How “White Noise” is Exactly What’s Happening in Ohio



White Noise – Netflix

The White Noise Movie

The movie White Noise was released in the U.S. this past November, making waves as an absurdist comedy-drama film with a star-studded cast. Directed by Noah Baumbach and based on the 1985 novel by Don DeLillo, the film has been deemed experimental by many, containing an array of commentaries on American society and employing unique forms of cinematography. The film stars Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, and Don Cheadle, as they play a blissfully ignorant Hitler Studies professor, a neurotic homemaker who takes care of the elderly, and an Elvis-obsessed American Culture professor, respectively.

What the Plot Entails

The film is complex, with many layers of plotlines to peel back, but its essence can be boiled down to the aftermath of an airborne toxic gas event. The year is 1984 and the Hitler Studies professor, Jack Gladney, his wife Babette, and their four children are living in a quaint suburban town called Blacksmith, Ohio. Nothing seems quite right about the family, the most concerning development being Babette’s reliance on a mystery pill called Dylar. Their eldest daughter, Denise, catches on to this and pursues an explanation, only to be interrupted by an unforeseen disaster. Their semi-normal lives are disrupted when a calamitous train accident emits a cloud of lethal chemicals over their town and causes a mass evacuation. News outlets are hesitant to be transparent about the news, with radio stations even describing the big, dark cloud with words such as “feathery”. The Gladneys hesitantly pack up their belongings and hit the road, only to be met with a major, and consequently grisly traffic jam on the highway. In the midst of this, Jack realizes their car is low on gas and decides to drive the family to a gas station to refuel. As he is pumping the gas, he is exposed to the deadly black cloud as it looms over him. They go on their way and are, with numerous others, forced into quarantine at a summer camp. Jack’s colleague, the American Culture professor (Murray Siskind) gives Jack a small pistol to protect him and his family against the more dangerous residents of the camp. A few days later, a tumultuous exodus occurs when multiple families desperately try to escape the camp. The Gladneys make it out after some significant bumps in their journey and later arrive in a city. They come across a man who is ranting about the lack of media coverage on the true nature of the chemical disaster and sees Jack, alleging that he’s seen him before. After nine days, the family manages to return home. Although, because Jack was briefly exposed to the chemical waste, his previous fear of death becomes magnified. This fear is further enabled by his wife Babette, who holds a similar fear that led her to begin taking the experimental drug, Dylar.

There is much more to the film as the plot moves forward after the chemical disaster. Much of the remaining movie concerns Jack’s and Babette’s fear of death, the effects of the drug Dylar (that is intended to treat one’s fear of death), a motel shootout with the maker of such, a spiritual awakening in a hospital run by German atheist nuns, and a capitalist’s wet dream of a dance number in a contradictory utopian supermarket. Although all of this is interesting and serve as ways to poke fun at the rampant problems in American culture, they aren’t quite as strikingly similar to real-world events as the notion of a train derailment disaster occurring in Ohio.

What’s Happening in Ohio and Striking Similarities in White Noise

On February 3rd of this year, a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The village is home to about 4,700 residents and is about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, PA. The National Transportation Safety Board said that 38 cars derailed and a fire ensued, damaging another 12 cars. The train that had derailed was operated by Norfolk Southern, and had been carrying many chemicals and combustible substances. One of these was vinyl chloride, a toxic flammable gas, which is of most concern to investigators. Residents in both states on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border were ordered to evacuate their homes. On February 6th, authorities released the toxic materials from five tankers, and the contents were diverted to a trench and burned off. This controlled burn sent a looming black cloud of smoke and chemicals over the village of East Palestine and neighboring locations, resembling the scenes depicted in White Noise, far too close for comfort for many. Although, this is not where the similarities between this event and the film end. One of the residents who had to evacuate after the train disaster, Ben Ratner, told CNN that he and some of his family members had played extras in White Noise, as the movie was shot almost entirely in Northeast Ohio. What’s even eerier is that much like in the movie, media outlets delayed reporting on this chemical disaster, obscuring it from public knowledge for a few days following the event. This is a repeated concern in White Noise, where multiple characters impacted by the disaster make comments about how news stations aren’t reporting on the event honestly.


The title of the film (and the novel it was based upon) is an unclear choice to many. ‘White noise‘ is a commonly utilized background noise, containing all frequencies at equal intensity so it can mask loud sounds that may illicit a neurological reaction from the listener. After watching White Noise, many have come to the conclusion that the title speaks to how the white noise, metaphorically, is the distraction that the futile things of life can provide us, which we use to ignore our fears.

Due to how close to home the meaning of this title hits and its link to the plot of the film, which resembles a disastrous current event very closely, people are coming up with theories to make sense of it all. Some social media users and even residents of East Palestine are theorizing that maybe White Noise was an intentional precursor for the real-life derailment. According to AFP Fact Check, the public’s reaction to the similarities between the film and the event in East Palestine is not unlike anything we’ve seen before: “False flag conspiracy theories asserting various events were staged as distractions or pretexts for government intervention have a long history and are routinely spread about mass shootings, natural disasters, and other high-casualty or crisis events.” With this in mind, experts are attributing the whole East Palestine/White Noise situation to a coincidence, as there is no evidence the wreck in Ohio was planned by the government, Norfolk Southern, or any other organization. Furthermore, the derailment in East Palestine is not the isolated incident that many view it as. “There were 1,574 train accidents in the United States in 2022, including 1,049 derailments, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis” (AFP Fact Check). So, while similarities between the film and real-life events are unsettling, due to the volume of similar train derailment incidents in the U.S., they are likely just a coincidence.