In his new film for Netflix, White Noise, Noah Baumbach reworks Don DeLillo’s novel about contemporary anxieties and obsessions in grotesque tones.
“You don’t believe in heaven? A nun?” “If you don’t believe it, why should I?” “If she did it, we would too.” “If I did it, maybe you shouldn’t. Someone has to appear to believe.”
The words of Sister Hermann Marie, who works as a nurse in a religious hospital, strike Jack and Babette Gladney, lying on their bedsides in one of the closing scenes of White noise. Above them, hanging on the wall, hangs a print of Pope John XIII and John Fitzgerald Kennedy holding hands, against the backdrop of a false paradise: an unabashedly kitsch pseudo-holy card, an inexorable sour note in the gray squalor of the hospice in which the couple was taken in after the injuries sustained during a bizarre shootout. Babette, her face illuminated by Greta Gerwig’s jovial smile, would like to find comfort in the tacky artificiality of that image, but Sister Hermann is not in the mood to offer consolatory solutions to the anguish of the woman and her husband Jack.
Remember that you have to die
It is the blunt and brutal pragmatism of the nun, who under the veil shows the face of the Fassbinderian icon Barbara Sukowa, which unmasks the illusory nature of religion, yet another handhold to hold on to in order not to fall into the abyss ofvacuous horrors: “Our job in the world is to believe in things that no one else believes. If we abandoned those beliefs, mankind would become extinct. That’s why we’re here, a small minority: if we didn’t pretend to believe these things, the world would collapse! Hell is when no one believes“. And it is precisely from this hell that Jack and Babette are scrambling to find a way out, with a common stubbornness tinged with desperation: he, an eminent university professor, trying to rationalize his fear of death; she, a fitness instructor, seeking refuge in an experimental drug called Dylar, at the origin of Jack’s vengeful project.
First the (failed) attempt to eliminate the treacherous researcher Mr. Gray (Lars Eidinger) and, immediately after, the confrontation with Sister Hermann sanction, for Jack and Babette, a thunderous epiphany. Both hit by the same bullet, the couple see the dreaded angel of death graze them in a surprisingly ridiculous way: it is no coincidence that the final section of Noah Baumbach’s film veers towards the grotesque tones typical of a Coen brothers’ black comedy, belittling the drama root of the story through the absurdity of farce. And a few minutes later, the invective of the German nun shatters the simulacra offered by an anesthetized reality: that reality which takes the form of the university town of Blacksmith, a bucolic microcosm in which Jack and Babette have chosen to lead their lives with their four children. , in perfect adherence to the bourgeois model ofAmerican way of life.
White noise, the review: Noah Baumbach looks to the past and tells the present
Don DeLillo according to Noah Baumbach
It was no easy feat to transpose to the screen White noisepublished in 1985 by Don DeLillo and work of the consecration of the New York author, one of the masters of postmodernism, in the Olympus of twentieth-century American writers. It wasn’t easy why White noisestill considered DeLillo’s masterpiece together with the monumental Underworld, is a very dense novel, divided between the streams of consciousness of the narrator – here embodied by the excellent Adam Driver, with his verve imbued with awkwardness – and a dense series of dialogues, in which the philosophical reflections on the meaning of life and of death are mixed with the exaggerated banality of everyday life. And because it is a novel in which the narrative dimension, centered on the crucial episode of the plot (“the airborne toxic event“, which corresponds to the title of the central section of the book), dissolves into an increasingly rhapsodic and fragmentary trend, until the “showdown” near the epilogue.
For Noah Baumbach, whose filmography was entirely made up of original subjects and sometimes of a more or less autobiographical matrix (from The Squid and the Whale to the previous, magnificent Marriage Story), White Noise is also the first director based on an adaptation from literature: a adaptation made by Baumbach with substantial fidelity to the spirit of DeLillo’s book, but managing to interpret it intelligently and to re-propose it through an effective stylistic approach. Operation intended from the outset not to replicate the plebiscite that he had accepted three years ago Story of a marriage: the applause for this new film, selected as the opening film of the Venice Film Festival, was in fact anything but unanimous. Yet, with its mix of swirling paranoia and surreal humor, the White noise signed and directed by Baumbach gives us back that perception of reality as a kaleidoscope to which we try to give order and meaning.
White noise, Adam Driver: “My character? A stressed man who tries not to seem like him”
“Being a crowd“: All together passionately
A goal that distinguishes human beings, led by their very nature to form a common front in the hope of exorcising death, at the cost of taking refuge in the most atrocious conformism. It is Jack himself, the greatest academic authority in the field of Hitlerian studies, who illustrates it to us in his emphatic dissertation on the fascination of totalitarianisms: “Crowds flock, fret, touch and push, eager to be carried along…well, isn’t that ordinary? We all know it: we were part of those crowds!“. And it is perhaps a similar mechanism that pushes us to cling to a consumerism that is as unbridled as it is, after all, reassuring: it was one of the core of Don DeLillo’s novel, and Noah Baumbach manages to make it admirably on a visual level thanks to the sets by Jess Gonchor and Claire Kaufman, with that colorful supermarket where each department is dominated by a bright chromatic tone.
After all, what space like a supermarket, the quintessential non-place of contemporaneity, is equally emblematic of an anonymous, fake, identity-free normality? If in his pages, written in the middle of the Reagan age, DeLillo traced a ferocious satire of the emptiness inherent in the consumer society, Baumbach finally relies on the irreverent force of parody and on the cinematographic genre which, more than any other, reveals its contrived character: the musical. So here, on the closing credits, the Gladney family and Jack’s colleagues find themselves again in the supermarket space, the scene of an irresistible choreography to the rhythm of the enthralling New Body Rhumbamade by LCD Soundsystem recovering the synth-pop sounds of the eighties and the irreverent nonsense by Talking Heads (in the verses there is even a “panasonic” repeated obsessively, to recall the title originally chosen by DeLillo): one of explicit brighter than an entire year of cinema.
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