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Whiplash: Become Buddy Rich or Die Trying

January 30, 2015

whiplash movie poster

Whiplash tells the story of a 19-year-old named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) pursuing greatness. He lives, breathes and bleeds jazz and won’t stop until he is the best. He is enrolled at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory music school and strives to be part of Terrence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) studio band. The problem is Fletcher is a tyrannical madman whose teaching methods are abusive and reminiscent of R. Lee Ermey’s  style from Full Metal Jacket. The opening scene tells us everything we need to know about the two men. Neiman is practicing alone (he is driven) when Fletcher storms in (he is a maniac) and listens to him play. It is a tense moment that shows us who the characters are instead of telling us.

Director and writer Damien Chazelle drew from his musical experiences to give us a look into greatness. It is alienating, destructive and bloody. Many people fail on their voyage to perfection and in Whiplash we see somebody well on their way to remembrance. At a family dinner Neiman says he would “rather die drunk and broke at 34 and have people around a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and have no one remember who I was.” It is the sentiment of a 19-year-old who is accruing the necessary hubris to reach the top.

Whiplash Miles Teller

This may sound random but Fletcher reminded me a lot of Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. Mr. Glass (Sam Jackson) was born with “glass bones” that would break on a moments notice. So, he set about crashing planes, trains and automobiles in an attempt to find somebody who was the polar opposite. Mr. Glass wrecked many lives in order to find one perfect man. Fletcher in Whiplash is a tyrannical teacher whose outbursts and insults have driven his students into paranoid wrecks. He pushes his students to the breaking point to force greatness out of them.

Whiplash JK Simmons

Whiplash is full of dedicated performances and confident style. However, it spells too many things out for you. The movie is explained away and you are hit on the head by cymbals and symbolism. For instance, we are given the constant comparison between great and subpar. Andrew’s father is a high school teacher who is a failed novelist but still happy in life. He represents mediocrity while Fletcher represents greatness. We also get a family dinner scene where a division three college quarterback is lauded while a world-class jazz drummer is ignored. In these moments I was taken out of the world because I felt they weren’t necessary. I knew what was going on and could have gotten by on the visual cues.

whiplash drums

The film builds to an amazingly acted finale that is both psychological and physical. Blood will be lost, sweat will pour and the world will be blessed with an amazing performance. The six-minute drum solo left me wanting to buy the soundtrack and had me walking on air. Chazelle wanted to make an amazing film and he succeeded in certain aspects. It is a stunning second feature yet the trappings of inexperience are still evident. Hopefully, in his next movie he will trust his instincts and allow it to flow organically and not shoehorn in scenes that stick out via over explaining.

Whiplash is a wonderful movie that asks important questions and gives us something new. The dueling teacher/student relationship was thrilling to watch and  I can’t wait to see what Chazelle does next.

What did you think?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2015 10:27 am

    Yeah this does look good. This path to perfection reminds me more of Black Swan then Unbreakable, but I can see the similarities( I just hope no one else will be spoiled when you revealed the ending)

    • January 30, 2015 10:34 am

      I figured Unbreakable came out in 2000 so people have had plenty of time to watch it. Good call on Black Swan. I love that movie.

  2. John Leavengood permalink
    March 5, 2015 10:20 am

    JK Simmons is the best evil conductor ever.

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