I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Whiplash

tn_whiplashWHIPLASH is one of those movies that you hear about playing at Sundance and what not and going over like gangbusters. But you have to take that praise with a grain of salt. You know those festival-goers, they can get excited about seeing something first, something brand new without a bunch of pre-release expectations, with a big audience, usually with the directors and actors there. Sometimes it’s a great movie and they get to call it first, other times nobody really cares as much when the movie comes to the civilian world. Sometimes it’s good but you feel a little let down from all the build up. Sometimes you don’t really know what anybody saw in it at all.

I had none of those problems with WHIPLASH. It would actually be hard to exaggerate how strong its effect was on me. You know how a hyperbolic critic would say they had to catch their breath after a movie? That was literally true for me. When the credits rolled I felt my skin tingling and then I realized I was breathing fast. Honest to God exhilaration from this movie.

The set up and the execution are very simple. Nerdy loner Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller, who I have liked since the remake of FOOTLOOSE) is a student drummer at an elite music conservatory in New York. He idolizes old timey jazz drummers like Buddy Rich and wants to get into the top band at the school, the one conducted by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, THE JACKAL). Fletcher is maybe some kind of genius teacher, but for sure a total fucking asshole. I’m not talking a strict teacher, a grouchy curmudgeon, a Joe Clark type guy that’s gonna turn out to have a heart of gold. I’m talking just… you want to punch this fucking guy in the face in the opening scene and I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna love him by the end. One of the most abusive, hateful non-murderers ever put on screen, and not in an endearing Billy Bob Thornton type of way. He doesn’t even give you the usual cinematic satisfaction of going too far and becoming a psycho in the criminal sense. It doesn’t turn into THE STEPFATHER or something. He’s just… a Total Fucking Asshole (TFA).

mp_whiplashBut Andrew is a kid and he wants to be great, he’s willing to work his ass off, he wants to prove himself, he doesn’t want to give up. So he’s gonna have to deal with this TFA. Get into the class. Survive the first class without running away in tears. Practice all day and night. Survive another class. Survive a competition. Compete with other drummers for the lead spot. Don’t fuck it up. Don’t get kicked out even without fucking it up because Fletcher likes to tell people they’re doing it wrong to find out if they know they’re not.

This motherfucker has a whole arsenal of abuse techniques. The main one is R. Lee Ermey style yelling in people’s faces, calling them cocksuckers and faggots, digging into their personal lives, telling them they’re retarded, talentless and bound to fail. Another is physical intimidation. He’s pretty short and old but he works out and wears tight black shirts so he can flex and then randomly charge at people. At one point he throws a chair at Andrew’s head. This is actually pretty much at the beginning, it’s not after reaching his boiling point.

The worst is the fake nice guy trick. After emotionally pummeling and humiliating Andrew before he’s even in the class, suddenly he acts like he’s actually his buddy. Takes him aside, seems friendly, asking him about his family, telling him good jazz to listen to, calling him “man,” telling him to relax and have fun today. To just “do your best.”

And he continues the act through the first four or five times he starts and stops the song and tells him he has the wrong tempo. And then he starts the insulting and the yelling and the throwing. And he uses what he just found out about his family life as cruel emotional ammunition.

I believe this character will start showing up on top ten villain lists, and it will be justified. No exaggeration: I have not seen a horror movie as intense as this. It’s musical torture porn. It’s an ever-tightening ball of tension and anxiety and discomfort and trauma, with very little relief until the credits roll. They were originally gonna call it THIS AIN’T MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS but then they got sued by the people making a porn parody with the same title.

I really enjoyed the music. There are a couple songs that the band performs over and over that work great in the context of the movie, and are beautifully performed. And it’s got what I have to assume is the longest drum solo in cinematic history. You might find yourself tapping your feet if you’re not too distracted by the painful pit in your stomach worrying that he might slip up. It’s hard to imagine the pressure of being the new kid and having this whole elite band counting on you to keep the beat, even without this fucking maniac terrorizing you. Andrew is obviously incredibly talented but, you know. He’s tired, he’s scared, his hands are covered in sweat and even blood, the sticks could slip. And we wouldn’t even have to notice it. Fucking Fletcher would notice it. It’s like he has to lose himself in the music but also walk a tightrope with alligators below him and people throwing rocks and shooting arrows.

