Review: Whiplash

TL;DR: 4/10
Go for: The Music
Skip: Everything Else

I can sum up Whiplash in this sentence: It is what happens when you play to be the best, but not because you enjoy what you do.

And I really cannot think of anything far more oppressive.

The plot of Whiplash is simple; student drummer Neiman lands a dream placing in the top band at his school. The band’s conductor/teacher, Fletcher who leads the top band, is revealed from being an encouraging teacher to actually quite the abusive bastard. He bullies Neiman and the rest of the band in an attempt to get them to be the next jazz legends. This eventually leads to Neiman being expelled, and subsequently, because of his testimony, Fletcher being dismissed from his teaching position.

What follows is a slice of life drama (done well, mind you!), and an ending that is deliberately left ambiguous, which I appreciated.

JK Simmons plays Terence Fletcher to a T. He is basically a bully, but the worst kind; the one who is a bully because he believes being one will help his students achieve greatness. Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a first year drummer who finds himself being elevated, then degraded, abused, and the cycle repeats, in turn.

The thing about Whiplash is that you get the feeling that the characters are in it to be great. Not so much about what they love to do, but because they happened to have a talent and they figured they could live off it.

Nothing wrong with that, but this left an empty and dead feeling in me.

There’s no real joy in the pursuit of perfection in this movie, or at least that is what I felt. The characters pursue perfection because it is what is expected of them, and it is the accolades of others they seek. When Neiman nails a piece or outperforms himself, there’s no sense of “yes, I did it!” but more of “hah, take that you bastard!” towards his teacher.

I suppose for me, that’s one of the biggest issues I have with Whiplash. Perhaps there is no harm in pursuing greatness, but you need to have a reason for doing so.

And in Whiplash, the reason left me feeling very disturbed. Of course, it doesn’t help that some people believe that being unreasonable is really the best way to encourage students, or that destroying a person’s emotional well being means spurring them to greater heights.

If you seek approval from an external source that is determined to erode your self-respect and confidence, I don’t see how long you can last (and indeed, a mention is made of this in the movie itself). It is both depressing and enraging.

That said, Simmons is fantastic as Fletcher, and I want to punch his character in the face. The music, as forgotten as they usually are, is pretty good. The direction is fantastic in creating an oppressive feel and tense scenes.

I just wish it wouldn’t have left me feeling so despondent.

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