Noah Baumbach's adaptation of the Don DeLillo academic / western proseperity satire is mystifyingly opaque and uninvolving. We are presented with a central couple that are spoiled, self-involved and unlikeable. The dad is an ego-driven college professor who teaches Hitler studies but can't speak German. He's married to a woman, Babette, who is numbing herself to the inevitability of death with pills. They have a gaggle of precocious kids who all seem to be obsessed with death and calamity while all the while being surrounded by the detritus of American consumerism and endless layers of meaningless conversation and noise. There's no-one to like. That's probably the point. But then it makes it harder to care about their reactions to the Airborne Toxic Event that happens when a lorry crashes near their home town. They're evacuated. The dad is exposed to toxins. Or is he? Is the evacuation real or a simulation or a simulation that takes advantage of real events?
It's all very clever but I feel reality has moved beyond what this movie was satirising in the mid 80s. Academia is now so far up its meta-textual Critical Theorised arse that the de-contextualised lecture duel between Driver's Hitler professor and Don Cheadle's Elvis obsessive seems pale meat compared to the BS that actually takes place now. (I should explain I am academe-adjacent IRL).
And yes, the film is making a point about late-stage capitalism and misinformation and misdirection but I feel that in a post-Trump world this is all stuff we a) know and b) get bigger darker laughs from on the Colbert Late Show each night.
So I walked out after an hour.
WHITE NOISE has a running time of 137 minutes. It played the Venice and BFI London Film Festivals and will be released on Netflix on December 30th.
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