Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” is an absurdist comedy in which nothing makes sense but still everything could, depending on how you perceive it. At times it becomes too tedious, and it is almost challenging to keep watching it, but then that is the whole point of it. It is a debatable fact if it went too far with the absurd elements, but just like humans, it wants to play a queer part in its own disasters. The film, based on a novel written by Don DeLillo, stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig in the lead roles. So, let’s try to understand if there could be any meaning taken from the bizarre and absurd events that took place in “White Noise.”
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
“White Noise” opens, and we hear Prof. Murray Siskind giving a lecture on a very fascinating subject matter. Siskind lectured about how a car crash had been depicted in Hollywood films over the years and what they symbolized. He says that a car crash in Hollywood was not a violent act, but it taught the viewers to look past the bloodshed and witness the sheer innocence behind it. He gives quite an intriguing insight and says that a car crash in America, unlike the bland European cinema, symbolizes secular optimism. The concept is bizarre, and it sets the tone for the kind of “White Noise” that the viewers are going to hear for the next couple of hours.
Jack Gladney taught “Hitler Studies” at his college, and the legend had it that the man was so good at it that people had started referring to the Fuhrer, Gladney’s Hitler. Jack lived with his wife, Babette, and their four children and stepchildren. Every morning at Gladney household, was a personification of chaos and commotion. The discussion ranged from space trivia to the critical decision to include yogurt and wheat germ in the lunch. Steffie and Denise, the daughters, made the observation that Babette bought stuff that she never ate, and Jack came almost immediately to defend his wife. Jack spoke in a manner as if he treated the behavioral aspects of his wife as a notion or an idea that would remain constant throughout his life. He spoke about Babette in the third person even when he was talking directly to her and considered her the flawless model of moral uprightness.
That day, while the family was having breakfast and getting ready to leave the house, Denise noticed that Babette was taking some medicine, and she threw the box in the dustbin. The medicine was called Dylar, and Denise had no clue why Babette was taking it. Later that day, Babette and Jack had a conversation about what would happen if either of them died. They both feared how lonely it would get for the surviving partner. Babette said that ideally, she wanted to die before Jack, as she didn’t know if she could ever bridge the yawning gulf and come back to normalcy in his absence. Jack’s lectures gave us a sneak peek into his sensibilities. During one of his lectures on Hitler, he said that people who are scared and vulnerable are often drawn to magical figures. Maybe Jack’s fascination with the prospect of death made him see Hitler in a very different light. Jack knew that death was an inevitable part of life, but he was still scared of it. The college-on-the-hill was hosting a conference on Hitler, and Jack felt the need to learn German because he knew that it would seem very weird if he claimed to be an expert on a native German subject matter and didn’t know the language. Prof. Murray Siskind was trying to convince Jack to help him establish an Elvis Presley power base at the college. Professor Siskind said that the king of rock and roll was what Hitler was for Jack, and he wanted Jack to drop by his class and help his cause with his influential presence.
Jack came to Siskind’s class, and they both commenced a duet that had characterized by high and low notes. Where one spoke about Hitler being a mama’s boy, the other spoke about how Mr. Presley confided in Gladys, and their repartee, just like a symphony, rose to a crescendo. Be it, students or professors, everybody gathered and saw the two enthusiasts turned into performers and the podium turned into a stage. Just then, in another part of the city, a truck carrying some flammable material crashed into a speeding train, and the result was an airborne toxic event that had the potential to impact the lives of each and every resident of the city. Nyodene D, the burning chemical that caused a lump in the rats, enveloped the entire atmosphere, and the radio referred to it as a feathery plume. Within seconds, the name was changed to “a black billowing cloud,” and then finally, it came to be known as a toxic airborne event. Jack told his family that there was nothing to worry about and that if they stayed in their homes, they would easily evade the danger. But then Heinrich heard the authorities announcing that everybody needed to evacuate their homes, and chaos and mayhem spread through the entire town.
‘White Noise’ Ending Explained: Why Was Babette Taking Dylar? What Did Jack Find Out In The End?
