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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Rate and Review: ‘White Noise’ masterfully navigates its plot-driving fear of death

Baumbach’s new film is his boldest yet

<p>Greta Gerwig, left, and director Noah Baumbach pose for photographers upon arrival for the premiere of the film &#x27;White Noise&#x27; during the 2022 London Film Festival in London, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022.</p>

Greta Gerwig, left, and director Noah Baumbach pose for photographers upon arrival for the premiere of the film 'White Noise' during the 2022 London Film Festival in London, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022.

Spoilers follow for the film “White Noise.”

White noise is a constant background sound that can cause damage to the human brain by over stimulating it — it’s also one of the most oddball movies of 2022.

Explosions, a professor of Hitler studies, a near apocalypse, a revolutionary drug and a group of German atheist nuns highlight one of the year’s most interesting films.

Director Noah Baumbach’s newest film played in theaters for a limited time before its wide release on Netflix Dec. 30.

Baumbach has become an established director through his character-driven stories. “White Noise” fits this description, but it’s his most unique approach yet.

The film follows Jack Gladney, a Hitler studies professor, and his wife, Babette, who parent a mixed family. A vehicular explosion in their town spreads chemical waste throughout the air, uprooting the family and almost resulting in an apocalypse.

The characters face issues like the end of the world, drug use and physical altercations, bringing up themes of death, suspicion, religion, revenge, and chaos. The film’s cast work together to effortlessly portray these ideas.

Adam Driver headlines the group as Jack, the lead character and father of the family. His previous role as Charlie in “Marriage Story” earned him a nomination for best leading actor at the 92nd Academy Awards.

He delivered another terrific performance in his newest collaboration with Baumbach. Driver successfully carries the load in a role in which he delivers multiple scene-stealing performances.

Greta Gerwig acts next to Driver as Babette. Gerwig, Bamubach’s partner, previously acted in four of the director’s other films. She held large roles in three of the four films, establishing herself as a strong actress and a mainstay in his films.

Her role in “White Noise” is as strong as her performances in Baumbach’s previous films. She brings her characteristic sense of humor to the role to add layers to the otherwise heavy story.

He boasts previous films like Academy Award winner “Marriage Story”, Palm D’Or contending “The Meyerowitz Stories”  and “Frances Ha.” Baumbach’s newest addition to his filmography isn’t as grounded as his previous entries.

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While the director’s other films are more straightforward, heartful dramas, “White Noise” combines comedy, romance, science fiction and drama. What could’ve been a mess ends up working on every level.

“Marriage Story” centers on a married couple whose relationship is deteriorating. “The Meyerowitz Stories” details a group of siblings who gather to see their father. “Frances Ha” follows the titular Frances Ha, an aspiring dancer pursuing a career in New York City.

One of the biggest themes in “White Noise” is the fear of imminent death, which heavily affects the protagonists’ actions as the film moves along.

After being exposed to an “airborne toxic event,” Jack finds out he will die without knowing when. Babette fears death too, but she has no reason to anticipate it any time soon. Their fear of dying turns Jack paranoid and Babette pale and distant.

They both go through great efforts to avoid accepting death: Jack keeps it from his family in an attempt to leave it in the past; Babette takes a drug that she thinks may help get rid of her fear, which Jack also seeks out when he hears of its existence. 

Knowing his wife is taking an undisclosed drug becomes a source of paranoia for the professor when she refuses to say what she’s taking. He finds out what the drug is and finds its dealer, but the drug is revealed to be ineffective at relieving their fear of death. The ineffectiveness, along with Babette’s eventual honesty, make his worries irrelevant.

Jack’s constant paranoia and Babette’s mental distance dissipate when they accept their eventual death.

Jack seeks revenge after finding out the dealer had sex with Babette in exchange for the drug. Jack realizes he’s the same man who showed up in his dreams earlier in the film. He ultimately abandons his goal of killing the figure that haunted him the whole film.

Jack and Babette seek medical attention from nuns that reveal they aren’t religious. The nuns — who Jack and Babette seek religious guidance from — give people hope that someone believes in God but are atheists themselves.

The whole film shows how people react to chaos, typically when fearing for their lives. Large masses of people pack up, leave their homes and find quarantine camps when they find out about the “airborne toxic event.” However, the area returns back to normal and citizens leave their quarantine zones. After a near apocalypse, people are no longer afraid when the toxic event ends.

Jack and Babette fear for their lives, but when they realize there’s no point in stressing over it, they go back to their normal lives. A film full of chaos ends with the family shopping in the most organized supermarket imaginable.

Every idea brought up is initially made out to be immeasurably important, as if they threaten humanity as much as an apocalypse. Characters fear for their lives, seek revenge, turn to religion and struggle with suspicion and paranoia. 

A film made possible by these ideas questions their very importance. The characters are consumed by a problem at first and forget it even happened after it’s resolved.

It shows that these ideas shouldn’t dominate someone’s life because it might not even have an impact. Thoughts about imminent death, paranoia, religion and revenge don’t contribute to anything other than chaos.

It's all just white noise.

Rate: 9/10

Contact Kyle Bumpers at kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.

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Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.


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