White Noise (2022) Netflix Review: Who would want to live through the horribleness of COVID again? Even replaying those dreadful moments coupled up in our homes in fear and anticipation of what could go wrong gives me chills. It is not the event itself but how it made us feel that is the worse of the two things. Frankly, watching Noah Baumbach’s latest film conjured a similar feeling. Only the invisible virus was replaced by “airborne toxins” that cover the sky. But with that sense of apocalyptic trauma comes an incredibly light-hearted, clever, and almost parodical brand of humor that sets things right. Blending the two is a dangerous task that Baumbach achieves with minimal hiccups and notable panache. They aren’t as natural a combination as romance and comedy, perhaps, but White Noise makes it an effective one in its scheme of utter cinematic debauchery.
It must be noted that the source of the film is Dan DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name. While the contents of it are unboxed in a very generous manner by Baumbach, the novel’s keen sense of fear and trauma prevail as much in the dramatic adaptation. In terms of plot, the needle is followed mostly to the hilt. Driver plays Professor Jack Gladney, an oddball scholar responsible for the Hitler Studies department. His deliciously quirky family comprises his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig), two children, and the lovely Denise (Raffey Cassidy) and Henrich (Sam Nivola). Over the three parts, the central conceit is how the family deals with the fear of facing death, which is, in a nutshell, the literary emphasis in DeLillo’s work.
The neatly arranged parts have a thematic and spiritual dependency on each other. They seem to present distinct ideas and commentaries but invariably tie up the core philosophy of the Gladney family. All of that happens in n absurdist yet controlled augmentation of reality. Baumbach seldom loses his grip on the narrative and does not get inundated with the endless quotient of the novel. It might just be a coincidence that so many facets of DeLillo’s writing are reflected in modern society.
They truly are the defining features of how we are as a species today. Consumerism, conspiracy theories, and collective trauma are continually dominating issues in our times and are key turners in our psychological balance of how we view the world. In White Noise, they come to life through bits and pieces of execution present in all the parts. Don Cheadle too makes a noteworthy appearance as Professor Siskind. His character sticks because of the repulsive, condescending, and ironic manner in which academia is put under the scanner. The pandemic brought forth a bug mistrust in information absorption by the end consumer that led to much damage. Novelty intellectualism became a fashionable choice. Using big words in the media gave decision-makers a false sense of security that never existed.
All of that is replicated in White Noise’s treatment of the material in which the Gladney family, especially Jack, cannot fathom the inevitability of death. He reminds one of that hypochondriac businessman from The Twilight Zone who made a deal with the devil. Given Jack’s tense disposition, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to claim that he would have taken that deal in a jiffy. There are remnants of Under the Silverlake in White Noise that bring to light its imperfections. Veering off the main course is forgivable in this case owing to its lack of impact on the storytelling. Baumbach’s effort loses steam when it spirals into Jack’s worst fears realized on the screen and his coming to terms with it.
Driver’s immense ability to give Jack some semblance of normalcy must be appreciated. He showed previously in Annette how he could turn an unlikable narcissist like Henry into a believable character. While the portrayal has some similarities, Jack Gladney is his own man. Driver’s subtlety in bringing out the character’s existential-cum-hypochondriac dread is the highlight o White Noise’s ensemble. Gerwig was not her usual self and looked uncomfortable in the new skin of the character Baumbach carved for her. It looks odd, but the film is the right platform to be just that.
A colorful, interesting, and polarizing thinkpiece about our times, White Noise delivers first-rate entertainment with well-rounded perfection to its artistic sensibilities. Noah Baumbach reaches for the depths of the human conscience in the modern world and manages to make something special of the craziness that comes to his grasp. It does not quite have the hallmark of Baumbach’s epitome of drama, but it will give you great joy in its runtime.