By Caroline Stanton
I had a lot of really high hopes for “White Noise” after reading the book that it was based on. I can happily report that the film kept me on my toes, gave me new insights into human existence, and truly captured what I believe “White Noise” by Don DeLillo is all about. The movie came out on Netflix on December 30, 2022, and starred Adam Driver as Jack Gladney and Greta Gerwig as Babette Gladney.
The movie is set in small-town America in the 1980s, and one of the first things that I noticed was how well director Noah Baumbach captured the aesthetic essence of this time period. If I didn’t know that Adam Driver was a modern-day actor, I truly might have believed that this movie was entirely filmed in the eighties. From the hair and costumes to the hyper-consumerized supermarket, I felt like I was transported to another century. This ability for the movie to truly depict what living in the eighties looked and felt like is crucial to the plot and added richer context to the story.
The movie’s plot was unique and not one that I think everyone would understand or enjoy. It had a very similar feel to a Tarantino movie, with loosely connected scenes and a storyline that moved forward based more on interpersonal dialogue than on action. The basic premise followed Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies, as he went throughout his personal and professional life, attempting to evade his crippling fear of death and essentially find what he was put on earth for. The movie was divided up into three different sections of time, and each one presented a different crisis that Jack Gladney and his family had to go through. While they were all seemingly unrelated to each other, all plot points work together to show the larger point of the movie. I read the book and worked hard to understand what Don DeLillo was attempting to do with the story, so I felt as though the movie made more sense to me when I watched it than it would to an average viewer. The director left the movie vague and open-ended, as it was supposed to be, but that also made it a little hard to follow and understand how all the random pieces of information tied together.
The whole point of the movie is to display, albeit confusingly, the chaotic and random world that is modern human life. With the invention of media, specifically TV and radio, our lives have become saturated with so much information, most of it completely meaningless to us. “White Noise” showed through cinematography that we are drowning in the white noise of our culture and don’t even know it. The Gladney family received a constant stream of messaging throughout the entire movie, both from the constant media input into their lives as well as the constant conversation and stream of information coming from within the family. Jack Gladney observed this among his family and rightfully stated that “the family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation.”
Not only were Jack and Babette lost in the sea of media crashing into them at all times, but they were also united in their deepest secret, that they are paralyzed in life by their fear of death. They both attempted to remedy this fear in different ways; Jack by throwing himself into Hitler studies and placing his identity into someone that he considered to be larger than life, and Babette by giving her body away and taking artificial drugs to deal with the fear of death. Both of these characters illustrate how humanity is attempting to distract itself as best as it can from its inevitable death, and most of that distraction in the modern world comes from entertainment and information. “White Noise” explores that idea and shows how different characters in the Gladney family coped with the overstimulating world around them and the guarantee of the end of their life, inviting every single viewer to grapple with these issues as well.
As a Christian, I couldn’t help but be struck by just how sad the fundamental premise of the story was. The genius and intrigue of the premise was that it took a look at humanity at its core, but in doing so it displayed the depravity and desperation of the human heart. I believe that death is one of the scariest concepts to a human being, as one can achieve so much in their lifetime and make their name so great but at the end of the day all of that will one day come crashing down when we take our final breath, and all the things that we build in our lifetime to distract from death will not save us from it.
Watching “White Noise” made me thankful for the hope that is found in Jesus and the truth that is found in His Word. Christians do not have to succumb to the white noise that is surrounding us at all times, and we do not have to give into the crippling fear of death that so many people try so hard to mask their entire lives, as was displayed in the lives of Jack and Babette Gladney.
I give “White Noise” an 8/10.
“White Noise” is now available on Netflix and in select theaters.
Caroline Stanton is a sophomore AYA English major. In her free time, she likes to read, hang out with friends and daydream about living in Europe.
Images courtesy of Netflix