“White Noise” on Netflix: Ecological disaster and technological angst

Noah Baumbach unveils a rare, complete, touching and terrifying comedy, on the verge of many genres and an ecological and technological disaster.

In Blacksmith, Ohio, Jack Gladney is a renowned college professor specializing in Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, alongside a gargantuan and engaging faculty panel. Wearing his long black felt toga and his blue glasses, Adam Driver, more eloquent than ever, is incredibly charismatic. The audience serving in the theater of its courses, in the choreography of its pleadings. However, in the private, the man becomes human again. Father of a blended, overwhelmed and distressed family, like Babette, his third wife, carried by a Greta Gerwig twilight, overmedicated and terrified of death. And the small family happiness is in the grip of many upheavals when a toxic cloud appears above the city.

Accustomed to societal anthropologies and family dramas, the filmmaker Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”, “Marriage Story”), finds his companion, Greta Gerwigand Adam Driver and follows the daily life of this American family in the mid-1980s. Quintessence of postmodernism in American literature, Noah Baumbach adapts the eponymous book of the American novelist Don DeLillo published in 1985. “White Noise” (translated as “Bruit de fond” in French) is a premonitory work tinged with the anguish of death, in a post-Vietnam, consumerist America and at the dawn of a technological century .

An antechamber of the 21st century, a mirror of this era moving towards computers and the unknown, “White Noise” opens with a montage of accidents and car explosions in the cinema. This is Murray Siskind (a wonderful Don Cheadle) who tells us about it in the darkness of his course on American traditions. You have to “go beyond the violence of the images”, he implores in front of his students, to try to approach the optimist and the spirituality of the moment. This is what prefigures the events to come, in a love letter to the 7th art, frontal, absurd, funny and poetic.

Thus begin the 2 hours of a narration in three chapters; a triptych of life (“Waves and Radiation”), apocalypse (“The Airborne Toxic Event”), rebirth (“Dylarama”), with a collision at its heart. Indeed, an oil tanker crashes into a freight train, which triggers an explosion and spits deadly smoke into the sky. An impressive chapter of science fiction and damn cinegenic, in which Adam Driver and his family – like a Tom Cruise in “The War of the Worlds” – tries to escape this ecological disaster which sails with the wind. Confined to the fantasy setting of the 80s, the film will certainly miss being more universal, but Noah Baumbach reveals a prodigious staging for philosophizing beyond experience. And that is the strength of this adaptation.

Nervous, inventive, as we have said, the filmmaker invites us to reflect in depth. Because the background noise that haunts the protagonists is well known to everyone, it is that of doubt that tirelessly howls at the edge of a new world. To ward off fatality and impotence: addiction to consumption, to supermarkets, to drugs – a chapter embodied by an infected Lars Eidinger who sells his pills to Greta Gerwig in a seedy motel – and to the media watching and picking up on everything. “White Noise” is a work that manipulates contrary emotions, which refer to the contemplation of our own decline, which undoubtedly entertains more quickly than it frightens.

Powerful when the film is superficial, light when it is deep; many thought the book unsuitable, as are, in principle, novels of ideas. Shot on Kodak film, carried by the music of Danny Elfman, the reverence is dense and nostalgic, it is true, sometimes wild and tedious, but for its color and for its plans, “White Noise” also has the scope of a great technical film which invites us to triumph over our own dead. Netflix got it right (for once), and while Noah Baumbach is in the highly anticipated scenario “Barbie” realized by Greta Gerwigthe tandem already portends one of the great cinema date of 2023.

4.5/5 ★

December 30 on Netflix.


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“White Noise” on Netflix: Ecological disaster and technological angst