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White Noise Netflix Movie Review

White Noise (2022)

Watch White Noise on Netflix // Buy the book (paid link)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (written for the screen by), Don DeLillo (based on the book by)
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle
Rated: R
Watch the trailer

Dramatizes a 1980s American family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of death and happiness in an uncertain world.

This may be more interesting than can be determined by one viewing. A second watch could help a movie that explores society in the 80s. It’s certainly a movie that makes you wonder what you just watched. It’s a critique on society’s values, pop culture, consumerism, materialism, and the focus on celebrity. There are a lot of interesting ideas in this, and I’m not sure I got everything on just one watch. Ultimately characters have to face their greatest fears in a society where the answer has always been to ignore them. Society is so busy and noisy precisely to mask and hide the things that scare us. Based on a book, and containing a lot of exposition, I imagine text is  just a better medium for these ideas, though in fairness I haven’t read the book.
It depends.

This is the first movie Baumbach has directed that is based on another artist’s work. Most of his movies feel deeply personal, exploring family and personal relationships like Marriage Story and The Meyerowitz Stories.

Set in 1984 this certainly has an interesting opening with Murray (Don Cheadle) comparing the optimism of a car crash to fireworks on the fourth of July. That’s a good primer for this movie. Jack (Adam Driver) and Babette (Greta Gerwig) are a family living a typical suburban life. So many things in this movie are described generically.  Jack teaches Hitler studies, and no one ever questions that nor does he provide more detail. He doesn’t even seem that prepared for the class.

Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver play Babette, Jack

Brands are prevalent in life, and there’s almost a dependence or at least a fascination with them. This is the ’80s and a decade of excess. Many scenes take place in the grocery store where the brands are on display. This is daily life amplified. Brands influence and dictate life. Everything about this movie is strangely calm. Their lives are busy, but not with anything that has any real stakes. The ‘white noise’ of the title refers to the noise present in everyday life. The television and entertainment are always on, overloading us with information. That seems to be the point this movie is making.Television is an elusive escape to distract us from our problems.

Babette and Jack in the grocery store

As I puzzled through the end of this movie and what it means, I think the characters and this society use the noise to hide from their fears. Jack is afraid of an unnamed man while Babette fears death. Those fears, when confronted, cause them to go to extreme lengths. This does  have a scare that is setup perfectly, but it does make you jump. The whole movie has a dream like quality with how people act and react. The grocery store, a frequent setting, is just so odd.

At one point Jack and Babette’s daughter asks “How scared should I be.” when a chemical cloud is discharged into the sky. This is also as they name each car make and model they pass while also observing people clamoring to a furniture store sale during the catastrophe. Even with this event people are mostly calm, eerily calm. This fear of death looms over them, then it’s over and we’re back in the grocery store with bright colors, brands, and that consumerism push. The production design is impressive, as this seems to have captured the brands and logos from the 80s.

I felt like I needed watch this again as I wasn’t sure I got all the satire. I understood this movie when it was satirizing pop culture and materialism, but the ending is bizarre. Considering the ending, it began to make sense when I saw the ending not as confronting death, but confronting fear. The ending is Jack and Babette confronting their fears. They go to extreme lengths, because they aren’t well adjusted. How do you handle the problem you’ve spent your life avoiding? The answer is not well. There’s a lot of exposition in this, which is to be expected since this is based on a book.I think this is probably a much better book than movie. I just don’t think a movie can quite capture it.

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