In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for White Noise, we answer questions you have about the movie. If you’re curious about plot explanations, meanings, themes, lessons, motifs, symbols, or just confused by something, ask and we’ll do our best to answer.
- Jack Gladney – Adam Driver
- Babette Gladney – Greta Gerwig
- Denise Gladney – Raffey Cassidy
- Heinrich Gladney – Sam Nivola
- Steffie Gladney – May Novila
- Wilder Gladney – Henry Moore/Dean Moore
- Murray Siskind – Don Cheadle
- Mr. Gray – Lars Eidinger
- Winnie Richards – Jodie Turner-Smith
- Elliot Lasher – André Benjamin
White Noise | Questions and Answers
What is the meaning of White Noise?
White Noise is a meditation on the fear of death, also known as Thanatophobia. At first, the fear of death is something distant. Then it becomes a real threat via the Airborne Toxic Event. Finally, it becomes something personal, as Jack is presumed to have some kind of terminal illness caused by exposure to the event. The movie explores the effect our fear of death has on us, as well as the things that can distract us from it.
Where is White Noise set?
An unnamed town in Ohio.
Is there really a Hitler Studies class?
Colleges have taught classes about Hitler and Nazism in Germany. And there are professors who focus on it. For example, Professor Christopher Browning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While it’s an outlandish thing that White Noise uses for comedic effect, it’s very real.
Is Dylar real?
No. There currently is not a pill that can cause someone to forget specifically about their fear of death. There are, of course, pills that will put you in a stupor, muting most of life’s worries. But that’s more of a global “I don’t care about anything” kind of effect.
Did Dylar work?
What was Dylar supposed to do?
It was supposed to cause people to stop fearing death. But it didn’t work. And the side effect was that Babette started forgetting things in her day to day. At one point, she couldn’t remember the names of her children. Which begs the question: is it worth it? If no longer being afraid of death costs you quality of life, what do you really gain?
Why do they dance in the grocery store?
At that point in the movie, Jack and Babette want to celebrate life. There’s an overall positivity that’s supposed to come through. And the grocery store, with all its corporate optimism, is part of this. One of the small ways in which we distract ourselves from mortality via consumerism. So the dance is supposed to capture that idea of enjoying life while you have it. Even the mundane parts. The novel does not have a dance scene, but the final scene is in the grocery store and appreciative of the ritual.
Is the Airborne Toxic Event based on a real event?
Not specifically, no. There was never a terrifying toxic spill in the midwestern United States. But, a month before the original novel came out in 1985, there was a toxic leak in India that made the news. The Bhopal disaster has the record for the worst industrial disaster ever (as of 2023). The chemical leak exposed over half a million people to the toxic gas methyl isocyanate. The official figure of the injured? 574, 366. Over 2,000 people died immediately. With nearly 20,000 more having deaths that traced back to complications from the toxic event.
So DeLillo conceived of and wrote the entirety of White Noise. Edited it. Sent it off to the publisher. Then the Bhopal disaster happened and a month later the novel came out. It gained DeLillo a bit of a reputation for being prescient. People started looking at his novels as being ahead of events that would soon follow. His most recent novel, The Silence, is about an EMP burst that knocks out power to all of New York City. So be ready?
What questions do you have?
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