White Noise (2022): mood, themes and vibes

White Noise (2022) is an apocalyptic black comedy written and directed by Noah Baumbach, and adapted from a 1985 novel by Don DeLillo — widely considered his breakout novel. One filmmakers have apparently been trying to adapt for decades. The film, in this case, centres around the Gladney family and focuses on the dad, Jack (Adam Driver), a professor in Advanced Nazism studies at the local college and his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig).

Straight off the bat I got the sense this film would be catnip to critics. Everyone speaks in incredibly dense and arch language, saying fifty words when five would have done. Every question is ‘answered’ with another question. I guess you could chalk this film down to ‘mood’, ‘vibes’ and ‘themes’. The latter, in this case, would be around fear, mortality, life and death.

Things kick off when an ‘airborne toxic event’ hits their town and everyone has to evacuate. Cue mass hysteria, paranoia, misinformation and humans acting like they always do when faced with death and danger… namely, complete idiots.

Don’t get me wrong though, the last two paragraphs above are not me saying I disliked this film, far from it. I found it interesting, and Driver’s performance in particular was superb. I enjoyed some of the themes, dialogue and commentary. However, I feel it’s going to go in my ‘watched once but would unlikely to revisit’ pile of movies.

It’s a bit of a tough one in terms of replay value, at least for me. Most scenes are quite intense, either because of the way the characters talk, or because the whole experience felt like watching a stage play. It was quite claustrophobic, with no breathing room (at least mentally for me as a viewer).

Things I did like: the character construction of Driver’s Jack Gladney — once outside his academic world where he was considered King, he was relatively useless as a human (both his son and his wife proved more practical and useful). I also liked how, once the immediate threat of the ‘airborne toxic event’ had passed, everyone immediately returned to the mundane, almost completely forgetting how they had acted a few days beforehand.

I give White Noise 4/5 stars (but I’ll probably not watch it again, ha).


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