White Noise Movie Explained (Plot And Ending)

White Noise is a 1985 novel by Don DeLillo, and Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of the novel narrates the same story as the source material. The film largely stays true to the dialogue of the book. However, the movie is less deeply cynical than the novel. The biggest deviation is probably in its comedic elements. There are both fans and detractors of the film. It is surprisingly timely with its themes of consumerism, human-caused disaster, and drug addiction. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie White Noise explained; spoilers ahead.

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White Noise: What Is It About?

The White Noise novel tells the story of Jack Gladney, his fourth wife Babette, and their four offspring. A menacing black chemical cloud released by an industry accident floats over their lives. The movie is a visual presentation of the white noise that engulfs the family from radio transmissions, sirens, chemicals, and death.

White Noise: Plot Explained

The White Noise movie plot dramatizes the life of a contemporary American family and how they deal with mundane daily conflicts. It is horrifying, hilarious, absurd, and apocalyptic all at the same time. It explores the theme of death, which unites us all and the ways in which we push existential thoughts aside. 


In one of the early scenes, Jack Gladney and Babette comment about how happy they are, leading to a conversation about who will die first. Neither of them wants to be left behind; they both want to go first, as it would save them from dealing with the grief of the other’s passing. The preoccupation with death is a theme in the movie’s early part, which later becomes an obsession for Babette leading to drug abuse.

Satire On Academia

Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is a professor of ‘Hitler Studies’ even though he doesn’t speak German. One of the funniest scenes in the film is where he and Professor Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle) compare the lives of Adolf Hitler and Elvis Presley in a college lecture. 

Family Life In Chaos

Their family life is thrown into chaos when a massive train crash releases a toxic substance into the atmosphere. There’s the sense that nothing will ever be the same again. Although he has been exposed, Jack tries to defuse the situation and not panic. The daughter Denise is convinced she is sick already, and the son Henrich listens obsessively to news reports. 

The family becomes part of a mass evacuation. They’re on the road, and Bambauch’s most impressive technical achievement is capturing the family on the run from the unknown. They eventually reach a quarantine center after nearly drowning in a river.   


Once the disaster is averted, life starts returning to ‘normal’. Jack hallucinates about a mysterious man who follows him around. Babette (Greta Gerwig) joins a clinical trial for the drug Dylar to treat death anxieties. She is accepted in exchange for sex with one ‘Mr. Gray’. Jack tries to figure out what the drug Dylar is and where Babette is getting it from.   

Death becomes a more present reality

Jack tracks down Mr. Gray and discovers he is the man in his hallucinations. It is most likely that Jack has been subconsciously registering Mr Gray in his vicinity and hence had dreams with him in it. Jack does not possess any supernatural powers. Jack shoots Mr. Gray and plans to stage it as a suicide. 

Mr. Gray represents Jack’s fear of mortality, and in a way, he has faced his fear and bested it. Mr Gray lives and manages to shoot both Jack and Babette, who turns up at the motel. Jack drives all three of them to the hospital. Jack and Babette reconcile because they realize their actions came from their same fear of death. They hold hands as the sun rises.

White Noise: Ending Explained

White Noise ends with a dance number in a supermarket. This captures the key theme in a fascinating manner. Why do we buy junk, take pills and watch car crashes to escape our fears? We are comforted when we see other people doing the same things we are doing, such as buying things we don’t need at a grocery store. There’s crowd catharsis in an activity like watching a car crash on a movie screen. The mundane act distracts us from reality, and we can have fun doing it – retail therapy.

Other Frequently Asked Questions Answered

White Noise: What is Dylar?

Dylar is a fictional drug introduced in the film White Noise. It is depicted as a powerful experimental medication used to suppress the fear of death and the existential anxiety associated with mortality. It is a stand in for any of the modern life addictions.

White Noise: What was the name of the town?

The name of the town in the film is Cedar Falls, a city in Iowa in the United States of America.

White Noise: What year is it set in?

The film White Noise is set in the present day, implying the contemporary time period during its release. It is not a film set in a dystopian future.

White Noise: Why is it weird? What is the point of the movie?

White Noise is weird because it seems to be about nothing. It initially feels like a romantic film, but then we’re given the feeling that this is a disaster movie. And finally, it ends in violence. The point of the movie White Noise is the fear of death and how, if people obsess about it, they could stop living.

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