Fletcher makes Viggo Mortensen’s Master Chief character from GI JANE seem like a cool, laid back dude, but his appeal as a villain is pretty similar. He’s a terrible person and you also understand his point of view and why he thinks he’s doing the right thing. He makes an impassioned argument for his philosophy. He believes that musicians need to be pushed beyond their limit in order to achieve greatness. And he thinks that if he’s just nice and accepts their mistakes then they’ll never become great. His example is always about a guy throwing a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head. Apparently he really threw it at his feet (as pointed out in this rare negative review that I think bumblingly mistakes the villain’s point-of-view for the moral of the story). Fletcher could also talk about Jackie Chan’s rough time in the Chinese Opera, Michael Jackson being beaten and terrorized from childhood, Beatrix Kiddo’s cruel tutelage. But I would point to greats who never went through that kind of abuse. I never heard about Ip Man throwing shit at Bruce Lee’s head. I know Prince’s childhood wasn’t strawberries and cream, but I believe his dad encouraged him as a musician. What about Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Thelonious Monk? Didn’t some of these people just start young and teach themselves and work harder than hell and happen to be brilliant? I don’t think you could even say that a majority of The Greats were broken down by sadistic assholes.

mp_whiplash2But Fletcher really believes this and at times he’s persuasive enough that you might teeter a little bit. Maybe he’s not a totally evil person?

And you see these little bits of dimension to him. The time he comes into class obviously down and, instead of the usual abuse, plays a recording to the class and shares a tearful reminiscence. The time Andrew sees him in a hallway talking to a friend, being nice to the guy’s little daughter, giving her a high five. I assumed he was talking to a former student, but on the Q&A podcast J.K. Simmons says it’s a stage hand at the venue that he’s gotten to know. That actually makes a big difference. Still, having a friend at all makes it seem like there’s a side to him that’s almost like a human man.

But… I mean… You do what you want, but I cannot forgive this guy.

He’s such an accurate TFA. He brought back memories of terrible teachers and coaches from my childhood. None of them were Fletcher-level, but I encountered a few peaches. I remember a sixth grade teacher, I won’t say his name, even though he died of a heart attack decades ago and everybody was happy to hear it. I just tried searching for evidence that he existed and luckily the internet got invented too late to care about him. But if I wrote his name down it might get read out loud in front of a mirror or something and I don’t want to take that chance.

This guy did a vocabulary test every week. This is when I was a kid and I still remember what day of the week it was. I would wake up every Thursday with a pit in my stomach. It was just a test, who cares, but if you did badly it wasn’t just a grade. It was this big bearded asshole at his desk berating you to the whole class. He liked to just sit there and listen to himself riff about how stupid everybody was, like a prototype Rush Limbaugh.

I was in third grade, but they did this thing where they tested everybody on reading and writing and put them into an English class based on their supposed level. Joke’s on you Ain’t It Cool readers that called me illiterate: I used to be a smartypants when it came to words. Me and two other third grade kids ended up taking this class with the older kids. You would think maybe he’d try not to scare off the younger kids, but it seemed like he rode us harder than anybody. Always singling us out for humiliation.

From his point of view it worked. He tormented us into getting together and studying all week until we started doing good on these tests. Then all the sudden he would talk nice about us to the class. Like Andrew we would crave that acceptance from the scary monster. But I also remember feeling bad, like a collaborator, when he would belittle the other kids and say they should be more like us. You guys are sixth graders. You can’t do as good as a third grader? What is your problem?

He deliberately pitted us against each other. One trick he must’ve been real proud of was when he announced we were going to have a pizza party at the end of the week. So on Friday he bought some pizzas and passed them around to everyone who was getting an A or B in the class. Everybody else had to sit silently and watch.

I made it through that class and of course three years later became an actual sixth grader and had to deal with the prick again. I got into the other class, but the teachers would switch every day for math, so he was inescapable. Here are the two Hall of Fame memories from that year:

1. He made a friendly bet with our class. We would have a movie day. Whichever class did better overall on the math test had to buy the other class popcorn. Our class ended up winning. He brought a little bag of dirty popcorn crumbs, which he proudly explained he’d swept up off the floor of a local theater. He thought it was hilarious. He did not bring edible popcorn, he just left it at that.

