White Noise Review: A Doomsday Drama

Following the structure of the book, “White noise” is divided into three sections. Part 1, “Waves and Radiation,” introduces the characters and elicits big laughs by satirizing the academic world. Jack doesn’t look like a Nazi, but he also doesn’t look like a serious traditional Holocaust or World War II historian; Hitler, it seems, is a subject he approaches as a cult of personality and as a sublimation of his own anxieties. When a student asks a question about a particular assassination plot, he rants about how “all plots end in death.”

Godwin’s Law appears in the silliest of contexts, with Jack strongly associated with his subject matter. Murray wants to start a field of “Elvis studies” that he can claim as his own in the same way that Jack has done with the Führer; “Elvis is my Hitler,” he says. In one of the film’s most striking scenes, Murray and Jack give lectures about Elvis and Hitler, with Jack essentially winning the battle by emphasizing the latter’s “rock star” quality. Cheadle is utterly hilarious as a professor for whom everything is a beautiful abstraction, while Driver is able to echo the displays of fascist power amid personal helplessness that made his performance as Kylo Ren so memorably intimidating.

Jack has convinced himself that nothing truly disastrous can happen to someone as privileged as himself and his family, so he’s unprepared for when his children start noticing the warning signs of a chemical waste accident. Part 2 of the film, “The Airborne Toxic Event,” takes the Gladney family straight into a disaster movie, and the fears of death range from neurotic and abstract to very real. This footage feels like one of the main reasons “White Noise” was made into a movie in 2022 – all the conflicting government instructions and general confusion about just how bad this disaster can be will certainly evoke memories of the early months of 2020.

With its car chases, CGI storms, and large crowds, this middle section is presumably where most of the film’s budget went, which is said to have exceeded $100 million. The spectacle is a relatively small part of the film, but it is handled effectively. Baumbach is no Spielberg, but he manages a good enough stylistic approximation to keep the action engaging while also fulfilling the film’s more provocative satirical goals.

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