Whiplash (I wanna be one of the greats)

whiplash

Rating: Severe

Year: 2014
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell

Spoiler alert in effect.

After watching La La Land, I knew I had to watch Whiplash at last, after postponing it for so long. I had some interest in it for a while now, but the plot of an aspiring drummer and his relationship with his teacher didn’t sound entirely appealing and so I always passed it over to watch some other film. But seeing how good La La Land was, I was determined to go and watch Whiplash, because by itself, it has numerous accolades to its name.

Like La La Land, it’s about music, jazz music. Specifically, it follows the journey of Andrew (Miles Teller), a jazz drummer student attending Shaffer Conservatory in New York. A teacher, named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) at the college walks in on him while he’s practising on the drums, sees potential in him, and so eventually invites him to join his studio band. This marks the beginning of a rocky relationship between student and teacher, exploring the quest for perfection and the price paid for it. In the audience’s mind, it seems that Fletcher has clearly crossed the line, but in his mind, I doubt he perceived it that way. He’s so obsessed with finding the next big thing in jazz music that he will go to whatever lengths to achieve it, whether that be throwing insults at his students, making them cry, or chucking chairs at them.

andrew-and-fletcher-2
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons

It’s not the easiest movie to watch I have to say. At times, I really questioned why Andrew would continue to play under the strict, cruel and unorthodox guidance of Fletcher. Why didn’t he just leave to play with another band or another college? Why endure all the torment and pain? That painful-to-watch scene where he grabs a jug of ice so that he can dunk his bleeding hands into it just looks barbaric to me. To continue playing the drums with torn-up flesh looks like torture. And it’s not just the physical consequences. There’s also the emotional and social ones. He lost his girlfriend, his relationship with his family and band members deteriorated, and he become obsessed with getting his drumming perfect. The worst was when he just walked away after being involved in a car accident to make sure he could play at a competition, or else be kicked off the band. It just blew my mind. And to think that Fletcher didn’t even ask him if he was alright or give him leniency after walking onto the stage all bloody and bruised. Where’s the sense of humanity in these characters?!

miles
A bloody and bruised Andrew

I don’t think that can be fully answered or understood unless you’ve gone through something similar. I reckon you need to have the burning passion or desire for something to be able to understand Andrew’s mindset. By the end of the film, you partially get the idea of why he was willing to do what he did, because he loved it so much and he wanted it so much. You can understand on a superficial surface level. But to explain it on a deeper level, well, I’m not the right person to ask. Sure, I’ve liked this and that, and really wanted to achieve things, but I don’t think I’ve done things on his level. I would have surely given up as soon as Fletcher yelled at me. But who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have. I guess that’s just the beauty of life.

In what is perhaps the most quoted line from this film, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job'”, I think it sums up the mentality of Fletcher, and in his mind, justifies his actions. I agree to an extent with this line. Telling someone that they’re doing alright, even if they aren’t, won’t help them in pushing themselves and improving their skill. On the other hand, continual insults and abuse won’t help either. The student will at best become obsessed, have lower self-esteem and be depressed; at worst, they can commit suicide. As with everything and anything, there needs to be a balance. Encouragement when you do well, but also a push when things need to be improved.

Overall, it picked up 3 awards at the Oscars: Best Supporting Actor for J.K Simmons (much deserved), Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing. I have to say that the acting from both Miles and J.K. Simmons are phenomenal. It’s gotten to the point where I genuinely dislike looking at J.K. Simmons face because it just reminds me of Fletcher. And I will always think of Miles as being a drummer. He seems to play it with ease. Basically, it’s a fantastic film if you can manage to get through the tough scenes. It’s not for everyone, but you definitely don’t have to be a jazz or even a music fan to still appreciate the message and enjoy the epic drumming skills Miles Teller displays.

Other ratings:
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 88/100
IMDb: 8.5/10

Discussion questions:
1. Do you believe Fletcher crossed a line in his attempt to coach Andrew?
2. Do you think Andrew is right in letting Fletcher abuse him in that way, or has he lost his sense of judgement?

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2 thoughts on “Whiplash (I wanna be one of the greats)

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