2. He got angry at a kid for nervously blowing on the open end of a Bic pen during a test. He decided that throughout the class whenever he yelled “Music!” the kid had to run to the front of the class and whistle with his pen. Eventually he got bored of this and just made the kid jog in place. I still remember the sounds of the housekey and ID tag on his necklace jingling.

Looking back on it as an adult I wish I could ask the other sixth grade teacher how he felt about that popcorn business. He had to have known the guy was a dickhead, but couldn’t have expected he would do something like that, or he would’ve avoided the whole “friendly bet” in the first place. He must’ve been as clueless about what to do about this guy as any of us.

In fact, I imagine myself now, or almost any adult, standing in his classroom hearing the way this adult man talked to a bunch of kids, some of them as young as 8 or 9 years old. Nobody would just stand there and let it happen. You’d want to break a desk over his head.

I guess that kind of person is more common in sports. Another memory WHIPLASH brought up was about a guy that coached basketball and soccer when I was little. He was with another team but everyone knew his name because they’d seem him yell at kids and parents and referees. One time he felt a ref was calling bad fouls so he made a big show of having his team practice fake injuries.

I bring him up because I remember seeing a kid on his basketball team get in a big argument with his dad. He was crying and went into the arms of the TFA coach, like, “You don’t understand me! I don’t need you! I have him!” Who knows what that kid was going through with his family, but at that age it was unbelievable to see that. We couldn’t believe he had the attachment to the guy that yells at him. At the time I understood it as what I now know is called Stockholm Syndrome. Or like a cult leader. He treats them like shit and then gives them a little glimpse of kindness and they’ll scratch each other’s eyes out trying to get that again. That’s Fletcher’s method.

It sure works on Andrew. It turns him into a dick, too. At home he ruins a standing-up-for-himself moment by talking like Fletcher, being way too mean, personal and elitist about it. Making you root for the jocks who ignore his accomplishments as an artist.

The students don’t help each other either. As a band they have to play in unison, but within each instrument they’re in brutal competition. The drummers trade chairs on Fletcher’s whims, and they want that approval bad. It’s painful to see Andrew taking over as the other guy is humiliated, and looking happy about it.

You’ll mostly hear about J.K. Simmons from this, because it’s a no-brainer Oscar nomination and possible win. It’s a truly unforgettable performance from a guy that has always been good but never showed that he had this in him. I mean, Kevin Spacey probly watches this and says “I don’t know if I could be that much of a prick.” But it’s not just a good-acting movie, it’s pretty much perfect from top to bottom. It brings up interesting questions about art and humanity, and not just the main one here about how to achieve so-called greatness. Like, how does something beautiful come out of a person who is horrible? Does it mean that they’re actually not horrible? Does it make it not beautiful? More beautiful? I don’t know. And there’s at least one moral quandary that comes up in the movie that I don’t know the answer to.

The writer/director is named Damien Chazelle. Not surprisingly he played drums in high school and had an intense teacher. He directed another music-related movie called GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH and he also wrote that movie GRAND PIANO. Alot of people say WHIPLASH feels like a thriller even though it’s about playing music, and GRAND PIANO actually is a thriller about playing music. He’s also one of the writers of THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, so maybe I do need to see that one.

Don’t fuck around and miss this one, you guys.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 17th, 2014 at 1:04 pm and is filed under Drama, Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Whiplash”

  1. I love WHIPLASH and GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH. You do not need to see THE LAST EXORCISM PART II.

  2. I had some shitty teachers, but none of them THAT shitty. One of them let one kid clear out her backpack in front of him, when she claimed one day that she forgot her homework at home. Then he yelled at hear, because she brought her walkman to school, but not her homework.

