White Noise Stayed True to the Book. That Might Be Why It’s Such a Mediocre Film.

Matthew McFarlane
4 min readFeb 20, 2023
Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig with their children in the movie White Noise
White Noise | Netflix

Anyone adapting a movie from a book faces a dilemma: stay true to the book and potentially alienate a wider audience — or diverge from the text and leave an angry mob of bookish fans in your wake.

Admittedly, Noah Baumbach’s screen adaptation of Don Delillo’s White Noise stays relatively true to the novel. And though it pains me to say it — as someone who loves the book — that may be why the movie falls flat.

The film opens much like the novel. We’re introduced to Adam Driver’s Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler Studies at the local college, and his wife, Babette, played by Greta Gerwig. A whirlwind scene in their kitchen that captures some of the book’s charm introduces the kids: Denise, Steffie, Heinrich, and Wilder.

We also get a glimpse of Babette’s secret pills — the mystery of which will propel most of the plot, such as it is.

Prior to Baumbach’s version, White Noise had been widely regarded as an unfilmable book. So, despite winning the National Book Award in 1985 and developing a cult fan base, White Noise remained unadapted until Baumbach’s treatment.

The reasons for the nearly four decade gap between novel and film debuts are obvious to anyone who’s read the book. There’s the meandering plot…



Matthew McFarlane

Reader, writer, content provider. Fan of hand-made guitars, racket-based sports, and houseplants. You can find me in St. Louie.