Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985) depicts an era where the relative security of Western middle class life mutated into nihilism. The Gladney children eagerly watch plane crashes on TV, safe in their domestic bubble. Even the genocidal nightmare of the Holocaust is reduced to a joke; Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is a lecturer whose course on Hitler Studies has made him a campus celebrity. Noah Baumbach translates this tone well, but doesn’t twist the knife as gleefully as some directors might. He’s always poked fun at academics and hipster creatives, but here he mostly prefers sympathy to scorn.

Everyone seems numb to death, except Jack and his wife Babbette (Greta Gerwig), whose fear of dying is treated like a shameful secret to be medicated rather than a natural state of mind. This numbness seeps into the performances in a less effective way, with an overwhelming sense in some moments that the actors are simply performing lines from the book. Driver and Gerwig’s natural charisma is powerful, but too often there is no spontaneity to their performances.

White noise is the background hum of society, the way the tide is turning. If you don’t tune it out, it overwhelms you. Baumbach captures this mundane horror and the rising sense of dread brilliantly, in his most ambitious directorial effort yet. Once reliant on talky relationship drama, here he includes moments of action, thriller and even horror to great effect.

What the noise says is, “don’t worry, everything will be ok.” This communal complacency is an inescapable phenomenon in the prevailing chatter of opposing cultural or political bubbles – and it’s even more relevant when considering the catastrophes that threaten the world today. Whether it’s a pandemic, an energy crisis, or the climate emergency, people and governments have ignored the realities of our disasters in the naïve hope that surely, everything will be ok.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner-Smith, Andre Benjamin

DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach

WRITERS: Noah Baumbach, Don DeLillo (author)

SYNOPSIS: White Noise dramatizes a contemporary American family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world.