    Another one had a devlish joy in busting students from classes, that he didn’t even teach! He was seriously reading through the class registers, seeing if they missed any days and forgot to hand in their sick notes when they returned! When he noticed one day that a girl was apparently doodling some random stuff in her notebook, instead of listening to what he said, he just ripped it our of her hands and threw it into the garbage. He also was known for using our tests and homeworks as examples of our handwriting, when he tried to figure out which one of us wrote grafitties on the tables or bathroom stalls. (Quote by him: “I know what they all mean. Like that huge stylized eagle, that is the logo of that hip hop band Wu Tang Clan.”)

    During one weeklong fieldtrip, one of my classmates brought a Porn CD rom and a laptop with him, which he proudly showed everybody who wanted to see it. He got caught by a teacher on the first day, but he just told him to turn it off. Then a few nights later the same teacher (who was also known for always having suspiciously red eyes) knocked on their hotel room door and asked him to show him the videos again.

    Another teacher was just pretty irresponsible. He let us wait often up to 30 minutes until he showed up (Don’t know about other countries, but here in Germany, a lesson only runs for 45 minutes) and then instead of teaching us, just turned on the TV and showed us a movie. (“Learning to watch ASTERIX with Mr K.” was a huge running gag in our school.) He also jokingly claimed to give us our grades by rolling a dice (German grades are from 1 (very good) to 6 (fail), but over the years we all started to doubt that he was joking. His grades were just too random.

    And finally the most famous case of my time in school: A teacher who was mostly unpopular because of his appereance. I don’t remember him being bad (although I only had him for a year and a half and that was 21 or 22 years ago), but he was pretty boring, sweated a lot (sometimes on our notebooks) and some accused him of having a boner once in a while during class. Then one day, to make some students stop making noise, he jokingly threw an apple in their direction. He didn’t hit them and he didn’t plan to. It was just to get their attention. But the students complained and even took the case to the local newspaper! We never heard of him again.

  3. This is so far my far-and-away favorite movie of the year. Not only an incredibly intense thriller, but a serious look into what it means to be “great” and whether or not it’s worth the cost.

    One intriguing thing about the movie: you’re honestly never really sure who Fletcher is. Occasionally we get a glimpse of him seeming like a nice guy, explaining himself. But then we also sometimes find out that these instances are calculated, a front to get something he wants. He pretends to be all buddy-buddy with Nyman just so we can extract personal info to use against him later. Does that mean we should think the same about his tears over his former student (especially since he lies about how he died) and the high-five for the little girl? Is he just an emotionally manipulative psychopath? Or does he really just genuinely believe that this really is the only way to get true greatness?

    And even if that is the point, what does greatness even mean to him? Does the music itself — ie, the artistry, the true feeling — really mean anything to Fletcher (or even Andrew)? Or is it just the music variation of a sporting competition, to see who can become the fastest and most technical? Can you really genuinely love and feel the music in your heart after you’ve played it 100,000 times, even if it meant something originally? Maybe they’re just content in giving the perfect experience to the audience, but then again, they both seem to pretty much hate people. So what do these guys even want?

    One thing I disagree with Vern about: ” One of the most abusive, hateful non-murderers ever put on screen, and not in an endearing Billy Bob Thornton type of way.”

    Actually I think part of the genius of the movie is that Fletcher IS sort of endearing in a Billy Bob Thornton kind of way. I mean, he’s this huge, charismatic larger than life figure, he sometimes IS kind of caustically funny and clever. I mean, he’s really only a tiny bit meaner to people than House or Hunter S. Thompson or somebody in the great tradition of True American Assholes. No matter how much you hate him, you also want to like him, you want him on your side, and it sometimes lures you into trusting him and hoping Andrew will please him even though you ought to know better.

  4. Just saw the trailer for this. It looks really really good. I enjoyed GRAND PIANO a lot no thanks in part to your awesome review of it. So I’ll keep this one on the radar. I might watch it the same day I also go see NIGHTCRAWLER to double up on the Marvel Comics character references through their titles.

  5. J.K. Simmons also played an incredibly mean-spirited asshole in Oz. He can be a really scary dude.

  6. Simmons is one of these actors, who never give a bad performance, doesn’t matter if he tries to be funny or scary. I’m glad that he is finally having some serious Oscar buzz. (Actually I was hoping for him to get a supporting actor nomination for his hysterical performance in SPIDER-MAN 2. I knew it was absolutely impossible, but I always kept thinking to myself “Kevin Kline actually won for A FISH CALLED WANDA, so why not not nominate him?”)

