An egotistical adaptation of a classic

Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s seminal and “unfilmable” postmodern novel White noise it begins, aptly enough, with a series of car accidents. Murray Jay Siskind (Don Cheadle), a respected professor at the anonymous College-on-the-Hill, is showing the assembled footage to a group of students enrolled in his seminary, explaining to them that there is a certain “can-do”. ” before the vehicular carnage that they are witnessing without understanding. “Each car accident is destined to be better than the previous one”, he comments, pointing out that they are not violent acts, but mini celebrations every time one is executed correctly.

In DeLillo’s world, this comment suggests not just a superiority in terms of technical skill, but an unending creeping effect that impending disaster naturally produces. But in a broader sense, this sentiment could also accurately describe the trajectory of Baumbach’s career: a series of ever-larger filmic clunkers, each seeking to further assert the creative powers of its creator and, to a certain extent, with the intention of surpassing the previous one.

After critical hosannas for 2017 The Meyerowitz stories and 2019 marriage story—Baumbach’s two biggest departures from his largely light-hearted, mumblecore-ish roots and toward prestige-style cinema—how exactly does this respected author outdo himself? Trying to do the impossible, it seems. Indeed, White noiseOn paper, it seems like a natural move for the writer-director given the growing scope of his ambition: He’s secured his biggest budget to date, a whopping $80 million, and arguably his boldest material as a single director. time. where now, no longer content to comment strictly on the lives of island elites, Baumbach feels equipped to make grand statements about society as a whole.

White noise is a book full of great ideas about rampant consumerism, imminent death, the simplification of all public information, etc., but Baumbach’s adaptation rarely articulates any of them with a real sense of the outside world without resorting to exaggeration easy. that DeLillo was selling in the name of satire, which, while perhaps fresh in 1985, rings completely hollow today. Even if Baumbach is self-aware enough to recognize the old-fashioned nature of his material, he only comes off as distant and obvious.

Murray’s colleague and the film’s actual protagonist, Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), is a pioneer in the field of Hitler studies, but he can’t speak a lick of German and secretly takes lessons to learn the basics beforehand. of an upcoming conference. This is the first of many low shots aimed at academically based performativity that come into conflict, treating all higher education instructors as if they were underground conmen blindly babbling about the most esoteric of topics. Long before Jack’s first absurd lesson on Hitler begins, he may begin to wonder when was the last time anyone associated with this movie walked into a college classroom.

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Not only does Murray teach classes on frivolous entertainment, he wants to establish an Elvis Presley syllabus that mirrors Jack’s stupid syllabus on the former leader of the Third Reich. (Baumbach’s conservative disdain for teachers who dare attempt to relate to their students and not simply proclaim the classics is unmistakable.) Murray and Jack eventually participate in a theatrical public lecture about Elvis and Hitler, linking them because they had doting mothers and liked dogs. But the connective tissue between these two historical personalities is so obviously tangential that the scene seems to exist only to take aim at insular scholars and their propensity to shoehorn their field of study into any conversion.

No less exaggerated is Baumbach’s depiction of Jack’s home life, with the relentless digs at the traditional family unit delivered in the same self-satisfied tone as the scholarly attacks. Jack lives with his fourth wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), and his four children, three of whom are from different marriages, of course, and all communicate with each other in the same disconnected, argumentative way that the characters do. from Delillo’s book. Here, however, we can hear how their conversations frequently and often forcefully overlap. It’s already a demanding proposition to have to put up with an overloaded, mind-numbing exchange between characters, and things get downright oppressive whenever multiple occur at once.

For a moment, White noise it apparently has more in common with the medium of television than with film; Long, laborious tracking shots comprise the majority of the film’s long sequences, with a heavy reliance on reverse shots to do most of the heavy lifting whenever things escalate into a one-on-one verbal confrontation. But after a deadly chemical spill from a devastated train car releases a haze filled with noxious chemicals into the sky, dubbed “The Toxic Airborne Event,” Jack, along with Baumbach, is forced to leave their comfort zone and take refuge. somewhere else. For Jack, that means evacuating his home and trying to save his family, and for Baumbach, that means leaving the confines of a basic three-camera setup.

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It is here that the film should, if not take off, at least start to show some signs of pacing. But Baumbach doesn’t have a firm grasp on how to infuse much emotion into this narrative, even when dealing with the effects of a deadly epidemic. It’s also here that the film slowly begins to diverge from DeLillo’s text by adding some extended action-oriented sequences that, while providing a much-needed change of pace, do little to show that Baumbach has anything resembling, shall we say, installations. by Steven Spielberg. with dynamism. The biggest set pieces here involve Jack’s parked car at a gas station, in a scene that relies entirely on uncomplicated CGI to effectively send the chills up, and, later on, him chasing a truck through a forest. When Baumbach tries to extract some Spielberg wonder from the latter, all he achieves is a precocious child saying “Let’s do it again!”. after his parents came off a steep ramp.

Things return to a predictable pace once the pandemic is supposedly over; While never particularly mentioned as such, Baumbach is more than happy to draw comparisons to one with some just as timely references to wearing masks indoors and distrust of government agencies. White noise he then turns his attention to Babette’s continued addiction to Dylan, a new psychoactive street drug that removes the fear of death from any user. She and Jack talk at length about her final death—assuring each other that they would surely be the most anguished party if the other went first—but their anxieties never carry any tangible emotional weight for them. At least none have ever been placed in a vacuum as airtight and cold as the world. White noise evokes, one so hermetic it becomes impossibly suffocating.

Score:

To emit: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, André Benjamin, Sam Gold, Carlos Jacott, Lars Eidinger, Francis Jue, Barbara Sukowa Director: Noah Baumbach Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach Distributor: Netflix Execution time: 136 minutes Classification: NR Year: 2022

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