Behind the scenes of White Noise, in a classroom filled with cast and crew.
Before You Watch

White Noise

What to know before you watch Noah Baumbach’s existentialist comedy.

Opening Photograph by Wilson Webb
14 December 20225 min read

Almost four decades after the National Book Award-winning novel was first published, White Noise comes to the big screen, reimagined by filmmaker Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories, The Squid and the Whale). White Noise follows the Gladney family, residents of a college town in midwestern America, whose carefully considered everyday existence is disturbed by a mysterious Airborne Toxic Event. Already preoccupied with the idea of death, Jack (Adam Driver) and Babette (Greta Gerwig) — along with their four children — grapple with their new reality and try to find meaning in it all. Baumbach’s adaptation is part academic satire, part disaster comedy, and part family adventure, and Queue has compiled a list of things to watch, listen to, and read before you sit down to enjoy White Noise.

On the source material

The cover of 1985's White Noise.

READ: White Noise by Don DeLillo 

Don DeLillo’s postmodern masterpiece is an incisive exploration of American family life in the face of rampant consumerism and information overload. Published in 1985, the book remains extremely timely almost 40 years later. Baumbach returned to the novel in 2020 and found himself engrossed by DeLillo’s ability to deftly balance varying tones, characters, and themes that all feel fully realized. 

On the director

Grover's dad (Elliot Gould) and Grover (Josh Hamilton) walk through campus.

Grover's dad (Elliot Gould) and Grover (Josh Hamilton)

WATCH: Kicking and Screaming on Netflix now

White Noise is Baumbach’s twelfth feature film as a director, so why not return to the movie that started it all? Kicking and Screaming, starring Josh Hamilton, Parker Posey, Eric Stoltz, and Samuel Gould, follows a group of recent graduates who find themselves tethered to their college campus despite being pushed into the world of adulthood. Baumbach was just 27 when the film was released, but his knack for exciting ensembles and insightful and idiosyncratic dialogue is already on display. 

On the actors 

Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) sit across from each other on the subway.

Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver)

WATCH: Marriage Story on Netflix now

Baumbach reteams with frequent collaborator Driver in White Noise. Their previous film together, Marriage Story, led to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Driver, who plays Charlie Barber, a man fighting for his family unit in the face of divorce. In White Noise he’ll turn up the dial, defending his family against chemical (and existential) disaster. 

Frances (Greta Gerwig) looks from behind a wall directly at the camera.

Frances (Greta Gerwig)

WATCH: Frances Ha on Netflix now

In White Noise Gerwig returns to acting after six years behind the camera to play the anxious Gladney matriarch in her longtime creative partner’s film. Frances Ha, a joyous portrait of a twentysomething woman (played by Gerwig) in New York searching for her purpose, was co-written by the duo and directed by Baumbach. The film shows off Gerwig’s acting chops and the power of the Gerwig-Baumbach team. 

On Baumbach’s creative collaborators

LCD Soundsystem plays the drums against a bright light.

LCD Soundsystem

Photograph by Pedro Gomes / Redferns

LISTEN: american dream by LCD Soundsystem 

James Murphy, frontman of LCD Soundsystem, crafts a magical musical moment for the end of White Noise with “new body rhumba,” his band’s first song since the 2017 release of their critically acclaimed album american dream. Murphy’s signature insightful prose over dance-inducing beats can be found in the film’s original song, so immerse yourself in the sonic world of LCD Soundsystem with their last L.P. 

Danny Elfman wears his signature orange glasses and talks into a microphone.

Danny Elfman

Photograph by Jesse Grant / Getty Images for Netflix

LISTEN: The Oeuvre of Danny Elfman

Composer Danny Elfman has become synonymous with genre filmmaking, scoring films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Spider-Man, and Big Fish, so what better fit for Baumbach’s genre-bending familial adventure? The pairing of artist and material is also serendipitous, as Elfman made his composing debut with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985, the same year White Noise takes place. 

On the filmic inspirations

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

1977 Columbia / EMI film / Alamy

WATCH: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg’s science-fiction masterpiece follows Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an ordinary man in the blue-collar Midwest whose life is upended after an encounter with a U.F.O. While Roy’s erratic behavior following the unusual experience alienates him from his family, he discovers a community of people who have also had encounters, including Jillian (Melinda Dillon) whose three-year-old child has been abducted by the mysterious mothership. Baumbach has cited Spielberg’s film as an influence for its examination of what happens when everyday life is disturbed by uncontrollable and unexplainable events.


20TH CENTURY FOX TV / Album / Alamy


This black comedy, directed by Robert Altman, is an absurdist take on the American war film starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Robert Duvall. While the film focuses on the Korean War, it was released in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War, and its satirical critique of combat felt more timely than ever. Altman is a pioneer of large ensemble pieces with overlapping dialogue, a technique Baumbach embraced when creating the “white noise” soundscape that surrounds the Gladney family. 

National Lampoon's Vacation

© 1983 Warner / Alamy

WATCH: National Lampoon’s Vacation

At the heart of White Noise is a family adventure comedy, albeit a slightly more apocalyptic one than 1983’s road trip classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo star as The Griswolds, who set out in their oversized station wagon and, as one might assume, hijinks ensue.