  7. Simmons is even great in those Farmer’s Insurance TV commercials that always air out here in the US. Yes he actually makes insurance commercials bearable he is that damn good.

  8. Crushinator Jones

    November 17th, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Holy cow, this wasn’t on my radar at all. Will check it out.

    Also Vern, I have to believe that if parents knew about your piece of shit TFA teacher they would have flipped out. If my son told me about the popcorn thing I would have been in that guy’s classroom threatening him with a fucking beating.

  9. I don’t know if I could see this one. Just the preview filled me with anxiety. I don’t want movies to fill me with anxiety unless it’s the tension of a good action or horror movie that’s going to have some payoff of comeuppance and ass kicking. So, if you tell me that Dolph Lundgren shows up at the end to stuff a drum down his throat, then I’m in, otherwise, I think I’ll skip this one.

  10. Maggie — oh great, go ahead and spoil the ending why don’t you.

    Nah seriously, if you care about movies at all you should see this one. It’s incredibly tense but I would argue it does have a satisfying end of a sort, if maybe not quite in the way that Dolph would have ended it.

  11. Whiplash is a great movie but Last Exorcism II is a piece of shit. Probably not this guy’s fault.

  12. One of my abusive high school teachers took a leave of absence so that she could serve on a jury in a murder case, which returned a death penalty. When she got back I asked her in class, “Mrs. Kennerty, why did you kill that man.” No response. That felt good.

  13. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

    I loved the fact that TFA’s most seemingly compassionate and sensitive moment, his reminiscence of a recently deceased former student, is subsequently complicated when we discover that the student had died at his own hands rather than in the car accident that TFA had said he did. It’s not a big revelation or anything within the film, but for me I loved how it both undermined TFA’s sincerity while also in a strange way humanising him even more because he must be feeling some degree of guilt about the suicide to cover it up in class like that.

    Anyway, great movie. Although I still think that THE ONE I LOVE is my favourite of the year.

  14. Paul Whose Computer Is No Longer Fried

    November 17th, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Wow, that was a great, and very personal, review. I’m happy to say I never had a teacher that was half as bad as the guy you describe, Vern.

    I didn’t think I even needed to check this one, but I did anyway; and no, it’s not coming to a cinema within two hundred miles of me, at least not in the next few months or so. But no worries! For I will instead be able to watch the poignant understated genius of NATIVITY 3: DUDE WHERE’S MY DONKEY.

    Sometimes I wonder if the people whose job it is to choose what films are shown in multiplexes have souls.

  15. The link to the “rare negative review” goes back to your G.I. JANE review, Vern. I will now proceed to not throw a chair at your head for this mistake, nor do like my high school drama teacher did–a master of abuse who was diagnosed many years later with pretty severe bipolar disorder–and berate me in front of the entire cast for ten solid minutes for some extraneous arm movements I did during one rehearsal. The five additional minutes I waited around after he had moved on to other rehearsal notes before slipping out “to use the bathroom” (read: cry very loud, very hurt tears in the bathroom) was probably the best acting job I did in all of high school.

    Quite conflicted about whether or not to see this one, for pretty much the same close-to-home reaction you had. I’ll see Simmons in just about anything, and it may actually make for some well-needed catharsis on my end. But it strikes me that I’d need someone to talk about this movie with later, and my lady has already said she’s very wary of seeing it herself, for similar reasons. Man, the TFA teacher is a more widespread phenomenon in real life than the movies ever acknowledge. Yeah, you get your share of hardassed caricatures (I just watched THE BREAKFAST CLUB again last night; Principal “Dwayne!” is the only dud of a character out of the bunch), but when it comes to more realistic portrayals, it feels like there’s only one Terence Fletcher for every three Mr. Chips, Glenn Hollands, or John Keatings on the big screen. Let alone serious examinations of the damages those Terence Fletchers cause to their students. Damages that can linger.

