January 7, 2015


Damien Chazelle, 2014
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a new student at the respected New York Shaffer Conservatory. When he catches the eye of intimidating instructor Terence Fletcher, he becomes eager to become a part of his core jazz ensemble.

Whiplash can easily be compared to Darren Aronofsky's 2010 dark ballet drama Black Swan. Both movies tell the story of a young protege eager to please an esteemed mentor figure. Extreme dedication to a particular craft to the point where it becomes an all consuming thing. Overcoming personal struggles, trying to meet the unrealistic standards set by the mentor figure striving for perfection among his tense pupils. And like Black Swan, Whiplash is an ominous piece. But it's more accessible, a story that you could revisit without much reluctance. The dynamic between Teller and Simmons is so engrossing. Although Andrew is a protagonist not without his flaws, selfish with his musical pursuits to the point that it damages the relationships in his life, you are rooting for him to succeed. And although Fletcher is a ruthless homophobic tyrant who uses manipulation and threats of removal to get his way, his character is so fascinating that you are dying to know what he's going to do next. His reputation, past achievements are certainly an academic justification. But is it worth being a human being that's so calculating, so controlling? What's the price of that level of success? Well, we certainly see some of that here. Simmons is certainly channeling some of that old energy from his Vern Schillinger character on HBO's prison-drama OZ. Some of Andrews ambition is also about exceeding the level of success of his father, who he feels has grown into sort of a complacency in his later years. His standards for Andrew are low, he feels if the situation has gotten too intense he should just walk away and move on with something else in his life. But that's exactly why Andrew is so adamant. He doesn't want to be average. He doesn't want to be a face in the crowd. He wants to be the guy on the stage under the bright lights, the guy on the covers of the classic records. The guy that people will be talking about, the way he talks about Buddy Rich or Max Roach. Andrew honestly feels he can get there, and of course the ambition alone isn't enough to satisfy Fletcher. Fletcher is basically looking for someone to sell their soul to the under-appreciated genre of Jazz. Someone willing to make sacrifices that past students have been unwilling to do. Chazelle really creates a picture that resembles Black Swan but it's something you will want to come back to, maybe multiple times. Whiplash is about pushing things to the limit and then going further. Not only overcoming the expectations but overcoming yourself. And damn, what an intense climax.

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