Modern society is the cradle for some very particular issues that have only arisen in the last couple of decades. Issues like consumerism, media saturation, and the failure of academia when trying to illuminate the young minds of the students seem to be only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to living in recent times. Noah Baumbach’s newest Netflix film, White Noise, wants us to see and feel what it is like to live in these modern times in a way that feels chaotic and very far away from the director’s other works.
White Noise is written and directed by Noah Baumbach from the book of the same name written by Don DeLillo. The novel became one of the most famous pieces of postmodernism in the 1980s thanks to its quirky characters, absurdist plot, and all the themes that were tackled at the same time. Reading the books feels very much like going straight into a paranoia trip, and the anxiety is pumping on each page. Baumbach’s film succeeds in creating that same sense of anxiety but fails to be an entertaining movie. It will not be surprising if this movie loses many members of the audience halfway through.
The film stars Adam Driver, Great Gerwig, Don Cheadle, and Raffey Cassidy. The cast of actors is without a doubt one of the pillars of the film. They are hired to bring to life this strange family, who really doesn’t feel real at all. This doesn’t only apply to the main family, but also to every single character they meet along the road. None of these people feel like real human beings, and they certainly don’t act like it. This gives the film a certain dream-like quality that can very quickly transform into a nightmare for equal measure.
For example, Driver takes on the role of the father figure in the movie in a family that is already composed of multiple pieces from other families that failed. He is a famous scholar, and a respected member of the faculty at the local university, where he is one of the most respected teachers. In any other movie, his character would be completely boring and standard, maybe not the best fit for a protagonist. However, here in White Noise, Driver’s character imparts lectures on Hitler’s studies, but he doesn’t even know a bit of German.
This clash between who these people are on paper and who they actually are when we see them is one of the main themes of the movie. This sensation of not knowing where to go, what to do, or what to aspire to because the end seems near, and there doesn’t seem to be a point in putting so much effort into something that won’t be remembered the second we are gone from this life. If you have anxiety issues, you better stay away from this movie, because it will probably elevate your anxiety level to the stratosphere.
The rest of the cast is equally compelling. Especially Gerwig, who lately has been finding a lot of success behind the camera, but who reminds us here just how amazing she is in front of it as well. Her character is completely detached from reality for most of the film, but when she comes down to Earth, Gerwig delivers some fascinating and gut-wrenching performances. Outside of Driver and Gerwig, the rest of the characters are very minor, but all the actors do their part to contribute to this absurdist take on life.
In terms of visuals, the movie also feels very different from what Baumbach has been doing in the rest of his body of work. Most of the film feels very controlled and organized. There is a sense of neatness about every single one of them. However, on this occasion, the movie feels chaotic; the cinematography, production design, sound, and the use of color take us from reality into nightmarish landscapes that seem very much inspired by the realm of dreams. At points, the amount of stimulation can become overwhelming in an uncomfortable way.
The movie is very interesting, and for those who find the thematic core a compelling experience, the movie will have a lot to offer. There is food for thought here. However, the plot is almost nonexistent, and this lack of progression might hurt the movie when it comes to finding a place in the casual audience’s hearts. Some people just watch a movie to have fun and be entertained. This is not the movie to watch if that is what you are looking for.
The story also feels very much like pieces from different books, all stitched together. This sensation is a remnant of the story in book form. The movie’s flow is very abrupt, and things end and finish without any resolution. This type of structure can work wonderfully when in novel form, but as a movie, it feels like the story doesn’t know where it is going and the filmmakers are just as lost as the characters in the movie. Without a clear objective in the plot, the events of the film feel more like they are meandering without purpose.
In the end, White Noise is a very interesting experiment from Baumbach. It feels great that he is willing to go out of his comfort zone and create something like this that will definitely find an audience, but not one that is very mainstream. Driver and Gerwig are great as always, and the ideas from DeLillo’s books still feel as relevant as when they were written in the 1980s. If that is bad or good, will depend on which angle you look at it. It might not be the Netflix movie of the year, but is certainly one of the most intriguing offers on the platform.