  16. Fucking Americans lol. This is why you get so anzty about the little things. When I was in grade 2 my teacher said I was teasing a girl in class. Wasn’t me, it was my friend but she misheard who said it. So he took me to the principal who used a boot sole that the fucker had taken the time to drill a series of holes in to beat my hands and ass till I couldn’t sit or hold or pen (or anything to be honest, not sure it wasn’t fractured in retrospect). Wasn’t the last time – completely legal here in the 80s.

    As to movie, Serena and Venus come to mind – and the dude in Russia with two girls who he decided would be the world chess champs one way or the other. Not to mention every military organisation in the world. Brutality works, and conversely there is evidence that overindulgence in confidence boosting also works – must be where those love hate knuckles come from. The real message is people respond to extremism and not much else as evidence by… everything successful ever in human history and achievements.

  17. This comment only for those who have already seen the movie. (Which is highly worth seeing.)

    Loved the first three quarters or so but don’t think the script stuck the landing. The directing, acting, and music carry you through – not to mention how strongly the first three quarters get their hooks into you – but, man, from the moment Andrew reads that board outside the club, the characters make decisions that seem motivated more by contriving a razzle-dazzle finish rather than by what Andrew or Fletcher or even the other musicians would (or sometimes could) believably do. It was like the first 3/4 were Rocky and the last quarter shifted gears to Rocky III mode: You get a resolution that satisfies but feels grafted on to crowd please. It works fine, I just wish Whiplash found a way to satisfy in a way that felt truer to the greater stuff it built pre-reunion.

  18. Li — I thought it was in keeping with the rest of the movie, which strikes a tone of exaggerated realism from the start. There’s lots of things here that require a light suspension of disbelief, and I don’t think the end is any different. The point is that it remains true to the characters — it’s not something I think would really happen in real life, but for these exaggerated characters the conflict feels so earned that the specifics of the situation barely matter to me.

  19. What are the decisions you don’t believe? ‘Cause I feel like he would HAVE to go into that club to find out if Fletcher could really play.

  20. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS… Just speculating… I think Li may find Fletcher’s decisions –not Andrew’s– a little too hard to believe, as you can imagine they’ll have a negative impact on his career. I mean, what does he expect to happen here? Hooray, he ruined Andrew’s prospects as a drummer… but now he doesn’t have a drummer and he just fucked up his own performance too. None of these musicians are going to play with him again after he made them all look foolish in front of a thousand people, in fact his career as a conductor is almost certainly going to be over. Not something that a real person would probably do, but I think it works in the context of the movie. Real life doesn’t have climaxes and satisfying final confrontations very often, but hey, that’s why we watch movies, right? It’s emotionally believable for the the characters, and that’s the important thing here.

  21. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS.

    Mr. Subtlety breaks down Fletcher’s final gambit well – when you think of where Fletcher is and what’s at stake for him, it’s a nutty choice, but Fletcher is so willing to go to extremes to cultivate genius that it’s comprehensible. But it’s coming well into a string of dubious decisions. Andrew is going to stop in on the show to see the guy who ruined his career, and who he chose in turn to destroy anonymously? Eh, mayyyybe. He stays in the back so he won’t be seen. But somehow Fletcher spots him (from the stage?) and Andrew chooses to engage with the maniac who was emotionally and physically vicious back in their relatively good days. And we in the audience are supposed to buy that Fletcher doesn’t suspect Andrew, or that Fletcher has surreptitiously forgiven Andrew, and that Andrew pretty much takes everything that the proven crazypants says as truthful.

    So then we get to Carnegie Hall. Andrew doesn’t have sheet music, but decides to rely on memory, which I guess is supposed to seem like the best decision at the moment even if it leads to the mess one would predict. Then Fletcher has a private onstage conversation with Andrew, after which Andrew leaves the stage … until he goes back for redemption, and the emperor who revels in his power allows it. Which opens the door to Andrew’s triumph, one that apparently wins over all the other musicians, because while they’ll hiss at Andrew when he doesn’t have his music, they’re obeisant when the floundering guy who replaced a fired comrade less than a week ago turns the show into his personal platform for a looooong drum solo. Because drum solos are always appreciated.

