[Movie Review] Whiplash

Whiplash is a visual symphony performed with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons at the front line, and played to the beat of its director, Damien Chazelle.

The story follows Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) in his ambitious pursuit to become a great musician, but not just any great musician because in his own words, “I want to be one of the greats.” And while most films send you off to cloud nine, having restored your identity as a dreamer by inspiring and reminding you of the endless possibilities that are unlocked when you work hard to pursue your goals, Whiplash will have you taking deep breaths and grasping anything you could hold on to as you feel the drive, the frustration and the pain involved in chasing your dreams.

The film immediately goes down to business, much like Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the no-nonsense, don’t-waste-my-time conductor of the elite band at Shaffer Conservatory of Music. In the first scene, we see Andrew practicing the drums when Fletcher finds him. It is revealed that he is recruiting new members to join the studio band and participate in upcoming competitions. It was only the beginning, but it already had me wide-eyed and feeling nervous like a college student preparing for a thesis defense. If you are like me, expect that feeling to stretch throughout the 106 minutes of the film.

Whiplash raises many thought-provoking topics such as the conflicting ideas of success, and whether it is better to be loved widely or deeply. Another is greatness which the two lead characters are both after. Fletcher wanted to unveil it, Neyman wanted to embody it. Their relationship was rocky from the get-go, but it built up (not necessarily positively) together with their chemistry as the film progressed until its climactic end which turned out as an opportunity for both to get what they want.

Simmons and Teller were both superb in portraying their respective characters. Fletcher is brutally strict, intimidating and demanding of respect, but he has his moments of gentleness, and his harsh method of instruction is rationalized which leads to another point of discussion: do ends justify the means? Neyman on the other hand will have you second-guessing your personal values and decisions, but he will leave you inspired.

There have been a handful of films made in recent times that involve artists, particularly musicians. But what sets Whiplash apart is that it is not about an artist’s struggle with the industry, nor the community. It is more personal. It is about an artist’s struggle with himself, an artist struggling to be his best. Sure, there’s Fletcher, the antagonist teacher that sets no limit to what he will do in order that you get your part right. He will slap you for not knowing the difference between rushing and dragging, and will hurl a chair at you for not being on his tempo. In that situation, Andrew could have quit band, and pursue his dream to be a great drummer without being subjected to the cruel means of Terrence Fletcher. After all, he is a promising 19-year old freshman that made it into the competing band of one of the top music schools. But he didn’t. He chose to stay. He wanted to prove something to Fletcher, and to his peers. After all, no one can avoid obstacles, and hardships help build character. When you are shamed or screwed over, you can either get discouraged or you can pick up where you left off and work harder. In the end, the only one that can keep you from achieving your goals is you. Only you can decide to give up.

Another thing that Whiplash focuses on that other films chose not to is the conduct involved in musicianship. Music as an art is not just heart, passion and feelings. It is also precision, patience, and discipline. In this light, it gives a commentary on the music industry as expressed by Fletcher, “And people wonder why jazz is dying.”

The film had me biting my nails and I was tempted to cover my face with my bucket of popcorn at times, but my eyes were locked to the screen. And so I welcomed and shared Neyman’s agony and bitterness. Despite the potent dose of torment and traces of depression, Whiplash is highly entertaining as Chazelle sucks you into the musical world of his imagination. Chazelle was not afraid to bring the audience as close as possible to his characters with his close up (and even extreme close up) shots. The intensity required by the narrative was perfectly captured in his pictures. Moreover, the way the film was edited made it more thrilling than any action movie I have watched recently. I actually felt it hard to breathe sometimes, but not to worry because the film is more exhilarating than exhausting, and it does serve a few moments of comfort and even humor.

If you ask me how I liked it, I would throw my hands up in the air and have you imagine that all my fingers were thumbs. In other words, I love it. I dream of a cinema full of drummers watching the film together. I can imagine the intensity inside the theater going beyond maximum level. Whether you’re looking for an emotionally satisfying film or just something to entertain you and pass time, you definitely must see Whiplash.

Originally published on Juice.ph

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