On the one hand, there is Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for the role. He truly deserved it as he delivers an electrifying performance. Fletcher, a brilliant but nefarious instructor, leads the jazz band at one of the country’s best conservatories. He drives his students hard to achieve greatness. He is looking for the next Charlie Parker and will do anything to bring this out in a student. Often, he crosses the line with verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
On the other hand, there is Andrew (played by Miles Teller.) He is ambitious and talented. He is a student and wants to achieve greatness in jazz drumming, but lacks focus. His hero is Charlie “Bird” Parker, a giant among jazz musicians. (Parker unfortunately died a drug addict at the age of 35.)
Fletcher discovers Andrew one day after hearing him perform with another band at the conservatory. Fletcher senses greatness in Andrew and invites him to play in the most prestigious band ensemble in the school. Almost immediately, Fletcher starts to berate Andrew. He goads Andrew, pushing him to the limit with insults and physical assaults. He capriciously replaces Andrew with other drummers to make him work harder to keep his position in the band.
The movie is stark and brutal in its depiction of Fletcher trying to bring out greatness in Andrew using extreme methods; at times it’s hard to watch. Andrew puts up with abuse because he senses greatness in himself and feels that only by pushing himself will he be able to achieve greatness. But pushing himself too hard eventually costs him: his hands bleed from practicing his drumming for extended periods; he gets into a car wreck because he is frantic to make a performance. (His hand is so banged up from the accident that he fails the performance miserably as he can’t hold onto the drum stick.) He breaks up with his girlfriend because he believes that she will only hold him back and even come to resent him for placing his dream of greatness ahead of her.
Whiplash is a fascinating (if brutal) look into greatness and the lengths that people will go to and the abuse that they will endure to achieve it. The movie is non-committal as to whether browbeating and/or abuse is the best way to bring out greatness in a performer. The film ultimately leaves this up to the viewer.
Click on the following link to place a hold:
Worth a look for a fascinating look into jazz, and what it takes to excel in that world.
Skip it if you are sensitive to verbal and physical brutality.