Practically nothing about death sounds exciting, we can try to lie and trick ourselves into believing otherwise but let us be honest, we all fear it. And yet, we consume it at almost every angle. Very early on in Noah Baumbach’s complex film WHITE NOISE Don Cheadle’s Murray Siskind, a college professor, rolls tape on a film full of car accidents and discusses the beauty of them. This idea of looking at death as an entertainment is nothing new, but if we are in a Baumbach film it means discussions will be had and they will be endless. WHITE NOISE is an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name that brought him great success. It is also an extremely difficult book to adapt. Baumbach, who after many other directors, has brought this book of paranoia and fascination to life after revisiting the book during the early months of the pandemic. In fact like most films today it is impossible to watch anything to do with societal chaos and not think of covid, lockdowns and worldwide panic. WHITE NOISE is also an excellent film and one of Baumbach’s best in a filmography of unique and often pretentious characters. The film is also an epic told in three parts that leaves you plenty to discuss afterwards, but no matter what the film is about the inevitable not the journey to get there, but that doesn’t mean you cant at least make your demise a little more entertaining.

Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) loves Hitler. A professor in a 1980’s “feel good Americana” college town has had great scholarly success teaching Hitler Studies at a school appropriately named College on the Hill. Gladney with his dad bad (full beer gut in tow) spends his days giving prolonged lectures on Hitler, conversing with his fellow professors including Murray and then eventually finds his way home where he is greeted by his wife Babbette (Greta Gerwig) and their four children some from previous marriages. From the moment Jack comes home there is endless noise. Everyone’s voice jumps over one another as they discuss food products, family scheduling, academics, and whatever else gets lost in the noise. They hear what is happening but nobody is truly listening. The 80’s were a major time for American consumerism and as Jack and his family talk amongst one another it all feels like if one turned on several TVs and they were all playing different informercials. You practically expect one of them to turn to the camera to promote a can of cooking salt. All this noise never distracts Jack or Babbette from their one main obsession; death. Babbette seems overtly happy even as she sneaks a pill in between sentences, but even with her cuddly Minnie Mouse sweater and fluffy blonde curls there is a fear in everything she does. Jack on the other hand has dreams of mysterious figures in his room only to wake up with his own bed sheets suffocating him. Their fears and encounters with death only creates more intrigue for them. Driver and Gerwig as Jack and Babbette are two actors at the top of their game. All this appears to come easy for them. Driver who plays Jack as even more pretentious than he sounds and Gerwig delivering mantras with almost all her dialogue are hilarious and loving together. Scenes involving discussions about who will die first and who will mourn better are wonderfully delivered and so how these two talents can sell even some of the more absurd scenarios.

WHITE NOISE as a whole works well at both being and selling a product. It’s product? Glorious chaos and anxiety. The film at its most satire involves moments of clarity and epiphanies all at your local supermarket. It is here where Jack and Murray find their most open discussion ones that even go beyond their lecture room (although a scene involving a battle lecture is just too good to miss). The supermarket in both DeLillo and Baumbach’s eyes is the pinnacle of American consumerism and it is the middle ground of life and death. But how alive or close to death can one feel without something catastrophic. Enter the toxic airborne event. As the film reaches its second part involving well a toxic airborne event, the film really finds a wonderful stride. Baumbach best known for his smaller independent films is working on his biggest scale yet (hell he hasn’t worked a film this big since Madagascar 3). In a time where modern American blockbusters look the same it is beyond humorous that some of the years best action adventure segments come from a Noah Baumbach film. Working with a full stunt and visual effects team, WHITE NOISE finds itself in the realms of “War of the Worlds” and especially Godard’s “Weekend”, add to that a full orchestra score conducted and arranged by Danny Elfman, well you begin to see where the eighty plus million budget went to. If part one is the consumption then part two is the explosion. The outcome of information overload and how it can grow into a plague.

To say it bluntly WHITE NOISE is a whole lot of movie. If it feels like things will slow down in its third act that is only because darker truths wait around the corner. Here is a film where everything you heard before matters which only adds to the joke of barely being able to understand what everyone is saying. How are we supposed to listen when everything being said just gets lost in the mix? Baumbach wants to answer this in a surprisingly more tender way than his first two chaotic acts give off. It is here where Driver and Gerwig get some of their most intimate scenes involving a bedroom monologue that plays right out of a real life horror story. But even as darkness seems to overtake everything Baumbach saves his best surprise for last. An all out gleeful moment that required him to bring in choreographer David Neumann to create a prolonged scene involving that pesky supermarket, a dance routine and the cherry on top a brand new LCD Soundsystem song. It is the kind of moment that isn’t just a great payoff it’s a final acknowledgement. A greeting and response to the destruction in front of us. Death will be the result but WHITE NOISE has accepted it now it’s saying who gives a fuck, there are better ways to cope. Instead it wants you to go to your supermarket and dance because after all that is really all we have so might as well give in.




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