White Noise (2022) Ending Explained – Is Jack going to die from the airborne toxic event?

“White Noise” Plot Synopsis

Based on the novel by Don DeLillo and directed by Noah Baumbach, White Noise is about Hitler Studies professor Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) and his fear of death. Jack lives with his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) and their blended family.

Their idyllic lives are uprooted when a train wreck releases toxic chemicals in the air and endangers their lives. The Gladneys, Jack’s colleague Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle), and the rest of the town must evacuate. But Jack has even more to worry about when he notices Babette taking mysterious pills called Dylar.


Why are Denise and Jack concerned about Babette?

Before Babette gets ready to go teach one of her posture classes, her daughter Denise (Raffey Cassidy) catches her taking a pill and surreptitiously discarding the pill bottle in the trash. Denise digs in the trash to find it. It’s called Dylar, but Denise can’t find anything about the drug in her medical book.

Denise brings it up to Jack, thinking the pill could be behind Babette’s tendency to forget things all the time. In addition to taking Dylar, Babette has been hiding occult books in the attic and lying to them about teaching her classes at night. Jack tries to brush off Denise’s suspicion, but concern for his wife remains in the back of his mind.


What causes the airborne toxic event?

While Jack and Murray give a joint lecture on Elvis and Hitler, a drunk driver in a semi-truck collides with a train carrying toxic chemicals, which are then released into the air. The dark, toxic cloud spreads to town, causing the “airborne toxic event.” This leads the Gladney family to evacuate, although Jack’s indifferent attitude causes them to be late. 


Is Jack exposed to the toxic gas?

While leaving town, the Gladneys have to stop for gas. Jack has to get out of the car for over two minutes. When they settle into quarantine, a Pringles-eating Simuvac worker informs Jack that, due to his exposure, there’s no question of whether he will die; he should rather be asking how many years he has left. All Jack can do is wait until they find out more about the substance. The Nyodene D has a lifespan of 30 years, so he’ll have to make it to his 70s to outlive the chemical. So even if it doesn’t kill Jack directly, it could very well outlive him.

While quarantining, Murray gives Jack a gun. He instructs Jack that there are “killers” and there are “diers.” And “to kill a person… is to gain life credit,” he says. “Maybe you can kill death.”


What is Dylar?

After the airborne toxic event, the Gladneys return home, and Babette becomes severely depressed. Jack and Denise continue their investigation into Dylar, convinced it’s making her like this. When Jack finds out her doctor never prescribed the drug to her, he confronts Babette.

Babette finally tells him everything. About a year and half ago, she wanted to do something about her “condition.” She found an ad in the newspaper asking for volunteers for a secret experiment run by a man she calls “Mr. Gray” (his real name is Arlo Shell). He prescribed participants the Dylar, but the drug had a long list of potential dangerous symptoms. The experiment was deemed too dangerous to continue, but Babette was desperate. She started sleeping with Arlo to keep getting the pills.

Her condition, she tells Jack, is an intense fear of death. The fear is so great that it overrode her decision-making skills. And the Dylar didn’t even work on her; it just made her forget things.

Jack then confesses to Babette that death isn’t just a fear for him, but a reality. His exposure to the toxic chemicals will, in all likelihood, cause him to die someday.


Does Jack kill Arlo Shell, aka “Mr. Gray”?

Jealous and Angry, Jack tracks down Arlo and enters his apartment to kill him. Arlo recalls a man Jack has had a vision of–a vision about death. In killing him, Jack feels he may be able to kill death itself, like Murray said.

Arlo has taken so much Dylar that he’s not entirely cognizant. One of Dylar’s symptoms is not being able to distinguish words from actual things. Jack uses this against him, listing dangerous things so that Arlo cowers before him. Jack shoots him with Murray’s gun. Trying to stage his death as a suicide, he puts the gun in Arlo’s hand.

Babette then comes in, saying she knew Jack would do something violent. Suddenly, Arlo (very much alive) shoots at them. The bullet ricochets off Jack’s wrist to Babette’s leg. Since Arlo isn’t dead, they decide to take him to a hospital where they are all treated by German atheist nuns. The doctor informs them that Arlo will survive.


How does “White Noise” end?

At the hospital, Sister Hermann Marie tells Jack and Babette that the nuns are not believers in heaven. They only pretend to believe for the sake of others. “Hell is when no one believes,” she says in German. She then advises them in English to believe in each other–because what else do they have?

The movie ends with the Gladney family going to the supermarket–the place Murray described as a “bardo”: a place between life and death, where people can be swept up in each other and in the consumerism that dominates their culture as they try to forget the disaster that surrounds them in life.

“Out of some persistent sense of large-scale ruin,” Jack muses, “we keep inventing hope. And this is where we wait… together.”

 

Read More: White Noise Movie Review


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