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Whiplash Makes a Comeback

| Wednesday, January 28, 2015

whiplash-webSusan Zhu

In his quest for greatness, a promising young talent encounters a relentless teacher who pushes him to his utmost limit. Bloodied by contest, the competitor’s hunger is only sharpened by adversity. This sounds like the perfect formula for a sports movie, so what’s the difference if the sport is drumming? Transcending genre to earn nicknames such as Full Metal Jacket at Julliard, “Whiplash” achieves a level of intensity not expected from a movie about music.

“Whiplash” has returned to theaters and is now playing in South Bend and across the country, a full year after its January 2014 Sundance release. It was released in theaters in October to a mild reception, but has drawn greater attention after substantial critical acclaim.

The storyline centers on Andrew Neimann, a passionate young drummer (Miles Teller) enrolled at an elite music conservatory who is discovered by the director of the top collegiate jazz band in the nation. This teacher (J.K. Simmons), who will stop at nothing to see his students’ potential realized, elicits a ravenous desire from his student, not just to be great, but to be one of “the Greats.” Bloodied and shaking at practice, Andrew’s toughness and desire are obvious, but he never seems able to prove himself to his unrelenting teacher, who constantly crushes his talented students’ self-worth.

Despite his cruel methods, the overzealous teacher, Fletcher, wins his students’ trust through his success, wringing everything he can from each of his students, leaving them no time or energy for relationships or other frivolous things. His bullying resembles a drill sergeant at boot camp, breaking the students down with racist and homophobic slurs. To most of us, no passion or talent seems to justify the abandonment of all the people in our lives and subjection to such abuse, but how many of us have really grasped at true greatness? The sheer possibility of the being the best at anything is enough to drive a person insane, to make them obsessed, self-centered and arrogant, yet still feel inadequate.

The majority of its drumming scenes portrayed as endurance tests, “Whiplash” has been criticized for missing the art of music. Andrew is never seen discussing theory with his classmates or comparing musical styles. Instead hard physical drilling is emphasized, with the goal of speed and endurance. The style of music featured in the movie is frenetic and violent, but creativity and fun are entirely absent.  It has been criticized by musicians for portraying a distorted and unrealistic image of jazz, but director/writer Damien Chazelle claims to have drawn from his own experience as a student of music.

Unlikable as his character is, Miles Teller portrays a man that is genuinely disturbed. Despite his egotism, we can’t help but feel sorry for him in his suffering.  But perhaps the more notable and seemingly more vocal character is J.K. Simmons’s Fletcher. Ferocious and violent, driving the protagonist to greatness and madness, Fletcher is the primary agent in the film. In such a powerful supporting role, his multiple awards, which include a Golden Globe, come as no surprise.

Whether or not you’re a music fan, you’ll swing along with Andrew Neimann as he struggles to keep tempo in his fast ascent to greatness.

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