netflix. This is an adaptation of Don Dellillo’s novel of the same name, which was published in 1985. In the review below, we tell whether Baumbach managed to successfully transfer the themes and ideas of the original work to the screen.

“White Noise” / White Noise

Genre satirical comedy, drama
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Reffey Cassidy, Don Cheadle, Lars Eidinger
Netflix premiere
Release year 2022
IMDb site

Mid 80’s. The Gladney family, which consists of the couple Jack and Babette, as well as four children of different ages, lives in a small American town where almost nothing happens. This is a utopian place with pleasant townspeople, white picket fences, beautiful houses and perfectly displayed goods in cozy supermarkets.

Jack teaches at the university in the department of Hitler studies, hangs out with his good friend and colleague Murray and has terrible taste in clothes. His wife Babette has a kind of amazing radiance, teaches the elderly to keep their posture straight and has a funny curly hairstyle that was fashionable in those days.

The situation in this, at first glance, idyllic family begins to get out of control when an accident occurs on a railway line somewhere nearby. As a result of this accident, some strange dark liquid begins to seep from the damaged tanks, forming a large black cloud of dangerous chemicals. In addition, Jack learns about an unknown drug that his wife takes, and this causes him considerable concern.

Noah Baumbach took on the screen adaptation of Don Dellillo’s postmodern novel, in which the author touches on a large number of different themes. This is the first screen adaptation in the career of the famous cinematographer. During the review, it becomes clear that he did not want to miss something important. Perhaps this is precisely why the story of the tape looks different and even multi-genre. One moment we see a family comedy, the next a disaster movie, and then a tense noir.

In his novel, Dellillo touched on such issues as the influence of mass media and television in general on a person, as well as the dependence on constant consumption. And in a satirical spirit, he portrayed university teachers and their academic thinking, not without healthy humor he reflected on religion, family and even death. In the film, Baumbach tried to echo the original source and cover as many of the above-mentioned topics as possible in the allotted two and a half hours. But the trouble is that the sense of humor in the film does not seem as inventive as in the book.

In addition, the truly funny episodes can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In particular, the scene in which Driver’s character, an avid Hitler scholar, tries without much success to master the German pronunciation looks good. Yes, “White Noise” doesn’t look very funny, and that’s because the humor here is absurd. The tape is positioned precisely as an absurdist black comedy, and this is probably the right genre for the film adaptation of DeLillo’s work.

However, while watching it, it is difficult to get rid of the thought that much better humor, even satirical, could have been squeezed out of such material. It is also not entirely clear why viewers who are familiar with the original source should watch the film. The film adaptation quite closely follows the letter of the novel and does not tell anything new at all. Yes, there are some cosmetic changes in the plot, but they are not able to affect the overall result.

However, from a technical point of view, “White Noise” is impeccably executed. Where necessary, Baumbach uses parallel montage, in other moments – deep mise-en-scene, and also plays with the depth of field of the frame, light and color saturation in it. The latter is especially noticeable in the scenes in the supermarket, where fresh goods are laid out so evenly, as if the local decorators had gone through a merchandising course before filming.

Adam Driver got a beer belly and a terrible shirt, but gave another confident look that fits well with the literary prototype. Greta Gerwig also seems like a good choice for the role of Babette. However, dramatically these roles look less powerful than the performances of the same Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Baumbach’s previous work “Marriage Story”. But in “White Noise” such dramatic nerve is not required, especially considering the original work.

It is interesting how the life and behavior of the heroes changes due to a man-made disaster. People hear the sounds of an air raid for the first time in their lives and begin to behave differently. Wait for some news on the radio. Panic, laugh, put on gas masks and protective suits. To experience symptoms that have been heard about, but it is not known whether they correspond to reality.

One of the characters is generally indignant about the fact that television is silent about the chemical leak. Didn’t everyone who was forced to leave their homes deserve to be on the news? Television is our everything, wow!

2 hours and 15 minutes of timing pass painlessly, but also without much excitement. The creators seem to be trying to tell a lot of things, but in fact they are talking about nothing. You can watch, sometimes the story arouses interest. But the purpose of the film is only to see the final dance of customers in the middle of shelves with perfectly displayed bottles of Pepsi, cans of canned pineapple, well-paved vegetables, etc.

Pros: a fairly faithful following of the literary original source and, accordingly, a respectful attitude towards it, good acting performances by Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, excellent technical performance, several funny episodes, the ability to appreciate the content of the 1985 work in the context of today Cons: the inability to cover and reveal as widely as possible themes proposed in DeLillo’s work, a weak comedic (satirical) component, lack of new thoughts on the original source, not a particularly exciting story Conclusion:

“White noise” is not able to cause any strong admiration or bright emotions. This is a professionally staged and well-executed work and not the worst way to spend time in front of the screen, but the film itself leaves almost nothing to be desired

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