Denise was still worried about her mother, and she asked Jack to look into the situation. No matter how much Jack inquired about the medicine, nobody seemed to know what Dylar was used for. Jack enquired of one of his colleagues and his physician too, but both were amused by the name as if they had no idea that such a medicine existed on the market. Once the entire family was on the road together with hundreds of other people, the authorities changed their minds and asked the general populace to stay indoors if they weren’t already out. Jack was exposed to acid rain for more than 2 minutes, and he later learned from extremely untrustworthy sources that more than 10 seconds of exposure could be fatal. Denise raised a reasonable doubt, and she asked her parents why the chemical didn’t affect dogs when it affected rats. Jack sat there listening to the absurd conversation, and he couldn’t help but realize how right Siskind was in saying that family was the cradle of the world’s misfortune. Once the family reached the shelter where they were quarantined, Jack witnessed that Heinrich finally came out of his shell and was educating people about the spill.
Jack was told that he was ultimately going to die because he was exposed to the chemical rain. Jack told Siskind, who was also present at the quarantine camp, that he was dying, though he kept it a secret from his family. Siskind presented him with a gun and lectured him on a very absurd philosophy. Siskind said that it is quite possible that violence is a kind of rebirth, and that Jack could actually kill death when he encounters it face to face. The people were asked to relocate once again and shift to Iron City. After a lot of trouble and risking their lives, the Gladney family reached Iron City. A man in the quarantine camp got enraged because there was no proper media coverage for their issue. According to that man, their suffering deserved attention, and he had expected that photographers would gather there and make a spectacle out of it. He said that the people had earned the right to shout at the photographers and ask them to leave them alone. He compared their existence to that of lepers in medieval times and said that whatever they loved or treasured was under threat. The man knew that fear was news, and he was of the opinion that if the media wasn’t covering them, maybe they didn’t feel that their suffering mattered.
For a film based on a novel published in the mid-eighties, it feels like the writer was a soothsayer who knew exactly how things were going to pan out in the next 30 or so years. Fear, hatred, enmity, distrust, and all such negative feelings have certain sadistic entertainment value, which is why we see how big media houses take full advantage of them. Sometimes one cannot even differentiate if it is an actor performing or a news anchor blurting out real facts because drama and fictionalization (or, as some might call it, “fabrication”) have become intrinsic parts of both things.
The toxic airborne event ended, and people went back to their normal lives. Jack still couldn’t make peace with the fact that everybody was slowly walking towards non-existence i.e., death. He agreed with what Siskind had once said about facts breeding discontent and unhappiness. Jack speculated that if death were as uniform as the white noise, it would be omnipresent and omnipotent. Babette finally told her husband the truth about why she was taking the medication and the impact it had on her daily life. She said that she read an advertisement in the newspaper about a group of people who were conducting a secret experiment in which they wanted to test a drug named Dylar on human subjects. It was said that Dylar could remove the fear of death, and Babette was tired of being scared every single moment of her life. A ban was put on the psychobiology experiment, and that is why Babette had to find another way to get the drug. She made, as she says, ‘a capitalistic transaction’ with one Mr. Gray, where she got the pills in return for spending the night with him. She used to meet this mysterious Mr. Gray in a motel, and they kept the arrangement going for months. The drug hadn’t worked, and that is why Babette had stopped going to the motel. “White Noise,” tells us how a person believes in an idea even when deep down they know that the reality is far from it. Babette, according to Jack, was a happy soul and she didn’t keep secrets. But obviously, it was all in his head, and because of what he believed, there was added pressure on Babette to be like that.
Jack just couldn’t deal with the thought of his wife having a sexual relationship with another man. He found the motel where Babette used to go, and he finally met Mr. Gray. Jack shot him three times (though later, he got to know that he had only shot twice) while Elvis Presley’s romantic single played in the background. Babette arrived at the scene because she was very sure that every man was a killer, and her husband would go to kill Me. Gray. Mr. Gray survived his wounds, and for some reason, Jack and Babette took him to a nearby clinic, where they met a non-conforming nun, and they couldn’t gulp down the irony of things.
The world didn’t have any meaning, and that was probably the point that Don DeLillo was trying to make in his novel White Noise. Everything was absurd, and everything was self-contradictory. Babette said that we are fragile creatures surrounded by hostile facts, while in the background, a news anchor speculated that the next world war would be fought over salt. The Gladney family once again went back to that zone of transition between death and rebirth, which a normal man would refer to as the supermarket. Maybe they were ready to face death, or maybe they weren’t, but we can say without any doubt that they would keep mulling over the notion as long as they lived.