HomeNovelWhy Noah Baumbach adapted ‘White Noise’ despite Don DeLillo’s novel being called ‘unfilmable’
Why Noah Baumbach adapted ‘White Noise’ despite Don DeLillo’s novel being called ‘unfilmable’
January 13, 2023
Some books are of such a fantastic nature that it is hard to imagine how a Hollywood director could do them justice by bringing them to the screen. However, filmmakers have proven their mettle time and time again by doing just that, with films like The Lord of the Rings, TrainspottingAnd Guardians.
Netflix and director Noah Baumbach are the latest to challenge a book adaptation. Baumbach, who has a personal connection to author Don Delillo White noisehe had a special interest in adapting the postmodern novel into a big-budget project complete with an all-star cast and captivating aesthetics.
Netflix’s “White Noise” is based on Delillo’s 1985 novel
Delillo has written 18 novels so far throughout his career, achieving greater fame in 1985 with White noise. Much of his work features a postmodern perspective on suburban life in America, along with commentary on topics such as academia, terrorism, and consumerism.
White noise contains elements of all this and more, set in the 1980s in the fictional town of Blacksmith. College professor Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) and their brood of children from a series of previous marriages go through their lives until they are forced to deal with a series of natural and man-made disasters . The family’s community is threatened by an “airborne toxic event” after a spectacular train crash, which sends them into a frenzy to try to get to safety.
Baumbach wrote the screenplay during the pandemic
Baumbach has been a fan of Delillo’s novel for decades, having first read it after college at his father’s suggestion. He re-read the novel in late 2019 after his father’s death as a way to mourn his passing and fell in love with the story all over again. “I’m Jack Gladney’s age now, and my dad was his age when the book came out—it’s the whole cycle of life, which is always a head trip,” he told Vogue.
Baumbach decided to adapt the novel into a film, making his first attempts at the onset of the pandemic. The queues of cars to escape the contagion, the rush to the grocery stores to stock up on basic necessities, the people in face-obscuring masks and full body suits: everything was in White noise before it happened in real life in 2020.
“DeLillo’s real but not real tenor playing represented the world as I felt,” the director told Entertainment Weekly. “It really felt like this document was telling me things about what was happening now. It just felt creepy. According to Vogue, the filmmakers have tried to adapt the book into a film more than once before, only to abandon the effort when it became too onerous.
The novel’s satire, genre hopping, and overblown hyperbole to dramatize suburban America means creative writing, big budgets, and a highly skilled cast. Baumbach was initially challenged but not phased.
“It was something that I was responding to and attracted to adapt, and attracted to make into a film, so I was following that lead,” Baumbach explained to Entertainment Weekly. “I wasn’t thinking about whether something is filmable or not. I don’t even know what that means.
“White Noise” has a reported budget of over $100 million
Netflix trusted Baumbach to make the project, with a budget that exceeded $100 million. The budget includes salaries for the cast of blockbusters such as Driver and Gerwig, not to mention Don Cheadle and Andre 3000.
Beyond that, the film requires a lot of visual spectacle, including a train crash, a car crash, a runaway station wagon floating down a creek, and a CGI toxic cloud. Done right, those come with a hefty price tag. Baumbach not only received the support of Netflix, but also got the approval of Delillo himself.
“We were just on the phone together during COVID,” Baumbach told Entertainment Weekly. “We finally got to see each other face to face a few months ago. He’s been really great and generous about it. White noise is streaming on Netflix.