Whiplash made me relive the recurring nightmares I’ve been having since I was a freshman in my high school marching band. Nightmares where I show up to a competition without my instrument, or the music has been changed to something I’ve never heard of at the last moment. And always, there are my old band directors looming over me, disapproving of my mistakes and pushing me harder. But I never encountered a mentor as abrasive and brutal as Terence Fletcher.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a freshman drummer at a prestigious music conservatory, where he is picked to be in the top jazz ensemble, run by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). The honor quickly turns into a nightmare, fueled by Fletcher’s abusive brand of teaching. Through the course comments, screamed profanities, things thrown and even slapping, Andrew pushes himself to impress Fletcher and eventually earns a coveted part. The lengths Andrew is willing to go to to keep the part makes us all question what Andrew is thinking and how being Fletcher’s pupil is affecting him.
J.K. Simmons portrays Fletcher, in what I believe is an Oscar worthy performance. Wearing all black, he blends in with the shadows and can disappear quickly in the late nights where he first finds Andrew practicing. Simmon’s gives Fletcher an air of intensity that can become explosive without warning. We believe the fear in his students’ eyes whenever they are in his presence. I completely understood how Andrew could fear this sadistic man, yet also want to earn his respect.
The film matches Fletcher’s intensity all around. We watch Andrew practice for hours on end, pushing himself to the point of bleeding all over the drums. The lengths he goes to in order to get to a performance on time are maddening and shows how much he is willing to sacrifice to keep the part he earned. The editing is quick, changing our focus from one character to the next often, just as the music starts and stops quickly and often during practices with Fletcher. The music as a whole, especially Andrew’s amazing performance, is so powerful and exhilarating.
Whiplash, this little amazing movie shot in only nineteen days, is nominated for five Oscars. At the time of its nomination, it was one of the lowest grossing movies ever to be nominated for Best picture. They other nominations include the awards for film editing, sound mixing, and adapted screenplay. J.K. Simmons is nominated for best supporting actor and I am expecting him to take home the Oscar.
At the core of Whiplash seems to be a burning question whether Fletcher’s teaching tactics are worth it or not. Does a musician, or any other artist, need to be pushed to their breaking points to unlock their true potential? The film does not take a side, or even fully instigate viewers to argue. Instead it ends on an amazing drum solo that left me gobsmacked. But I think we can all agree we would rather not have a chair thrown at our heads for playing offbeat.
“Either you’re deliberately out of tune and sabotaging my band, or you don’t know you’re out of tune, and that’s even worse.”