Whiplash is about a student named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a talented and driven drummer at an elite music conservatory in New York City. He is moved up to the studio band and encounters Terence Fletcher, who self-describes as “pushing people beyond what is expected of them.”
“Why do you suppose I just hurled a chair at your head?”
I can’t tell you why it has taken me so long to see this movie, I knew it was going to be good, and I knew I was going to enjoy it. What am I doing?
Anyways, the mood of the movie was everything I expected it to be. It was extremely dark with complex internal character development. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you have most likely seen the “Were you rushing or were you dragging” scene, which perfectly sets up the Fletcher’s character. JK Simmons’ perfectly developed this twisted music teacher who will do whatever it takes to develop the next great Jazz musician.
None of that should be minimized because it was so well done, however I want to talk about the two elements I didn’t expect; Miles Teller’s performance, and the ending.
While I knew JK Simmons’ performance was Oscar worthy, I absolutely think Miles Teller should have at least been nominated. Had Miles Teller played this part differently, it could have easily been deer in the headlights the whole way through. He had a clear character development, however not entirely in the direction the viewer would expect. I naïvely expected him to grow from his experience with Fletcher but in reality, as I will discuss in context of the ending of the movie, this was not the case.
There were many practice scenes showing Andrew Neiman’s internal struggles to be great, and one of the symbols that is shown throughout these is blood. Blood is representative of the push that Fletcher puts into Neiman. It appears in small places on his hands, his hands start profusely bleeding as he practices harder. This builds up to the car crash scene where he couldn’t handle the bleeding any longer, and attacks Fletcher.
The movie was captivating the whole way through, however it completely built until the finale. If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, it’s worth re-watching the final scene, which I’ve attached below.
While it could be interpreted as him standing up to Fletcher, I took a darker interpretation that Fletcher actually won. While you see Fletcher accepting Neiman taking over the band, it is in fact Neiman that comes around to Fletcher. Fletcher always wanted to have “the next Charlie Parker,” and you see Fletcher once again have control over Neiman. Neiman slows down on the drums, (2:41 in the video above) very much mimicking the first scene of the movie when he is speeding up on the drums. But after this, you see Fletcher take control again as he leads Neiman to speed back up again, and guides him into the final note, making it look intentional. In the end, all Neiman wanted and all he got was Fletcher’s approval, and all Fletcher wanted was to create a star through his teaching methods, which he achieved.We also see Neiman bleeding again, a symbol of Fletcher’s motivation, however this time Neiman is in control of it. This shows once again that Fletcher’s teachings have actually worked, begging the question; is he the protagonist?
For one, he is the one who seems stuck in his ways, fired because of Neiman’s actions, and then finds a way to succeed in the end. It would be like if Sandra Bullock was a supporting character in The Blind Side, and she was evil. She, similarly, figures out a way to lead a naturally talented kid toward victory, and learns something about herself through the process. Neiman evolves much less, and if anything only learns how to be a cog in Fletcher’s train towards victory.
For such an overstated movie, I was impressed by the amount of subtext in the final scene. For the most part, the end of this scene is shot very much like the scene shot in the studio, where the viewer forgets there is anything besides Fletcher and Neiman. When we do see the audience, it is a wash of people beyond the lights, which is the anonymous fame and recognition that Neiman always wanted.
There was a build up to him seeing the love interest, Nicole (Melissa Benoist) again, however she is never included in the final scene. Neiman chooses the teachings of Fletcher by walking back out onto the stage and leaving his dad behind, therefore giving up his personal life and his potential girlfriend. His dad is the only other character included in this final scene, and he is shown observing his son almost in terror. We do not know what their future relationship will be like, however it is safe to assume that Neiman in that moment threw away everything else in his life for a shot at fame. For a 20 minute scene with very little dialogue, it was amazing to have such a nuanced and dark ending.
Whiplash was an incredible movie with fascinating subtext throughout. I’m realizing now I think this is the longest review I have written so far, and for good reason. There is so much that should be discussed, and more that I realized as I began writing. The relationship between Neiman and Fletcher has fascinating broader implications to personal relationships and the human condition as a whole.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%