White Noise

The film’s title can be taken several different ways, perhaps a description of Caucasian, middle-class suburban angst. More likely, the title refers to the ratio between signal and noise, a standard measurement when analyzing audio fidelity. In many scenes here the noise ratio is very high, especially if you are watching with subtitles and see the multiple conversations occurring simultaneously. Long in gestation and adapted from Don DeLillo’s 1985 book of the same name, “White Noise” is cut neatly into three parts.

The opening third sets the stage in a seemingly bucolic college town where Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) plays a professor specializing in Hitler Studies. Jack and his fourth wife are raising a blended family of many kids. One of Jack’s colleagues (the understated Don Cheadle) wants to follow in Jack’s footsteps by creating an Elvis Studies discipline, creating some satiric swipes at self-bloated academia.

All seems to be going relatively well until the middle act kicks in and a cataclysmic trainwreck causes an airborne toxic event, causing the town to flee. The scenes of panic are well shot, and the suspense is gripping. The final third of the film is for those who like David (“Twin Peaks”) Lynch with a dollop of Talking Heads choreography. Or just watch the end credits for much of the latter, which won’t spoil much if you become sufficiently intrigued to go back and watch the whole shebang.

This seems to be the season of jaw-dropping dance sequences during the end credits; “Spirited” was the harbinger.

Greta Gerwig does a fine job as wife and mother, trying to determine if she is more scared of death or life without her husband. The film is written and directed by Gerwig’s fellow traveler Noah Baumbach (the couple share children), who keeps a generally firm hand on the wildly and often desperate proceedings. The production, especially the sequences in the A&P grocery market are superb.

I will be back for more of the end credits soon.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.