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SPOILERS: Airborne Toxic Event in White Noise Explained

January 2, 2023

White Noise is a strange movie, to say the least. It mixes genres from slimy comedy to disaster films, offering audiences an original experience that confronts rather mature and imperative themes. Directed by Noah Baumbach, the filmmaker collaborates again with Adam Driver after titles like While We’re Young and Marriage Story.

Noah is well known for his original screenplays, White Noise being his first adaptation. It is based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name. Considering many fans of the American novel have declared it unfilmable, it’s no surprise the adaptation is such a unique viewing experience.

Adam stars as Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies who tries to protect his family when a mysterious disaster strikes.

It’s a movie that rewards analysis, so let’s explain the airborne toxic event in white noise.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR WHITE NOISE

Adam Driver as Jack Gladney in car in White NoiseWhite Noise Creation: Wilson Webb/NETFLIX © 2022

The Airborne Toxic Event in White Noise Explained

The airborne toxic event is the name given by the media following a train accident. When a train crashes and collides with another vehicle, a cloud of chemicals begins to rise from the carriages and spreads through the nearby town.

Authorities are warning residents to pack their bags and leave. Later, they hear on the radio that the residents have been asked to stay at home. Likewise, the symptoms of cloud exposure continue to evolve as the situation worsens.

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Ultimately, the airborne toxic event can be interpreted in several ways. It represents the imminent threat of death, which is one of the most prevalent themes of the book and its adaptation. Moreover, it serves perhaps even more importantly to represent the ways in which the media can influence fear and hysteria.

As we touched on, what the Gladneys and others are told about the event keeps changing. Whether or not this is actually something to be feared is uncertain, but coverage of the event encourages and organizes mass panic.

When an event is sensational without an attempt to educate the public with genuine data and facts, it is suggested that the scenes of chaos depicted in White Noise are inevitable.

Jack is told that exposure to the gas could kill him but they won’t know for many years. Ultimately, there’s nothing to back up that assessment – ​​it could be deadly, but it’s not. Planting the idea that it might kill him in his head, Jack becomes obsessed with death.

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“You didn’t feel the withdrawal of madness”

The LA Times reports that the director recently opened up about the parallels of filming mask footage during the COVID-19 pandemic:

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“During these evacuation scenes, you would hear the AD say, ‘OK, now everyone takes their masks off and puts on the period masks. You didn’t feel removed from the madness that we were all experiencing.

Don Cheadle (Prof. Murray Siskind) also added: “It was one of those things that was taken for granted. We walk around with masks and everyone has hand sanitizer. Everyone knew people who got sick.

“The relationship between the subject and what we were experiencing – the existential fear that everyone felt on different levels – did not escape us.”

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The White Noise book is available

Fans of the film may be wondering if this is a faithful adaptation, and what better way to learn than by reading the source material.

You can buy the White Noise book on Amazon starting at $11.99 (Kindle or paperback).

There’s also an audiobook available on Audible if you have a subscription; they also offer a free trial.

White Noise is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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