Posted on December 1, 2022 at 5:15 pmC
|Lowest Recommended Age:||High School|
|MPAA Rating:||Not rated|
|Profanity:||Some strong language|
|Nudity/ Sex:||Sexual references and situations|
|Alcohol/ Drugs:||Alcohol and drugs|
|Violence/ Scariness:||Apocalyptic themes|
|Diversity Issues:||Diverse characters|
Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise won the National Book Award for fiction. It was an apocalyptic satire about a couple in an academic community who both have a sense of dread and fear of death, and what happens when a toxic cloud causes a massive evacuation. Pretty much everyone agreed that it was un-filmable because so much of its value depended on the book’s tone, which would be impossible to convey on screen. But Noah Bumbach decided that for his first time directed a script based on a book (he co-wrote but did not direct the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) White Noise would be it.
It’s probably even more of a challenge to translate to film now than it was 27 years ago because some of the wildest exaggerations of the satire now seem to be commonplace elements of our daily life. And its reflections on consumerism and the way we separate ourselves from daily and existential considerations are too well-traveled to be meaningful without some freshness in their presentation.
Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is a professor at the fictional College on the Hill, married to Babette (Greta Gerwig), a warm-hearted woman with intensely crimped hair. Each has been married three times before, and they blended family includes children from the previous relationships and one they had together. They have a loving, intimate relationship, though both are pre-occupied with a fear of death and talk about which one of them will die first.
Jack is a pioneer in Hitler studies, though he does not speak German. He has a new colleague, Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle), who lectures on popular culture themes like car crashes in movies and hopes to be the leading scholar on Elvis Presley. One of the film’s highlights is an almost rap battle after Murray asks Jack to help him by participating in his class.
Some kind of toxic cloud descends, triggering an evacuation. As families shelter in a gigantic warehouse, Jack learns that because he stopped to put gas in the car, his exposure may mean that he has only a short time to live. The bureaucratic obtuseness is briefly touched on, and then the story swings into trying to find out what medicine Babette has been taking.
Bumbach is skilled at intimate, complicated family dramas like “The Squid and the Whale” and “Marriage Story.” He is not able to find a heightened tone for this narrative with the different directions of its three stories and characters who are more symbolic than real. Driver and Gerwig both give excellent performances but they are too sincere and accessible for this brittle material. The credit sequence is the best part of the movie, coming closer to matching the themes than the two hours leading up to it.
Parents should know that this film deals with apocalyptic issues and family struggles over drugs and adultery. There is some peril and violence including guns and attempted murder. Characters use strong language.
Family discussion: How have things changed since this book was written and the era it depicts? Why didn’t Babette tell Jack the truth?
If you like this, try: the book by Don DeLillo and Baumbach’s other films