‘White Noise’ is an absurdist comedy-drama flick directed by Noah Baumbach. It is based on the eponymous 1985 novel by Don DeLillo and follows the life of the Gladney family following an air contamination accident in their town. It stars Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, and Don Cheadle, among others. The film is now streaming on Netflix.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
White Noise is set in a small American town in the 1980s and opens by introducing Professor Jack Gladney (Driver), who teaches “Hitler Studies” — a field he founded — at the College-on-the-Hill. Ironically, despite his specialty in the subject, he speaks no German and is quietly taking lessons for an upcoming speech at a conference.
We then take a closer look at his family. Jack is married to Babette (Gerwig), who is his fourth wife. Furthermore, their children are a blended bunch from their previous unions as well as their own.
There are Heinrich and Steffie from two of Jack’s previous marriages, Denise from Babette’s previous marriage, and finally, there is Wilder, a child they created together. We see the family indulge in chaotic discussions every morning that range from space facts to yogurt.
One day, Denise notices her mom taking an unusual drug and throwing it in the bin. She looks for it and discovers that it is called Dylar. Later, Jack and Babette have a curious conversation about death, and they conclude that it would get lonely to live without the other. Incidentally, Jack has a dream about a man trying to kill him soon after this talk.
Moving on, as Jack prepares his speech for the Hitler conference, his colleague and teacher of American culture, Professor Murray Siskind (Cheadle), asks for his help in establishing a similar niche field for Elvis Presley as he did for the German dictator.
Jack visits Murray’s class and they indulge in a bewildering duet, going back and forth, talking about Hitler and Elvis respectively. Everyone gathers around to see the two teachers perform.
Elsewhere, as Jack reaches his crescendo, a truck carrying a flammable substance crashes into a train transporting toxic chemicals. This results in a fiery explosion that releases toxic gas over the town.
White Noise ending explained in detail:
What happens after the “Airborne Toxic Event”?
After the explosion, it becomes clear that the town isn’t safe. A dangerous chemical, Nyodene Derivative or Nyodene D, starts engulfing the area, and it is labeled as the “Airborne Toxic Event”.
Jack is convinced that it is no big deal and that they can evade it if they just stay indoors. However, the authorities announce a mass evacuation and the entire town erupts into chaos.
The Gladneys get on the road and there is a massive traffic jam. The authorities later announce that if people haven’t left their houses, it is alright to stay indoors, proving Jack’s initial theory.
He eventually drives his car to a gas station and gets exposed to acid rain. Jack later learns from very untrustworthy sources that his exposure to the cloud is fatal. They finally reach a shelter and are quarantined.
Jack, believing that he is dying, opens up to Murray about the situation. The latter gives him a gun to protect himself from violent people at the camp. While quarantining, chaos ensues when families try to escape captivity and the Gladneys join in.
They make it out but Jack ends up driving his car into a river. He manages to get it out and joins another queue of cars heading to Iron City, where the residents have been asked to relocate again, due to the cloud moving west.
What is the Dylar drug?
Soon, the threat passes, and the families are told to resume a normal life. However, due to Jack’s exposure to the rain, his fear of death increases alarmingly. He starts hallucinating a strange man following him around.
Back when the “Airborne Toxic Event” occurred, Denise expressed her concerns about Dylar to her father. Jack asked around about the drug, but could not gather any information about it.
Now, everything goes back to normal except for Babette, who becomes cold and distant from Jack. He confronts her about the drug and she confesses that she joined a shady clinical trial for a drug to treat anxiety related to death.
Babette also reveals that she got into this trial by providing sexual favors to a man named Mr. Gray. Dylar was supposed to eliminate her fear of death, but when it didn’t work, she stopped going to see him.
Initially, Jack is intrigued by Dylar, owing to his own fear, and asks for it. His wife reveals that she threw it away so he later searches the trash for it.
Does Jack kill Mr. Gray?
Jack manages to retrieve a newspaper featuring an ad for Dylar and realizes that he has to murder the man who slept with his wife. He tracks him to the motel Babette had mentioned earlier and shoots him with his pistol.
He also discovers that Mr. Gray is the man in his visions. Jack puts the gun in his hands to make it look like a suicide. However, before he perishes, Babette arrives, and the dying Mr. Gray shoots the last bullet.
It hits Jack’s wrist and ricochets towards Babette, hitting her leg as well. The two have a chat about men being killers and decide to save Mr. Gray. They take him to a hospital which is run by German nuns.
They speak to the head nun and find out that the healers don’t believe in the concept of God or heaven. This irony is a tough pill for the couple to swallow, but they get a very important lesson about life and existence.
Finally, they reconcile as they heal. White Noise ends with the Gladneys shopping at a supermarket, where they partake in a dance routine with the rest of the shoppers and staff.