Finally got around to watching this film - just brilliant. Highly recommended for anyone who's ever contemplated the definition of success.
Feature film, 2014
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
For a movie about music, Whiplash features a lot of blood.
Whiplash is the story of aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and renowned conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons).
Andrew’s a first year student at New York’s prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. He’s ruthless in pursuit of his goal of becoming a jazz legend - practicing even when his hands bleed. Terence sniffs out Andrew’s talent and invites him to become part of his studio band… but instead of being inducted into a bright future, Andrew enters into Terence’s high pressure, high stakes world where one mistake could cost his future.
During a family dinner scene Andrew references saxophonist Charlie Parker, saying he would rather “die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.” Whiplash devotes itself to exploring this theme - what price is too high for artistic immortality? And Andrew’s already paying steep dues - his mentor is a sadist.
Throughout the film it’s unclear whether Terence gets off on crushing his students’ dreams, or if he’s pushing Andrew to his limits because he sees something special in him. At times the bullying is harrowing and uncomfortable to watch - but Andrew’s no easy target. He’s just as bloody-minded as Terence, and the film is a long wrestle for power.
Andrew has deep reserves of self-belief which enable him to take extraordinary risks, such as during the climactic drum solo - a battle of wits that could have devastating consequences. Andrew drums for his life, fingers covered with blood and sweat. With each furious beat he risks dropping his increasingly slippery sticks. Revenge and triumph fuse in the last moments of the film, and it’s unclear whether both tutor and student’s dreams have come true - or if they’re taking each other straight to Hell.
How far should you go in pursuit of your dreams? Whiplash leaves you to make up your own mind.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.