    I mean, it works. You roll with it. (And, caveat: these specifics are a month fuzzy in my head.) But the movie was compelling and credible earlier on. Fletcher and Andrew are extraordinary, and it never occurs to doubt what they do. Once Andrew saw that club signboard, things change from an unraised understanding that “these characters naturally act this way” to a string of “well, I don’t know about that, but I guess it could be explained by x.” And because any prior leaps of faith are invisible, the string of them feel mechanical, designed to send the audience out on a feel-good high. I was more high before the strings started showing. Still, 75% greatness and 25% skilled agreeableness is a hell of a watch.

  22. I love that stretch where they’re talking at the restaurant because you really don’t know what’s going on. It is possible that he really did learn from the experience and change. You don’t really know. And there are so many reasons why Andrew shouldn’t play with him, but also it seems like he had given up on being a musician and now has a chance to do it. And if Fletcher had really changed as a person, shouldn’t that be encouraged? And that kind of “this is too good to be true” tension. It’s great.

  23. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    But once you know about Fletcher’s headspace during the scene, do you believe that he spontaneously came up with and executed this deception? He could have, and the actors finesse it well, but it’s another one of those things that feel more like the author stepped in to call the shots. Something tipped into a different shade of movieness.

    I oughta stop, though, because this really is a picture to be grateful for and I don’t want to overfocus on what let me down a little.

  24. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    Li — I’m with Vern, I 100% understand why Andrew would do what he does. Although it’s a bit of a coincidence that he just randomly happens upon Fletcher playing in a club, I mean, how could he not go in after that? And given Fletcher’s philosophy, it would be totally believable to Andrew that since they’re no longer student and teacher, he’s gonna be a lot nicer.

    I even buy that Fletcher, seeing Andrew, would immediately start plotting his revenge and cover it up by pretending to let bygones be bygones. It’s not something a normal person would do, but hey, Fletcher’s not a normal guy. The one thing that stretches credulity is that Fletcher would intentionally ruin his own career to embarrass this one kid who wasn’t even planning to drum professionally anyway. But then again, he’s definitely crazy, and we never quite find out just how crazy he is. So even though his plan is kinda self-defeating, maybe to him it’s still worth it just to get the final word. I dunno, these are strange actions and you wouldn’t expect normal people to behave this way. But these aren’t normal people, they’re both these crazy extreme personalities, so you gotta expect they’re gonna take things a lot further than you or I would.

  25. I just got back from a screening of Whiplash (the theater was really packed, even though the movie has been out for a while). The film really does deserve the accolades it’s received and the awards it will likely win. But just to give my two cents on the plausibility of the ending, I didn’t necessarily think that Fletcher was expecting Andrew to leave. I thought that he was embarrassing him for the first number, but he expected him to stick around and complete the set. At least, that was my reading at the time. I thought Andrew was definitely going to leave with his dad, which would have been his version of a victory of his teacher. The big question I have after seeing the film is, since Andrew returned to finish out the concert, does this mean that he’s bought into Fletcher’s worldview? Would it have been more of a victory, if less satisfying cinematically, if Andrew had just left after the first song?

  26. Hey Vern – not sure if you will see this but I had a question: in your review you mentioned that there was a moral quandary raised in the movie that you weren’t sure of the answer to. Was that a particular scene or a more tangential question the movie raised? (Sorry if this was answered elsewhere).

    Anyway, I thought this one was stunning. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t know if anybody here ever saw or remembers THE SQUID AND THE WHALE but the relationship between Teller and Simmons really reminded me of the father / son relationship in that one. There’s this one particular bit in that one where Eisenburg is excited because he’s reading Dickens in school and his dad (Jeff Daniels, playing some bigshot literature professor or something) dismisses it as “minor Dickens”. And Eisenburg’s excitement is instantly quashed and he just starts repeating that phrase at school like it’s his own opinion. Anyway, it reminded me of the way Teller starts repeating the Charlie Parker story at home in this one – like, these old fucks are so forceful in their philosophies that they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re just trampling over creativity and not letting these kids, like Jodorowsky says, create a soul.

    Simmons is jaw-dropping. For me the standout scene is where he’s talking about the former student who died, and later you find out that the kid committed suicide, and you look back and realize Simmons was actually proud of what he did… When he’s telling the story for the first time and keeps boasting about how he basically singlehandedly molded the kid from nothing, you think maybe he’s just trying to inspire the students and pay homage to a former student who became great – and then you realize later that, no, he’s just boasting, he doesn’t give a shit that the dude died and within minutes is already back to the same regiment of abuse that killed the guy he was just crying over. It’s staggering how much layering and subtlety and nuance there is in this performance.

