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White Noise: Noah Baumbach Enters Uncharted Territory


Here, Baumbach gets to try his hand at car crashes and an explosion, action-y set pieces that are far afield from the talky interiority of his other films. He stages this fright and jumble confidently, but at a slight remove, as if the idea of these things is happening rather than the actual things.

That’s a problem with White Noise on the whole – the sense that there is something impenetrable about DeLillo’s work that Baumbach can’t quite crack. The story’s themes — fear of death, societal atomisation at the dawn of the information age — are clearly stated, but there’s little passion pulsing beneath the thesis. 

It’s a respectful, and respectable, film to a fault; it’s hard to locate the animating why of White Noise. Despite some alterations, the film seems to exist more as a recitation of the book than its own kind of invention.

WILSON WEBB/NETFLIX © 2022

Which is so often the pitfall of literary adaptations, especially those done by filmmakers deeply invested in the source material. White Noise is a reverent appreciation of DeLillo’s nearly 40-year-old text that has trouble connecting its philosophies and conundrums to our palpable present tense. On occasion, one of the film’s strange little fugues resonates: a moment of shared mortal terror between husband and wife, a parental huff of appreciation for a precocious and maturing kid, a sense of awe at a terrible thing looming on the horizon.

But those brief bursts of enriching feeling aren’t enough to sustain the film. So much else in White Noise is curiously cold to the touch — or maybe room temperature. Baumbach avoids extremes, even when his characters are shooting guns or are stuck floating down a river in a wood-sided station wagon. We don’t feel the closeness and ardor that gave Marriage Story such prickly life, that gave The Squid and the Whale its acidic fizz, that gave such delicate shape to Frances Ha.



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