Haven’t we all heard the story before? It’s the tale of the American Dream — the promise that working hard will guarantee success; that if you give your all, you’ll get that big break that you deserve.
Let me set the record straight: This is not that story. Whiplash, if anything, is a cautionary tale for obsessive artists who stop at nothing to attain perfection, much in the same strain as Afrononsky’s Black Swan.
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now) is a college freshman at a prestigious musical institute with big dreams of becoming a drumming legend. He finds himself in the studio band of renowned conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman Trilogy), where Fletcher works Andrew to the bone. Andrew becomes fixated on impressing the conductor despite his physical, verbal, and mental abuse, pushing away friends and family alike.
This film is not about giving hard workers a pat on the back and the inspiration to keep toiling. This film is about showing the damaging and compulsive lengths that people go to in order for a chance to achieve their dreams. Andrew even states that he would rather die drunk and broke and be immortalised, than be rich and forgotten. His desperation is evident in the shots of blood seeping out from his blisters as he spends hours to perfect his art. For those who can stand that bit of gore, the scenes are hauntingly beautiful. But there’s nothing quite like Andrew Neiman walking out of a car accident in order to make it for his performance. While other movies might have cut to a hospital set, with Fletcher standing by Andrew’s bed, Whiplash is not other movies. Instead, Fletcher watches the bloodied and battered Andrew stagger onstage, and soon orders him off and boots him from the studio band.
In a movie about obsessive drumming, the score is not to be overlooked. Keeping the film’s theme, the score plays up the jazz and the drums. Tension is turned into outright stress for the audience through the expert use of drumming. I had felt as though my heart was beginning to match the fast paced tempo of the beat. If you ask me, the movie’s score is what truly pushes the film from good to great, allowing the audience to really inhabit the film, to feel Andrew’s pressure as he strains to be on tempo. Something as seemingly mundane as drumming immediately feels right for a cinematic masterpiece.
For a story like this, every bit of the creative team has to be as compulsive as its lead character, and no one quite fulfils this as Damien Chazelle, the director. The film took inspiration from his time in school as a drummer under a cruel teacher, but that’s not where his dedication ends. The film had an extremely tight schedule, 19 days of 14 hours. Late into the filming schedule, Chazelle was caught in a car accident, not unlike Andrew. And just like Andrew, he brushed off concerns of concussion and returned to the filming the day after his accident.
Since its release, Whiplash has enjoyed tremendous critical success. It is on a myriad of critics’ Top Ten Lists, has been nominated for over a hundred nominations, including the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, the latter of which Whiplash won.
Whiplash does not spin your run-of-the-mill American Dream flick, and it leaves more to think about afterwards. In any case, I do believe Andrew Neiman achieved his dream in some way, because now I doubt he’ll be forgotten.
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