A young and talented drummer attending a prestigious music academy finds himself under the wing of the most respected professor at the school, one who does not hold back on abuse towards his students. The two form an odd relationship as the student wants to achieve greatness, and the professor pushes him
“The truth is, Andrew
I never really had a Charlie Parker.
But I tried.
I actually fucking tried.”
“Whiplash“. You could think that this film tells the story of a drummer (the movie poster is a bit of a spoiler when it comes to this) who has suffered this injury by violently playing his instrument. Or he lost control of his car while drumming rhythmically on the steering wheel and crashed into the car driving in front of him. You could link the movie title to these assumptions, because the arrangements that Andrew (Miles Teller) has to play in this masterful and highly rhythmic film may result in a neck injury. And when it comes to losing that control … well … then you should go and watch the movie to find out yourself. Anyway, the film title refers to a song written by the American jazz composer Hank Levy. The central theme of the film is about the influence you can have on someone and drive that person to exceed certain inhuman limits of his own ability. Now, for me you’re already a top musician when you know the complete arrangement of “Whiplash” and “Caravan” (written by Duke Ellington) by heart. Even if there’s a little mistake here and there or you are little bit offbeat, eventually I will have a boundless admiration for the musician after completing such a superhuman performance.
I’ve never had such a desire to pull someone through the screen and then smack a huge cymbal against his face as now with the presumably extremely talented music teacher Fletcher, brilliantly played by JK Simmons. A man who lives for his music and has a huge passion for it. It’s a bit exaggerated that passion though. Exaggerated to such extent that it exceeds the limit of human dignity and by his passion for creating a perfect musician, his way of teaching tends to be sadomasochistic. A kind of militaristic attitude towards his traumatized and frightened students who are wary of any unexpected outburst. A disrespectful howler, suitable as “drill sergeant” in the US Army, and first-class bully, who suddenly swings around music stands, slaps his students in the face and throws out a member of his orchestra, just because he plays a bit out of tune . Afterwards, the accused doesn’t appear to be the culprit, but he’s just thrown out of the classroom because he didn’t know he wasn’t the one playing out of tune. A worse stain on the reputation of a professional musician, according to Fletcher.
That’s also what Andrew, an ordinary American teenager who studies at the Shaffer conservatory and whose only envisioned aim is to be the best jazz drummer ever, undergoes. The moment he’s being asked to join Fletcher’s school orchestra, which only consists of a select group of musicians, it becomes the best day of his life. His confidence gets such a boost that he even overcomes his shyness and dares to ask a girl, who works at the cinema, on a date. That it’s subsequently leading to a veritable psychological warfare, goes beyond his wildest dream. Gradually the terror policy of Fletcher drives him to the utmost to meet Fletcher’s expectations. Even his relationship with Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is terminated abruptly by him. The love for music is displaced by a bloody battle for a wanted spot in the orchestra. The obsessional takes the upper hand, tending towards self-destruction.
I’m not exactly an expert myself when it’s about jazz. And I’ve read reviews where it’s suggested that the essence of jazz is completely misrepresented here : “The idea about jazz in this movie is brought in a grotesque way and looks like a ridiculous caricature“. The whole history about Charlie Parker and the anecdote Fletcher tells everytime, apparently isn’t exactly true at all. Could be, but for me the jazz section wasn’t of essence in the story. It’s the emotional and physical brutality that Fletcher uses to bring students to a higher level. In this way Fletcher tries to create “HIS Charlie Parker”. The whole movie does follow the rhythm of the used music: uplifting, rhythmic and intense. Only the end was predictable and presented us of course the well known rule that the oppressed kicks the oppressor’s ass again. Actually I hoped Andrew would put his drumsticks there where the sun doesn’t shine at Fletcher.