Why is White Noise Rated R?

By Marc Miller
Published: January 2, 2023 (Last updated: January 5, 2023)

Why is the Netflix film White Noise rated R? We discuss the popular streaming movie and the reasons for its R rating.

The highly anticipated Noah Baumbach adaptation of Don DeLillo’s seminal work in postmodern literature, White Noise, has had plenty of controversy since its world premiere at the 79th Venice International Film Festival.

It was slapped with an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association (MPA). After viewing Bambauch’s take on what some might call an unfilmable source material, I can only fathom such a high rating because the MPA is offended at the absorbent price tag.

I mean, why would a film with one train crash scene, army tents, a production design you can see at any Raley’s grocery store across California, a wardrobe that could be found at Goodwill, and a post-credits dance scene cost 250 million dollars? Unless that was the original station wagon from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, there seems to be something fishy going on with White Noise’s accounting methods.

Let’s explore the reasons why such a film would be given an R rating, which seems to be the equivalent of schools banning books in the classroom.

What is the Netflix movie White Noise about?

The official synopsis of White Noise is as follows:

“At once hilarious and horrifying, lyrical and absurd, ordinary and apocalyptic, White Noise dramatizes a contemporary American family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world.”

By comparison, here is the Goodreads synopsis of Don DeLillo’s classic novel:

“White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, his fourth wife, Babette, and four ultra­modern offspring as they navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. When an industrial accident unleashes an “airborne toxic event,” a lethal black chemical cloud floats over their lives. The menacing cloud is a more urgent and visible version of the “white noise” engulfing the Gladneys — radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, ultrasonic appliances, and TV murmurings—pulsing with life yet suggesting something ominous.”

Why is White Noise Rated R?

According to the MPA, White Noise is rated R, and that includes the following concerns:

“Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.”

The MPA also provides a link to understand the film’s rating, which takes you to a website called Film Ratings. If you follow the link and type in the title, the information provided is as follows for White Noise:

“Rated R for brief violence and language.”

However, if you search for a film of the same name, the 2005 horror film Starring Michael Keaton of the same name is given a PG-13 rating “for violence, disturbing images, and language,” a film that includes cheap, gratuitous scares. Have a lower rating for a movie that was made 17 years prior? In a time when the world has gone more progressive, the MPA is claiming to shield children with the approval of parents during a world that has been equivalent to Don DeLillo’s vision of the world spinning off its axis in the first place.

Unfortunately, the MPA does not justify what scenes they found so objectionable. Yes, the film has strong language. The script does honor the source material’s themes of an ominous outlook on life and a family put under stress because of a “rocky” family life. There is a scene of brief violence where a train crashes and causes a chemical event and toxic cloud. The other possibility of brief violence is when Adam Driver’s Jack shoots and kills a man called Mr. Gray. However, before he does, he gets a shot off that misses Jack and shoots his wife, Babette, in the leg.

I would challenge the MPA to cite the scenes they find so objectionable in the future.

Is White Noise on Netflix worth watching?

Currently, Rotten Tomatoes has White Noise with a rating of 63% and over 200 reviews. When you apply “top critics,” the rating is slightly better at 67%. The critic consensus for the website states:

“White Noise may occasionally struggle with its allegedly unfilmable source material, but Noah Baumbach succeeds in finding the humorous heart of its surprisingly timely story.”

Peter Travers of ABC News praises the film:

“Noah Baumbach honors Don DeLillo’s virtuoso novel about the comic-absurdist chaos of consumerism with too cautious respect. The result is his most constricted film, which only breaks free when costars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig fly on their own wings.”

K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stones objects, saying the director:

“…overreaches in White Noise. The movie is unsuccessful because its various energies eventually begin to feel mismeasured.”

Jacob Throneberry of Ready Steady Cut proclaims:

“Top to bottom, White Noise is a hypnotic and engaging look into a profoundly human fear: death. Noah Baumbach’s best direction to date coupled with a fully committed cast — the standout being Adam Driver — makes White Noise not just one of the most entertaining and best films of the year, but also one of the most compelling.”

Based on the overall critical consensus, positive Rotten Tomatoes scores, themes relevant to today’s modern world, and honors the film is garnering, White Noise is worth checking out on Netflix.

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