Directed by Noah Baumbach, Netflix’s drama film ‘White Noise’ follows the intriguing saga of Jack and Babette Gladney, whose lives take a turn when a chemical explosion shakes their town named Blacksmith. The explosion and the subsequent “airborne toxic event” haunt the Gladneys, especially after Jack gets exposed to a toxic cloud formed after the explosion. The Hitler studies teacher starts to believe that he is leading a doomed life since he is slated to die anytime soon. The engrossing film progresses through Jack’s efforts to overcome his fears while coming to know about a startling secret concerning his wife. As the film ends with an absurd dance sequence, the viewers must be wondering what really the title of the film means. Well, let us provide the answer! SPOILERS AHEAD.
What is the Meaning of the Title White Noise?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, “white noise” is “a mixture of sounds or electrical signals that consists of all the sounds or signals in a large range.” As far as Noah Baumbach’s film is concerned, the title ‘White Noise’ refers to the mixture of sounds of death. Baumbach’s film is an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s eponymous novel. ”What if death is nothing but sound?” asks Jack to his wife Babette in the novel. ”Electrical noise,” replies Babette to her husband. ”You hear it forever. Sound all around. How awful,” Jack further describes the sounds of death. ”Uniform, white,” replies Babette, comparing the sounds of death to the white noise.
In reality, white noise is an unpleasant mixture of sounds that can unsettle someone if listened to it for a long time. In the film and novel, Jack and Babette deal with the fear of death similarly. Like the white noise, the fear of death unsettles the couple beyond their understanding. After his exposure to the toxic cloud, Jack fears that he will die soon enough despite not suffering from any uneasiness or ill health. Babette, on the other hand, fears death extremely, which leads her to have sex with Mr. Grey in return for Dylar, a pill the latter created to treat the fear of death.
Death eventually becomes an omnipresent and unsettling white noise in the lives of Jack and Babette. The anxiety they display due to the fear of the same is as unsettling as the white noise as well. In addition, the title ‘White Noise’ can be interpreted as the mixture of commodities society consumes to distract itself from the harshness of reality and truth. In the film and novel, Jack and Babette live among a large group of people who do not have any grasp on reality. They believe that death is a fictional spectacle seen in movies or television, far away from real life.
This separation from reality happens when several materials and commodities combine. Films, television, magazines, etc. engage the minds of the Gladneys’ acquaintances in varying intensities, which prevents them from leaving the world of entertainment to confront the harsh realities of real life. The title ‘White Noise’ addresses such a mixture of heterogenous entertainment products, which acts as a veil between reality and the consumers. This meaningless blend of entertainment, like white noise, unsettles society and distances it from the real concerns the human species needs to confront.
In the opening scene of the film, professor Murray Siskind plays footage of several cars and other vehicle crashes as a profound piece of entertainment. The footage is just one of the elements that form the white noise that affects society that includes the Gladneys.
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