‘White Noise’ Ending Explained: What Is the Airborne Toxic Event?

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Welcome to the Ending Explained for Noah Baumbach’s White Noise. The newest film from the award-winning director has finally arrived at Netflix. The platform had great success with the director’s previous film, A Marriage Story, so why not try again? The director brings back Adam Driver in the main role, but this time accompanied by Baumbach’s own wife, and also by director extraordinaire, Greta Gerwig. Gerwig has been having a great time behind the camera, but she is also quite a delight as an actress, so it feels great having her in front of the camera once again.

The film feels very much in line with the themes tackled in the book of the same name, written by Don DeLillo. For decades, the novel was thought to be “unfilmable” but here we are, with Baumbach and his team having made the movie. The film captures the essence of the novel, but some aspects of the novel’s structure clash with the movie format, and the result is a film that feels disjointed, with no sense of progression in the plot, and quite chaotic. That last part might be completely intended, but it will surely lose some members of the audience in the process.


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The following paragraphs contain spoilers for White Noise. Read at your own risk.

What Is The Airborne Toxic Event?

The film starts with the introduction of the Gladney family. Soon enough, we find out that this is not a normal family. The way they talk seems very intricate, almost poetic, but in a way that feels not at all genuine, but more like someone is trying to sound like an intelligent person. We get introduced to Jack, who works at the local university as a teacher of Hitler’s studies. In school, he is known as J.A.K., which already seems like a red flag. He also feels ashamed because he doesn’t speak and there is a conference where he will have to speak it coming soon.

Jack’s wife, Babette seems simply-minded at times, but in reality, her mind goes into very philosophical meanderings that are quite powerful in retrospect. The same goes for the kids, Denise, Heinrich, and Steffie. They are all quite intelligent and feel like adults trying to live with old people. The entire family is a reflection of the rest of the world they live in. You see, the story of white noise takes the route of absurdism to talk about the things that make us anxious about living in modern society. So these characters are in no way meant to feel real, but also as a parody of ourselves.


In the middle of all this, an event occurs. An 18-wheeler carrying toxic waste crashes with a passing train, and the disaster is amazingly depicted. However, what comes after is even worse. The chemicals the truck was carrying go into the atmosphere and create a huge cloud that keeps moving through the sky. Jack assures his family that everything is fine, but then they realize that they are late for the evacuation that occurred around them without them knowing. The entire family exists in the house and joins the exodus, to who knows where.

On the road, the family sees that no one really has a plan. Over the radio, the authorities spread contradictory messages about what to do. The traffic pushes Jack to go to a service station and fill the tank. Later, they arrive at a shelter, and there Jack finds out that he might be radiated by the chemicals in the air because he had the car to fill the tank. He could be dead in a very short time. This clashes with Babette’s plans of dying first, and Jack begins to realize that his ending is coming sooner than expected, and he fears it very much.

What is Dylar, And Who Makes It?

Before, during, and after the Airbone Toxic Event concludes, we have seen that Babette is going through something. We don’t know what, but she is consuming pills non-stop, and she has also been suffering from time lapses in her memory. She could be doing something and immediately forget what she was doing at that moment. Her daughter Denise is the first to notice, and she worries. She shares her concerns with Jack, but he doesn’t want to pry into Babette’s secrets. Everyone deserves privacy, in his opinion.

However, after the incident, things start going worse, with Babette becoming distant and crying while looking at the horizon. Jack and Denise discover the pills that Babette is taking. They are called Dylar, and they don’t appear on any listings. Jack takes one pill to his chemist friend at the university, and she tells him that this is a highly advanced pill, but that she cannot tell what it is used for. Only that the pill is not on the market, and there are reasons for that to be the case.


Jack confronts Babette about her pill problem, and she finally breaks down the truth for him. It seems that Babette has been quite unhappy for some time, and she fears death. Which is normal, but she met with some doctors, whom she calls Mr. Gray, and discovered she is very sensitive to the fear of death. She explains how Dylar is a pill that can make the feat of death disappear, and that she has been seeing men and having sex with them in exchange for the pills. Jack, of course, is very hurt about this.

However, having his own fear of death, Jack decides to search for the infamous Mr. Gray to take the pills for himself and to have his revenge for Mr. Gray having sex with Babette. He arrives at the motel and meets Mr. Gray, who is a greasy, sleazy man who eats the pills like candy. Jack shoots the man and tries to pass it off as a suicide, but then Gray shoots Jack and Babette who just arrived at the motel. They decide to take Gray to an emergency room run by nuns who don’t believe in God, and there they find peace.


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The film ends with Jack reflecting on the destructive nature of existence and telling himself that everything humanity does, is just a way to create hope while waiting for the end to come.

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