2014, R, 106 mins.
2014, R, 106 mins.
Miles Teller as Andrew Neyman / J.K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher / Paul Reiser as Jim / Melissa Benoist as Nicole / Austin Stowell as Ryan
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
WHIPLASH, at face value, is about jazz music, but deep at its core it’s more about fanatical obsession and a battle of egos and wills between two artists constantly vying for supremacy.
the student that’s willing to go to any extreme to achieve musical
excellence, but then there’s his mentor/instructor that’s equally
willing to painfully make a mockery of his protégé at every waking
Damien Chazelle, in his sophomore directorial effort, crafts WHIPLASH as
an electrifying and frequently shocking expose on unbridled artistic
ambition left fully unchecked and the toxically destructive
relationship between teacher and pupil.
The fact that it builds more nerve-jangling suspense than many
recent thrillers is to its credit.
seen so many countless iterations of the age-old teacher/pupil/education genre, which often wallows in overt sentimentality
and unavoidably becomes something shamelessly saccharine.
WHIPLASH has none of that going for it and instead emerges as a daring
and risk-taking cliché-busting original.
In this film the whole process by which the instructor imparts his
wisdom on his prized pupil becomes a verbally – and frequently
physically – abusive classroom battlefield.
Chazelle has no time to inject false moments of reconciliation
between his characters, nor does he take great pains to make viewers feel
“good” about the film’s central relationship.
No, unlike just about every other similar genre film out there,
WHIPLASH takes macabre relish in making the audience feel as squirm-inducingly
ill-at-ease as possible, which ultimately gives the film so many complex
layers of intrigue.
film is also populated by two of the most completely committed and
fearless performances of 2014 by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons playing the
aforementioned student/teacher respectively.
Teller plays Andrew Newman, a shy, introverted, but deeply
ambitious 19-year-old student at Shaffer Conservatory, one of the most
prestigious musical universities in the country.
He dreams one day of becoming the next great jazz drummer, but has
always had difficulty gaining the attention of his peers and the school
It’s clear that he has the drive and talent, but needs expert
instruction to get to the next level.
He practices day and night to sharpen and hone his skills, and even
though he gets ample support from his father (a nicely restrained Paul
Reiser), he grows more dejected and dissatisfied by the day.
fateful day his drumming catches the attention of Mr. Fletcher (Simmons),
the most respected instructor at Shaffer that is looked upon by students
with a level of awe, wonder, and intimidation that has made him an icon at
Initially, Fletcher casually dismisses Andrew, but this, alas, is
just part of his larger teaching “technique” that, shall we say,
shames students into greatness.
Fletcher does admit Andrew into his class, and even
though the teacher, at first, appears congenial and fatherly with Andrew,
it only takes a mere matter of minutes before he’s literally throwing
classroom chairs at his head and hurling out f-bomb riddled diatribes as
to his lack of talent in front of the rest of the students.
This is just the beginning of the type of excruciatingly hostile
mind games that Fletcher plays on poor Andrew (and some of the other
students as well), to the point where the once meager minded lad begins to
take his musical training from a place of deep passion and into one of sweat
and blood soaked fanaticism.
He reaches a point where he’ll do anything – anything – to
gain the acceptance of his monstrously demanding teacher.
could be said that WHIPLASH is perhaps a social commentary on the whole
notion on the psychological prices that people pay while desperately trying
to achieve success and greatness in a world beset by antagonistic and
There’s a sad element of tragedy here in the sense that
Andrew’s zealot-like emphasis on attaining musical supremacy
supersedes his actual love of jazz itself.
There’s a subplot in the film that hammers this notion home with
a troubling immediacy. Andrew has become smitten with a local college girl
that works at a movie theater that he frequents.
He has a couple of awkward dates with her, but their relationship
does manage to evolve.
Now, you’d think that this romance would be a central element in
the film as a place of soothing emotional support, but Chazelle subverts our
In a callous scene, Andrew – at the height of his training focus
– decides to end his relationship with her because, in his mind, she would be an
unnecessary distraction in his academic drives.
He simply has no time for other social interactions.
Teller, I’ve often said, is one of the most naturally talented young
actors working today when compelled to be (see his Oscar nomination worthy
turns in RABBIT HOLE and THE
SPECTACULAR NOW) and he arguably gives one of his most breathlessly
exhilarating performances of his career as Andrew.
There’s rarely a moment in the
film when you doubt that Teller is doing those vigorous and physically
arduous jazz drum solos (the actor has been a drummer since the age of 15), but more importantly he captures the essence of
lost innocence in Andrew given way to a young man employing
self-destructive and volatile means of becoming better in his craft.
He’s complimented by Simmons' volcanic turn as Fletcher, who
could have become such a one-note and simplistically rendered villain in
any other actor’s hand. Fortunately, Simmons is flawless in portraying a more
sinister side of pure evil: a man that thinks he’s righteous and good
and doing what’s required to achieve his ultimate end game.
I’ve seen drill sergeants in movies that were more emotionally
inviting than Simmons' Fletcher: he’s simply one of the most
frightening entities I’ve seen in any film in a long time.
Chazelle’s tight, stylish, and confident direction brings the best of
his actors without drawing too much needless attention to itself.
He knows how to get into the headspaces of his performers in smaller,
more intimate scenes, but when the film calls for sequences that emphasis
both the grace and chaotic physical tortures that Andrew goes through in
his drum solos, the rhythmic editing and cross-cutting of these moments
(by the virtuoso editor Tom Cross) gives WHIPLASH an intoxicating and
immersive sense of sonic envelopment.
No more is this clear in the film’s final sections, which sort of
adheres to and then methodically deconstructs the whole overused
convention of a final climatic battle between protagonist and antagonist.
The final 15 minutes of WHIPLASH are arguably the most gripping
final 15 minutes of any film that I’ve seen in recent memory.
By this point, Chazelle – much like Fletcher has with Andrew –
has viewers insatiably hooked.
There is a moment that comes before this humdinger of a climax when you think that Chazelle has potentially found a manner of reconciliation between his main characters, but then he abruptly pulls the dramatic rug from under out feet and leaves us guessing again as to what’s coming next. Again, it’s WHIPLASH’s audacious manner of absconding away from genre conceits that makes it so resourcefully innovative. Most genre films like it build to a final crescendo where student and teacher achieve a rousing moment of triumph together. WHIPLASH does this…and it doesn’t. I can see how many will perceive the film’s conclusion as a personal victory for Andrew…but is it? It’s more like he’s gone deep into the heart of darkness with no hope for his soul in sight. The once kind and reserved kid that adored music is gone and has been replaced by a haunted and compulsive being; it's so heartbreakingly unpleasant. And this is precisely what makes WHIPLASH so diabolically spellbinding at every turn.