Music instructor, Terence Fletcher, thinks the most harmful phrase in the English language is “good job.” Not only does he refuse to encourage his students, he actively discourages them. “Whiplash” explores the consequences of Fletcher’s tough love approach.
The main setting for the film is an elite music school called the Shaffer Conservatory. Andrew, played by Miles Teller, is a first year student who desperately wants to succeed. His goal is to become a member of the school’s top jazz ensemble, directed by Fletcher. This happens early in the film but Andrew learns that he can never relax. Fletcher creates a competitive environment of fear and uncertainty in his classroom. There is no camaraderie among the students and the players can be ejected from the band at any time. Andrew practices so intensely that his hands start to bleed.
There is a scene between teacher and student in which Fletcher attempts to justify his behavior to Andrew. He relates a story in which jazz great Charlie Parker had a cymbal thrown at his head after a bad performance. Supposedly, this caused Parker to practice as never before and so the artist was born. Fletcher wants to create the next Charlie Parker. Or is he merely intoxicated with the power he wields over his student’s lives?
Fletcher is played by J.K. Simmons, who won an Academy Award in the best supporting actor category for this role. Simmons is an excellent character actor and his performance dominates the film. Miles Teller also performs well as the confused but driven young musician. Paul Reiser appears in a cameo role as Andrew’s father. Writer/director Damien Chazelle seems most comfortable with creating male roles. There is only a small supporting female role in this film, Andrew’s jilted girlfriend.
The archetype for this film is really the Western male buddy picture. Two strong protagonists meet, take the measure of each other in a fist fight, then bond and become allies. In “Whiplash”, the initial bloody confrontation is replaced by the images of Andrew’s bleeding hands.
The film features an outstanding musical score, written by jazz legends such as Duke Ellington. The soundtrack is really the star of this film.
Original release date 2014.
I paid for my admission to see this film in a theater.