MOVIE | Dark comedy asks how the public should respond to news of a deadly virus
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➤ Rated R
➤ S3 / V5 / L5*
An airborne virus, a newly developed drug, a gnawing fear of death—these phrases might sound like ominous headlines from the last few years, but they are also subjects in the dark comedy White Noise.
The story, based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel, centers on the Gladney family. Professor Jack Gladney (a paunchy Adam Driver) is the chair of “Hitler Studies” at a small college where he lectures on death’s meaning. His wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) has a sunny disposition but suffers from a fear of death.
It’s not long before the whole family is thinking about its own demise. A local train wreck causes an “airborne toxic event,” leading to a chaotic retreat to quarantine, with near-anarchy bubbling up.
Through this odd and exaggerated tale, the film examines our own recent experience with a virus and the relentless news cycle’s admonitions concerning its dangers.
How should the public accept news of impending doom? “She’s showing outdated symptoms,” the oldest son Heinrich says, as he tries to keep up with the news. Later on, another family member utters, “I want to know how scared I should be.”
Perhaps the most profound (and cynical) question posed in the movie is: Isn’t fear news? For a Christian, the answer is a hearty “no’’ because, like the righteous man in Psalm 112, we do not “fear bad news,” even when it may involve our mortality.
The screenplay has the cadence and manner of a stage play, a style that may annoy some viewers. Directed and adapted by Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), White Noise is not a movie for children, but mature viewers will find that the questions it poses are timely.
*Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high
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