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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.