White Noise (2022)
White Noise (2022)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 16 min.

Release Date: December 30th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Noah Baumbach Actors: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lars Eidinger

 


 

“L

et’s enjoy these aimless days while we can.” J.A.K. “Jack” Gladney’s (Adam Driver) life as a family man and professor at College on the Hill in Ohio in the ’80s is hectic – as demonstrated not by any specific interaction, but by a flurry of overlapping dialogue in a house full of children (portrayed by Raffey Cassidy, May Nivola, Sam Nivola, Henry Moore, and Dean Moore, all suspiciously precocious). It grows even more contemplative and existential when he regularly engages in conversations with wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) about living, dying, and contending with familial and societal routines. They’re both essentially obsessed with death. Even in his classroom, Jack discusses how humans are drawn toward plotting and killing; all narratives progress unchangeably to the conclusion of life. And his educational forte is Hitler and Nazism.

“Everybody forgets things occasionally.” As the characters ponder how boring and ordinary yet enjoyable and unforgettable their existences are, it becomes evident that these roles behave in specifically abnormal ways; they may define their lives as commonplace, but they’re unusually cinematic – even horrifying, as Jack dreams of otherworldly, nighttime occurrences. And the dialogue continues to spill out onto the audience, rapidly and convergently and without much pause – a deluge of information that is so dense it’s difficult to parse.

“Look past the violence, I say.” There’s also a fellow professor, Murray (Don Cheadle), who specializes in Elvis, among other topics such as car crashes. His lectures, often criss-crossing with Jack’s, feature intercut footage of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hitler rallies, vehicular destruction sequences from movies, and simultaneous events (like a toxic chemical explosion), some suggesting major themes, others playing a part in the story itself. The essence appears to be sudden chaos intersecting with absolute mundanity.

“Do not advance the action according to a plan.” There’s a curious preoccupation with close-ups on food, dreamlike asides, odd narrations, and abrupt mood shifts (fueled by panic and lies and purposeful misinformation). At any moment, “White Noise” could transform into a zombie apocalypse film. It’s almost as if it’s an experiment in presenting the most unexpected transitions in subject matter and genre, with occult happenings and eerie visions overtaking the normalcy at a brisk clip. Each subsequent scene is increasingly more bizarre and unanticipated.

“I wanna know how scared I should be.” Despite being somewhat engaging, if only for the strangeness of the narrative leaps, the purpose of it all is abundantly unclear; it’s absurd, satirical, over-the-top, and downright hilarious at times, but it rarely feels as if imparting a meaningful message. Its point may just be that life is random, unpredictable, messy, and ultimately unnavigable and uncontrollable. Mistakes will be made and disasters will occur. Or, maybe it’s just a tale of a family trying to survive an alarming chemical catastrophe; or perhaps a condemnation of religion and consumerism; or it could be commentary on how technology will bring ruination to mankind. Either way, the performances prove to be more entertaining than any other component (the actors wholeheartedly commit to the erraticism and craziness); certainly the story is a frenetic hodgepodge of adventure and drama, an unknowable jumble of thrills and comedy, meandering and wandering like an epic road trip experiment.

“Doesn’t anyone want to pay attention to what’s actually happening?” Director Noah Baumbach, adapting the book by Don DeLillo, may have an intention and an interpretation that he understands (the novel is famous enough to have been analyzed and celebrated and explained), but he’s quite unconcerned if audiences catch on in the process. Digesting the significance turns out to be mostly inscrutable and intermittently frustrating, regardless of minuscule little clues; the path is also overlong and perpetually bordering on an ambiguity surrounding reality and fantasy. Problematically, when nothing can be taken seriously or literally, nothing has much potency; what unfolds may be entirely figurative – and it isn’t straightforward or easily understood, which will surely disappoint a great deal of viewers. “That makes perfect sense.”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10