‘White Noise’ Review: An Unengaging Absurdity With Brilliant Insights


Comedy is nothing more than finding the perfect balance between absurdity and reality, which, sadly, “White Noise” misses by quite a margin. While we were scrolling through our options, looking for the next good thing to watch, we came across this title, which was described as an “absurdist comedy.” Lately, we have had a soft spot for the genre, and after seeing Adam Driver’s face slapped on the movie trailer, we took the plunge. It was a combination of our faith in him, a desire to laugh, and an itch to get our brain cells scratched. Not a lot of that happened. Initially, we believed that “White Noise” was just taking its time to get going. That is always a mistake when you deem yourself a comedy. If you’re not funny, you at least need to be engaging right off the bat. Forgive our limited knowledge of things, but is Hitler exclusively a subject in universities? Teaching about the Holocaust is one thing but being confined to Hitler sounds a little off. However, let’s assume that the absurdity was the exact point the makers were trying to drive home. That is why the subplots felt so disconnected, and a lot of what was happening on screen made no sense.

We can understand that the genre of ‘absurdist comedy’ requires a certain perspective to be able to enjoy it. It is all about the feeling of the moment and not of the film as an entirety. With that outlook, we will start noticing that it is funny that neither of the family members can have a straight conversation with each other. It is funny when Jack and Murray are baffled at the death of a colleague when they deem supermarkets to be these places of secret therapy (which we agree with) and the absurdity of the manner in which Jack was told that he might die. And that is a recurring theme in the film: the concept of death.

Our protagonist Jack Gladney is someone who is scared of death or anything that may make it seem like his life is less than perfect, to the point that he is willing to brush even the seemingly serious issues under the carpet. When his daughter brings one of his wife’s habits to his attention, he dismisses it as one of the “secrets of a marriage” despite the obvious detrimental effect on his wife. He seems to love her, but his stubbornness in letting the illusion of happiness continue is to the point of irresponsibility. At one point, he even admits that his greatest fear is death and everything he does in life, his personality of non-confrontation and his obsession with Hitler, who is ‘larger than death,’ is all in a pursuit to ‘out-think’ it. But things don’t work out the way he wants them to, especially after the chaos of the accident. But before we come to him, let’s talk about Babette for a second because that is exactly how long it will take. She is a generally misinformed housewife who seems depressed and is taking pills, which she hides from her family. There also seem to be constant gaps in her memory, ones that her entire family notices but only her daughter is concerned with. Jack continues to make excuses for it, as it is completely against his nature to believe that anything could ever go wrong in his life. He has spun a fantasy around his wife and his life. According to him, Babette is his expressive manic pixie, his perfect opposite, who is always a beacon of happiness to his overthinking brain. Maybe that is why, for the longest time, he refused to acknowledge that she could have a problem. But that is not the only issue with his life or the film. Now, some of the best comedies we have seen are those that are mired in tragedy. It is just the depth of insight into the human condition that makes it that funny.

After the incident, the depiction of the behavior of the media is rather reminiscent of the confusion ensuing from the global pandemic the world went through recently. Everybody was figuring things out while being on unknown ground; even the authorities and “White Noise” got that spot on. The futility of life and death, our interactions with each other as human beings, and our struggle to find happiness amidst it all. The family is disrupted from their normal life due to an accident, which has an unforeseeable consequence, and when everything becomes alright, there is another issue without any connection to the previous one, dealing with which leads to some more disconnected absurdity. It’s all keeping true to its absurdist theme without a method to its madness. But no matter what perspective we adopt, we just cannot get over the fact that the movie just isn’t engaging enough.

But giving credit where credit is due, whatever the storyline, the dialogue, and the screenplay were the film’s greatest strengths. Especially during the times when the entire family was talking over each other, we could see “White Noise” living up to its description. And the scene in the car when the family was driving to a safe space, the children were so in their characters, with the son thinking him to be better than everyone else, as most teenagers are at that age, and Denise trying to not be exhausted while the youngest daughter is just asking question after question, stretching out the migraine-inducing conversation full of incorrect facts. That was a beautiful scene that genuinely made us chuckle. Also, Noah Baumbach, who wrote the screenplay, understood the assignment. He knew how to bring out the absurdity through the visuals. However, there were certain points, like the pink supermarket background or even one or two instances during the evacuation scene, that felt a little jarring. We don’t know whether it was the screenwriter’s creative choice or somebody else trying to make up for the weak storyline. And while we are talking of things that don’t fit, we would like to address how the scene where Jack Gladney and his friend give their lectures simultaneously on Elvis and Hitler felt so unnecessarily overdramatic. We understand it was just for the sake of adding some oomph to the accident that was going to happen, but it just dragged on senselessly.

We have found it so difficult to have opinions about “White Noise” simply because of how surprisingly bland it was. The actors gave their all to the movie, but a weak script that cannot justify it does not take “White Noise” anywhere. Yes, the dialogues are dangerously insightful, but the plots are just not that interestingly executed. Maybe the storyline regarding the disaster and its aftermath still holds some water, but the rest of it just isn’t it. We were quite literally looking at the clock again and again, waiting for this to end. However, we believe that the storyline and the basic idea beneath it all had potential. Maybe it just needs a better writer. Until it finds that “White Noise” is a serious pass.

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Divya Malladi
Divya Malladi
Divya spends way more time on Netflix and regrets most of what she watches. Hence she has too many opinions that she tries to put to productive spin through her writings. Her New Year resolution is to know that her opinions are validated.

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