I know I’m watching something good when, after an hour of nursing my insultingly overpriced soda, I decide that for the movie’s remaining time I will try to resist any and all temptations to stand up from my seat—be they from my bladder, my buzzing cell phone, or otherwise.
I know I’m watching something excellent when my napkin transformed into a deformed stress-clump inside my hand, and I don’t know (or care) how much time has passed.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash” falls into the second category. The film’s title is simultaneously indicative of the film’s themes and directly lifted from one of the two key pieces of music in the story.
The film follows the interactions between Andrew, a freshman jazz drummer in the country’s most prestigious music conservatory, and Fletcher, his terrifying professor (bald, loud, and dressed in all-black, of course) who says things like, “Can you clean the blood off my drum kit?”
As a viewer, it was thrilling to see a representation of the relationship between jazz, all of its pleasures and intricacies included, and suffering. After all, art and suffering often go hand in hand: The depths of Vincent Van Gogh’s depression and loneliness were catalogued in his paintings, and Johnny Cash’s personal tragedies and lifelong substance abuse heavily influenced his lyrics, to name just two examples.
J.K. Simmons, known mostly for his role as Peter Parker’s mustached boss in the early 2000’s Spider-Man movies and his turn as the State Farm Insurance guy, takes command of a demanding starring role. He plays the part of Fletcher with the necessary fury and restraint to make his character intimidating, but believable. He justifies his cruelty by saying that it’s necessary to find greatness, and Andrew (Miles Teller) drives himself to the brink of insanity to achieve it.
In the most general sense, the story is about music, but its intrigue comes from exploring the dichotomy between lacking and abusing control. Although the film is bookended by similar scenes—Andrew drumming while being observed by Fletcher—the shift in control between the two scenes and people culminates in one of the best endings of a film I’ve seen in the past year.
“Whiplash” surprised me, frustrated me, and impressed me.
It blended purposeful cinematography, excellent acting, a startlingly simple story line, its contagious music (I haven’t stopped listening to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”), and its theme of power into a neat 107 minutes, managing to leave everything in a satisfied disarray.
Contact Staff Writer Karen Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.