Noah Baumbach is holding tight to Don DeLillo’s masterpiece White Noise (60th New York Film Festival Opening Night Selection). It’s the first time the writer/director has adapted someone else’s work, and the result is a vibrant, unsettling tableau that’s happily faithful to the source material.
House Gladney consists of Jack (Adam Driver) and his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig), his two children from previous marriages, Heinrich (Sam Nivola) and Steffie (May Nivola), Babette’s daughter, Denise ( Raffey Cassidy) and the wise, mute Wilder (played by twins Henry Moore and Dean Moore), who, contrary to the novel, is the son they have together (Wilder here too can say a single jaw-dropping word – “again”) .
Cinema has forms of visual and musical expression that books do not have. Baumbach, with his team of crackerjack experts, cinematographer Lol Crawley, production designer Jess Gonchor, costume designer Ann Roth, composer Danny Elfman and LCD sound system directed by James Murphy and of course the cast, creates the augmented reality effect in a multitude of ways. You can escape the bombardment of words, as the family tends to talk all at once, inspecting boxes of cornflakes and bright juice cartons, and cans of Sprite. To not think that all of this will one day end for all of us.
In the novel, DeLillo uses the mythic quality of the rhythms created by listing the elements in groups of three. “Natural, whole milk, low fat” or “Weejuns, Wallabies, Hush Puppies” read like mantras. “Is Coke, Is Coke, Is Coke” – the beat is what creates the texture for an endless, cumulative tale of eternal renewal.
During a walk through the supermarket, Jack Gladney, founder and head of the Hitler Studies department of a small Middle American middle school, introduces Babette to his colleague Murray Jay Siskind (Don Cheadle), whose specialties include accidents. movie car and Elvis and many more. other exciting topics. In Don DeLillo’s novel, Murray utters the following key phrases on this occasion that inform the orbit of the film: “Here we don’t die, we go shopping. But the difference is less marked than you might think. He also comments on Babette’s “important hair”, which Gerwig sports with aplomb.
“Okay – roll the movie!” Those are the rather comforting first words we hear early on, as we’re immersed in Murray’s car crash montage talk about American optimism. Once you see past the violence, the car crash is as American a holiday as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, he says. Foreign films simply cannot compete.
It’s Welcome Day at College-on-the-Hill and station wagons line up, dropping off students with their television sets and lacrosse sticks. This sequence is the first in a long line of feats by the wondrous scholar and playful Ann Roth, whose costumes blend fantasy and reality with composure. The hacking jackets and the impeccable mums in cable-knit and plaid cardigans, providing their offspring with last-minute instructions on how to properly tie a sweater around the neck – they all look less like real 1980s students and parents. , and more like a colorful display, an eternal diorama of anticipation comes to life. A cyclic ritual acting the promises of a bright academic future.
When Denise finds a container of a medicine called Dylar in the house trash, she connects it to books on the occult that her mother had hidden in the attic, and to Babette’s increasingly frequent memory problems.
Jack, whose academic spelling of his pen name is JAK (to add substance and gravity), lectures on Hitler’s paraphernalia and, to remedy his guilty secret that he does not speak German, studies stealth language with a tutor to prepare for the big international Hitler Conference that his department will soon be hosting. He’s at the skill level of “Tomorrow is Tuesday” and “I’m eating potato salad”. Adam Driver has a field day with pronunciations. Babette’s momentary occupations outside include reading tabloids to elderly and blind people and giving evening classes on topics such as “Sitting and Standing” or the upcoming “Eating and Drinking” class. .
When an accident produces a puffy black cloud, soon dubbed an “airborne toxic event” by the media, the family’s priorities are scrambled yet again. Baumbach intercuts, for what is called chapter two of the novel and film, the truck with a flammable load en route to disaster with Jack and his illustrious colleagues first in the faculty cafeteria and later during the great dueling conference that he conceptualized with Murray on biographical snippets around Hitler and Elvis.
The students, dressed in an assemblage of the most garish ’80s trends, look like M&M’s and Sour Patch Kids, and Jelly Beans, while Jack, wrapped in his black academician robe, looks like a crow who, when he positions himself near a windowsill, transforms into Mephistopheles from Murnau’s silent 1926 classic Faust. Adam Driver suddenly channels more than Emil Jannings’ Demon and performs Death himself, while expanding on the word of the Old English, Old German, Norse. The future dead of the past who came “to be a crowd” alternate with the toxic crash of the film’s present.
Baumbach shoots his disaster scenes, evacuations and poison clouds full of contradictions. The purple sky of misfortune is beautiful and strangely soothing. The humor in the shots of people fleeing in their cars is not outright cynical, but oddly life-affirming and absurd in its reality, or real in its absurdity. A rescue center in a Chinese restaurant may seem cozy, while at home, harmless vegetables, pungent green beans, solar cornbread and apocalyptic orange carrots seem to signal ominous days.
Children start having symptoms they heard on the radio. Or did they already have them before? One of the symptoms is a sense of déjà vu. Viewers who read the novel can understand. The dialogue is often taken verbatim from DeLillo, reworked, and said in a slightly detached tone, as if the actors realize while speaking that they’ve said the same thing before. Baumbach bets on the strange effect it has. Murray interprets it as a kind of amnesia. Everything happened before, we just forgot. “Like you, I forgot” says the character of Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour by Alain Resnais.
The rain and flooding in White Noise eerily mirrors the footage of the destruction in Florida from Hurricane Ian that we had all watched on TV the same day when it premiered at the New York Film Festival. The remnants of the storm that traveled north are knocking on my window as I write.
The Shell logo at the gas station in the film resembles the gates of hell. Coping mechanisms no longer work as things unfold. The children continue to talk nonstop. The family is the cradle of the world and of misinformation. Jack used to tell Murray about Albert Speer and the “Law of Ruins,” architecture that would glamorously decay. “Hitler can’t protect you”, says Murray and maybe “you can kill death”. Cheadle plays Murray as very human and less gargantuan than I imagined the man with the outrageous theories to be.
A puppet show is staged from the event which takes place outside. To fear or not to fear? SIMUVAC is obliged to repeat the simulation with the real event. The total unpreparedness diagnosed by DeLillo in 1984 is more relevant than ever. The third part, Dylarama, deals with the aftermath and unveils the secret behind Babette’s mysterious pills, which Jack has verified by one of his colleagues, the brilliant scientist Winnie Richards (Jodie Turner-Smith). A composite called Mr. Gray (Lars Eidinger) becomes flesh and blood and may suffer from a side effect that makes it impossible to distinguish between words and things.
Husband and wife continue to compete over who is more obsessed with death. Before it all ends, other Teutonic winds blow over the plot. At Hitler’s long-awaited conference, the musical choice is subtle. The instrumental tune is called “Muss I Denn”, an old German folk song, famously sung by Elvis Presley in German, dressed in a military uniform.
Eidinger in a motel room gives a physical slapstick performance, showcasing uncontrollable bodily functions. In movies this year, he’s matched only by Sunnyi Melles in Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle Of Sadness. Another Germanic twist in White Noise comes from Barbara Sukowa as a nun, her clothes being the perfect counterbalance to Driver’s academic devil’s raven cape. “Hell is when no one believes,” she says. The world depends on the belief that someone believes, even if it is only a pretense.
The thunderous finale, a full supermarket dance number, visually part of the Stepford Wives and Jacques Demy musical, is set to a new bodily rhumba, a new LCD Soundsystem song, ready to show the Grim Reaper what we, humans, are doing.
Reviewed on: Oct 04, 2022