Whiplash

August 14, 2015

(Caution: major spoilers below.)

(Note: I’d originally written this on February 24th, 2015, but recently found it in my drafts unpublished. I made a few edits and pushed it up with a new timestamp.)

★ ★ ★ ★ (out of five)

Best Picture nominee Whiplash is a very emotional production centering around the relationship between first-year jazz student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher’s style of teaching is an attempt to motivate Neiman in unconventional ways through a barrage of vocal and physical abuse along with public humiliation. It does drive Neiman to excel, but also comes with a steep price on his mental well-being, and before too long Neiman’s life and relationships begin to unravel around him.

Whiplash has a way of evoking in the viewer the raw emotion felt by the characters in the film thanks to cutting dialog and the short, gritty shots that pull you right into the movie’s reality.

A few examples of great shots that really stuck with me:

  1. Fletcher righting Neiman’s fallen cymbal during the final drum solo.
  2. The close-ups of water beading down the cymbals and reacting to the percussion of the instruments.
  3. The faceless crowd during the final performance.
  4. Neiman’s bloody hands.
  5. The close-ups on the complex notation of the performer’s musical worksheets.

Whiplash was also believable in a way that I wouldn’t normally attribute to fiction. During a meeting after Fletcher’s been fired and Neiman’s been expelled, Fletcher explains his actions at Shaffer, telling Neiman that although positive reinforcement is the typical form of tutelage, only through tough love can a pupil be pushed to their full potential. The surprising part here was that Fletcher’s argument was entirely convincing and made you sympathize with even this callous figure.

There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”.

— Terence Fletcher

The very open-ended finish to the movie was a nice touch. A number of questions of varying levels of importance are left to the viewer’s imagination:

  1. Does the crowd enjoy the final performance? Although technically impressive, the obvious tantrums thrown by both the conductor and drummer might leave such a distinguished audience more uncomfortable than appreciative.
  2. What happens to the relationship between Fletcher and Neiman? Despite some mutual respect shown during the final drum solo, that bridge might be so far gone that it’s impossible to rebuild.
  3. What happens to Neiman’s career? Although obviously an impressive drummer, he’s a college dropout and is probably left without the credentials necessary to make it into a respected ensemble. Fletcher isn’t too far off. Although seemingly still well-respected within the musical community, he’s lost his position at Shaffer and unlikely to gain another that’s anywhere near as prominent.
  4. Was Nicole in the audience? As shown during the scene where Neiman originally asks her out, she isn’t beyond telling a little white lie for dramatic effect. The new boyfriend may have been a ruse.

This one is definitely recommended.

Whiplash was published on August 14, 2015.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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