Adam Driver's new Netflix movie White Noise review

adam driver, greta gerwig, don cheadle, white noise
Is Star Wars, Marvel stars' new Netflix film good?Netflix

It sounds exceptionally pretentious to call a movie a meditation on, well, anything. Yet, that is the best possible descriptor for Noah Baumbach's White Noise, out now on Netflix.

The film, an adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel of the same name, stars Adam Driver (Star Wars) as Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies at the fictional College on the Hill. He raises a family of five with his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig), whose growing distraction and memory lapses have their eldest daughter Denise concerned.

The Gladney family's world is thrust into chaos when a toxic airborne event engulfs their town. Alongside his co-worker and friend Murray (Don Cheadle), the Gladneys must figure out a way forward in this new and scary world where death is as close as a raindrop away.

adam driver, greta gerwig, white noise
Netflix

In the grand scheme of things, however, the film really isn't about any of these. These events are merely the lenses through which White Noise ruminates on the fear of death, the theme that underpins the whole film — as well as its source material.

There are those of us in the world who think about death constantly (yours truly is one of them) — it's hard not to walk down a flight of stairs without day-dreaming about falling and breaking your neck, or drive over a bridge and not imagine the car careening off the side and into the frigid water. These preoccupations with death are so de rigueur that they are white noise in our brains.

This is what the movie is interested in: what do we do when that white noise becomes all-consuming? To what lengths would we go to drown it out?

don cheadle, adam driver, white noise
Netflix

Each character embodies one approach to answering this question — or in some cases, awakening to the existence of such a question. As such, their entire beings are wrapped up in this mind exercise, and those expecting any sense of humanist realism are going to be let down.

Despite this, the actors imbue each character with such depth of being that you do believe them to be real, even if it's only within the confines of the film — spectres from a fever dream that feel real because of their environment; one is equally as absurd as the other. Driver and Cheadle together ground both of their academics with a vein of self-unaware conviction — this is what makes their satire work, they make you believe in them.

And then the bubble bursts and the spectres vanish and all you're left with is the absurdity of it. With all of this at play, it's hard to expect the film to be anything other than exasperatingly postmodern.

adam driver in white noise
Netflix

However, White Noise just about balances this frustration with the deeply intimate study of what it means to be human, through Babette in particular. Gerwig's deadpan yet doe-eyed resilience creates a portrait of a woman that feels like she could be any of us.

The attention to detail in the costume and production design is truly immersive and transportive, particularly for anyone who is familiar with the idyllic American college landscape and the overwhelming sensory onslaught of an A&P supermarket (both of which your author is).

adam driver, greta gerwig, may nivola, raffey cassidy, sam nivola, white noise
Netflix

Yes, there are trappings of 1980s Americana in colour and style, but there is a timeless universality to it all: capitalism as one tonic to our inevitable immortality. Materialism as permanence.

How much you like White Noise will depend on your willingness to succumb to the strictures of its storytelling world. Not wanting to do so is just as valid as falling in love with it. But those who do allow themselves to be transported into this celluloid thought experiment will come out with plenty to talk about, and a sense that you've seen something remarkable, even if it didn't always jive.

White Noise is now available on Netflix

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