  27. Tugboat – I just mean how it forces you to consider whether he’s actually doing the world a service by pounding the mediocrity out of a chosen few or whether he’s just an abusive dick who believes he’s doing that. And whether it’s forgivable to treat people like that if it does end up leading to greatness. I don’t think the movie agrees with his philosophy and I don’t either, but it leaves it up to you. Another way to put it: I don’t think anything can justify the way Joe Jackson treated his kids. But if he didn’t would we still have the Smooth Criminal video?

  28. Thanks Vern! Yeah, that makes sense. I thought the movie did a great job of dangling pretty convincing arguments that he was right and then immediately turning around and making him more horrifying and deplorable. It seemed like the ending, where Teller’s ready to give up and then his dad comes backstage and hugs him and it relights that fire in his belly, was pretty unambiguously refuting Simmons’ philosophy – but maybe my reading is a bit too on-the-nose there.

    One thing I was thinking about during the uncomfortable dinner scene was that if this movie was about a basketball or football coach,

  29. Sorry, I hit submit too soon – I just meant to say, if it were about a basketball or football coach, it would probably be fairly worshipful of the guy, or at least, would probably be received that way. People are kind of reverent toward athletic coaches who hurl abuse and throw shit at their players and whatever. I don’t really know what to make of that though.

  30. I love how this tiny little movie won 3 Oscars, beating out some huge contenders in editing and sound. (The guys who did Interstellar are probably wondering how the hell a microbudget indie made in 10 weeks beat them). I also like that this is a bonafide crowdpleaser -IMDB is a terrible barometer of taste, but I love the fact that this currently sits as the #38 film of all time, as I could just as easily have guessed most people would find it boring or unrelatable.

    *LONG SPOILER FILLED RANT ABOUT THE ENDING(s)* I think I’ve ranted here about how tired I am of so many indie movies ending on an ambiguous cliffhanger. Usually someone asks someone a question or someone looks at a pregnancy test or some shit and then it abruptly cuts to black. The first few times may have been cool but it’s old hat now and usually reeks of the writers simply not wanting to write a proper ending. I was 99% sure this movie would end when Fletcher invites Andrew to play with him again, and then credits roll before we see what he decides. But not only does it not end there, there’s like 20 more minutes to go!

    Ending #2 – you’re still not sure what Andrew’s going to do – and then he calls his ex. I literally groaned since again, I was so positive it would be the typical “guy realizes love/family is more important than work/ambition” ending. The old “sure, let me ditch work and get fired to make your school recital on time” ending. This movie basically says to hell with that – not only does he not give up the drums to be with her, she blows him off!

    Ending #3 – The horror-movie twist where you realize Fletcher has set him up – I would have actually still loved this movie if it ended right there. Sure it makes no sense he would embarrass himself in front of an audience like that, and makes even less sense considering Andrew already tackled him onstage last time – why would he not do it again? But it’s still an incredible ending, adding another layer onto Fletcher – was everything he told Andrew in the club bullshit? Did he really only hire that other drummer to keep him motivated or was that just blowing smoke up his ass?

    Ending #4 – Andrew’s comeback – I love how it’s either a Rocky-style triumph or a man-losing-his soul tragedy, and it leaves it up to you to decide which it is. (I’d argue the severely under-appreciated After Earth had a similar ending but nobody seemed to like it then). Andrew loses his damn mind and there’s something oddly touching about the fact that only Fletcher can coax him out of it, bringing him back down to earth. Is there a newfound respect there? Or is Fletcher going to tear his head off after the show? This is the right kind of ambiguous ending, and I’d argue this may actually eclipse Aliens as the best multiple ending out there. (mainly because Aliens would still be a classic without that final battle with the Queen – but the endings of Whiplash build on top of each other and the final one MAKES the movie).

  31. J.K. Simmons is now Commissioner James W. Gordon!

    Thank You Zack Snyder.

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