WHIPLASH: Through Hell We Find Greatness

November 1, 2014 at 5:42 PM / by

Have you ever felt so driven towards something that you nearly killed yourself in the pursuit of it and kept going anyway?


Damien Chazelle’s festival success Whiplash may be a film that becomes a game changer of sorts for not only modern independent film but modern conversation that comes from art. The film is so immensely immersive and satisfying to its audience and so focused on it’s core question that I think anybody can walk out of the theater saying, “I not only enjoyed that film but I understand the question it raised.” Film’s so bold seem rarities these days because, in a business sense, what’s safe seems standard and formulaic and, in an art sense, greatness is always out of reach and yesterday’s youtube hit. The film itself seems to reflect these ideologies but truly challenge them at the same time in the characters of Andrew and Terrence.

The two leading actors in the film, Miles Teller, who plays aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Nieman, and J. K. Simmons, who plays border-line sadistic jazz conductor Terrence Fletcher, really tease out the question “how much abuse is necessary to becoming great at what you do?” In the film, we see Terrence time and again reject Andrew and Andrew struggling with his resilience toward his goal. We see Andrew enter full tunnel-vision and start to prioritize his pursuit of greatness above everything else. In various ways, we see this pursuit harm Andrew in violent or even near catastrophic ways, but yet, he keeps clawing along. Both actors will undoubtedly be considered for Oscars.

To relate to modern society, many students these days are pushed to undesired-limits to become all-encompassing machines of productivity. You have to take all these classes, have all these skills, be in these clubs, have a social life and be financially stable. That equation right there seems a recipe for burnout and the development for some seriously disillusioned people. In essence, if you can’t do it all, we will find someone else who can and pay them a meager wage. Whiplash is a film that spits in the face of societal expectation and meritocracy and says “fuck you, I’m going to be the greatest jazz drummer in the world and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.” Andrew knows what he wants, knows who inspires him, has an idea of what he lacks, and knows he has to give a great deal of himself to his goal if he is going to achieve it.

Many people tend to fall into careers they regret everyday for the rest of their life. Some modern leaders find themselves unable to relate to, communicate with, and utilize their teams to reach new heights. These people don’t have a lot of what Andrew has: an understanding of what they want, an idea of what they lack, an idea of who inspires them and what interests them, a drive to reach their goal- whether that goal be business-based, artistic-based, or humanity-based. It is truly no wonder why we can respect people who try to sucker us to buy something we don’t want; who lobby for big tobacco; who preach at our local church; who fix our cars, but might not be the best at it. When we know that they are invested in what they do and that their function serves a purpose for them in life, it doesn’t matter if they are involved in business, art, or humanity efforts, we embrace and relate to their struggles and respect them as a whole person in their pursuit. Andrew may be malicious at some points in the film towards family, friends, and himself, but we embrace his pursuit nonetheless and are cheering for him every step along the way, even when he is being abused. It is this central dynamic that is the silver lining of great literature, film, and all art for that matter. Terrence, on the other hand, can be seen metaphysically as the other side of that central dynamic representing all that in society that stands in our way forcing us to submit to fear of failure. Why do we like him? It is because he challenges us? Because he hurts us? Because he knows who he is and what he wants?

The ending of the film will definitely have some skeptical declaring Andrew is just submitting to abuse- but I challenge you to ask yourself, if you confronted that which you feared most, would you be a stronger person for it?

This is probably a film everyone should see.