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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Why Whiplash is an incredible movie

"Damn, what a film," I just said to myself after watching Whiplash for the third or fourth time in my life (wrote this post immediately after). If you haven't seen it, it's about an amazing Jazz drumming student (Andrew) emotionally abused by his sociopathic teacher (Fletcher). It's one of my favourite movies and I believe one of the most amazing films ever. This post will explain why. Will contain spoilers, so not recommended if you haven't seen/are planning to see this film.

This isn't the tale of an aspiring drummer, it's the tale of someone who is emotionally abused by a cruel teacher and goes to horrific lengths to try and please him. I would describe this film as a psychological drama. The way Fletcher inflicts psychological abuse on his students is tremendous. As soon as he enters the room for the studio practice session, the students are all deadly silent; terrified of him. Again, without openly stating so, due to the dialogue, great acting by JK Simmons and the camera shots, we gather not long into the movie that most of the students are terrified of Fletcher. Yet everyone wants to be in his band, because his students are the best at the prestigious music school.

In the opening scene, Andrew is playing drums and Fletcher enters. Shortly after he is in the cinema with his dad, and states that Fletcher saw him drum but implies that it didn't go well. Andrew desperately wants Fletcher's approval like every other kid there because Fletcher has a reputation of producing the best musicians. The sad irony of this is that although Fletcher treats Andrew like crap, by the end of the film Andrew's drum solo is so phenomenal one can only wonder if he would have been able to play like that had Fletcher not instigated such horrific abuse onto him.

Mid-way during the film Fletcher plays his class a CD of a previous student of his who was one of the country's top trumpet players, named Sean Casey. Fletcher said Casey died in a car crash, however it's later revealed the student hanged himself. Doubtlessly Fletcher felt some guilt due to his strategies (which makes him a sociopath, not a psychopath, but I have an entire blog post on that which you can read here). Fletcher even tries to justify his horrific teaching strategies to Andrew later on by stating that he needed to push students to their limit in order to make them the best. A constant brought up story is the tale of Charlie Parker and Jo Jones; I don't know if that's true or not, but according to the movie Charlie Parker was playing at a stage and Jones hurled a cymbal at him. The audience laughed Parker off, but he came back a year later after practicing and became the legend Bird.

I can see Fletcher's point, which is what makes a good villain; you are able to sympathise with them. (See my list of Best Movie Villains here - I forgot to put Fletcher on that list dammit). He does truly want to produce an excellent student, and right from the beginning it is clear that he does see something special in Andrew and believes he can become great, which in his eyes is proven at the end of the movie. Fletcher even slaps Andrew repeatedly in his first rehearsal, and throws endless insults at him. He plays psychological mind games with him by making him show up three hours early to a rehearsal, constantly trying to 'replace' him with another drummer in order to motivate him to be better, and at the end of the movie deliberately plays a song that everyone but Andrew knows in order to show Andrew up as punishment for reporting him to a lawyer and getting Fletcher fired.

The effect Fletcher has on Andrew is almost like Stockholm Syndrome; rather than being furious and trying to pull away from his 'captor', Andrew spends the entire film seeking his approval, and even though he does flip out at him during a show and gets him fired, he still goes back to him and ends up back in his claws. Andrew literally nearly kills himself just to get into a show. The title 'Whiplash' is very clever as it describes a song in the movie; the way Fletcher treats Andrew by lashing him on a metaphorical whip, and what actually happens to him. Andrew is so desperate to get to a show and ends up in a car crash, bleeding, concussed, and with literal whiplash, yet still crawls out and insists upon going to do the show.

One of the things I picked up on when I first watched this movie was when Andrew has that accident, a man says to him, "Are you ok? Are you ok?" This could just be me hearing things, but I felt that second 'you' was deliberately emphasized. The man isn't just asking if he's ok because he's hurt, he's asking if he's ok because he's wondering why on earth this poor young man who has just been in a dangerous accident is still trying to get to where he's going and move about rather than sitting down and letting someone call an ambulance. By this point Fletcher has twisted Andrew's head so much through abuse and manipulation that Andrew will literally die trying to get his approval.

Every shot in this movie is important, and has been constructed to bring out the psychological elements of the story in every way possible. An example is when Andrew goes to the cafe he often goes to to buy food and a shot is shown of the girl who works there and back to himself. Andrew is an introverted kid; he isn't shown to have any friends throughout the film, he grew up only with his dad and doesn't seem to have much support from his family as a musician. He lives and breathes drumming - it must be stressed that he is an AMAZING drummer; in real life Miles Teller plays drums although I think in some shots other drummers played as well.

Awkward Andrew clearly fancies this girl Nicole, and the close-up on her face then cuts to his face and him walking away, clearly distressed because he wants to ask her out but is afraid to. In another scene later on in the movie, Andrew temporarily gives up on drumming due to all of the pain Fletcher has caused him, and as he walks down the street he sees a man busking playing small makeshift drums. It showcases his feeling of wistfulness without saying anything, which I think is brilliant.

Andrew does ask out Nicole later and they end up dating, but he ends up breaking up with her later in the movie because he is so fixated on winning Fletcher's approval and becoming the 'best' drummer in Fletcher's eyes, that he feels he can't have any 'distractions.' It's not healthy to just obsess over one thing (believe me, I know), and we all need to have a few things going on in our life. Having one person you talk to, or one passion that takes over you're entire life is not healthy; we need space to breathe and to clear our heads. This also makes our creativity flourish as opposed to get stifled. Its not healthy that Andrew doesn't have any friends and drops his girlfriend because he feels she's a liability. He needs to have something other than drumming, be it socializing, exercising or REST dammit, yet he makes drumming - and pleasing Fletcher - his entire life.

Overall, the ending can be looked at in two ways. On the one hand, Andrew is finally a super-duper drummer, he finally wins Fletcher's approval, he got noticed by big music moguls and probably becomes a big star in the world of Jazz. On the other darker hand, Andrew is always going to be a victim of Fletcher due to their codependent relationship, and feel like he needs Fletcher to 'like' him and 'big him up.' He also sacrificed everything almost including his physical health to get where he is. Remember, Andrew was already an amazing drummer, and probably would have been just as amazing if he also allowed his bleeding hands to heal and had some social time with friends or a girlfriend. I think his dad looking through the window at him symbolises that; his dad's expression is one of distress as opposed to pride, because he knows that Andrew will always be in Fletcher's grasp and always looking to someone else to approve of his drumming, rather than being happy and confident within.

Good video analysing Whiplash's ending:

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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