I will firstly state the obvious fact: Whiplash is not an accurate representation of the Jazz genre, in more technical areas of it at least. It has garnered its fair share of criticism from reviewers for its rather uncompromising and dictatorial portrayal of a jazz conductor/teacher.
Whiplash is compelling. Nerve racking. It has an industrious approach to nail biting drama. And so, solely for its dramatic excellence, I give it a 10 on 10.
The film is about an impossibly abusive Jazz teacher at a fictional musical institution in New York and an overly ambitious drumming student.
That does not, in any way, take away the credibility of this film as an ineffably mind-numbing drama. From the get go we can feel the tension bearing down our necks, as it does on Miles Teller’s character Andrew’s, from the very first appearance of Jonathan Kimble “J. K.” Simmons’ Terence Fletcher.
J. K. Simmons played J. Jonah Jameson, the dictatorial boss of the Daily Bugle in the original Spiderman trilogy. Miles Teller is a new yet extremely talented actor who has recently featured in the romantic drama Two Nights Stand. Whiplash is his defining performance. He gave it his all.
The film is accurately named Whiplash. Terence Fletcher lashes at your soul and whips out every ounce of confidence. He is scary. Okay, that is an understatement. How do I put his attitude to words? I am a man who is obsessed with verbose, but I am at a loss of words to describe how truly terrifying J. K Simmons’ character is.
I have recorded the scariest parts of his performance to upload as a visual reference for the readers. But I will write a few of them out as well.
The first of them being Miles Teller’s first take in the practice sessions. Simmons starts off with patience, asking Teller to match his desired tempo. Teller fails repeatedly and Simmons stops him every time, asking him to redo it; then Simmons lets Teller continue playing for an extended period of time, Teller is visibly happy…and bam! He narrowly escapes a metal contractable chair chopping his head off. Simmons hurls the chair out of the blue at a rugby-esque pace. And then he doesn’t stop at it. He approaches Teller and hounds him for an answer. Was he too fast or too dragging. Teller says I don’t know. Simmons insists. Teller responds. Simmons blasts him with racial and homosexual and parental slurs and Teller weeps, and Simmons ups the ante by 10 notches and bombards him with verbal abuse the equivalent of a Hydrogen Bomb. And he doesn’t stop at it. He also inflicts physical abuse by repeatedly slapping Teller real hard while hurling abuses at him.
Its psychotic. Really psychotic. And though many reviewers found this as unrealistic, trust me…I have seen and experienced teachers at school behaving in a very similar manner and still going unscathed and continuing with their jobs.
Then in the second notable scene – prior to a performance before a musical evaluation committee – he rambles to his students saying, “I will not have my reputation tarnished by a bunch of f***ing limpd****s sour note flattered under girlfriends flexible tempo dips***s.” and then he tells a poor fat boy who he had kicked out abusively before to “Stay out of my f***ing way or I will demolish you. I can still f****ing see you mini-me!”
He reminds me of a mentor I once had, someone who had mentally abused me for a long period of time…making me feel crap about myself and my talents. An Egotistical douchenozzle.
In the third notable scene, he holds his students hostage for 5 hours while he makes his three drummers go through hell by repeatedly making them play and instantly stop and play and instantly stop because he cannot find them playing fast enough. He hurls insane abuses at them without giving his students a second of respite. The abuses he uses are too personal, immensely racist and outright homophobic.
He makes them take turns, not letting them have water, not letting them take a moment to gather themselves….they tire out and they cannot drum fast enough…but he doesn’t stop. And then Teller’s character starts his final turn and he drums at F1 racing speed constantly for two whole minutes; his hands bleed and Simmons forces him more, hurling abuses and smashing things…and then stops him saying, “You earn the part.”
It looks really unrealistic to cosy reviewers who’ve grown up in very cultured environments of gentlemen. But, such abusive teachers do exist. A moral education teacher in my school punished a 15 year old for speaking during a lecture by making him do 300 sit-ups under the noon sun out in the playground in the peak of a simmering summer temperature of 48 degrees Celsius. The student had an iron rod in his right thigh due to an accident, and he begged not to be punished. He was threatened…he continued…he died due to exhaustion right on the spot. The teacher was left scot-free.
Damien Chazelle is a 30 year old film-maker and Whiplash is his second film as a director. He cites his music teacher in his school as the inspiration for Simmons’ character. He – unlike Andrew – quit on music and pursued film-making instead. He has now received several Oscar nominations for the film. And deservedly so. The film is compact. It is concisely shot and precise on its acts. There is a growing tension with the growing tempo of drums and drama.
Also to be noted is the effect Simmons has on Teller subconsciously. Even though Teller resented Simmons at first, his will to be the best and accept Simmon’s dictatorial tutelage led him to act as cold as Simmons and he very rudely and bluntly breaks up with his girlfriend – who is a sweetheart; he demeans her.
In the fourth notable scene, Teller’s character – after being awarded with the spot to perform – reaches the auditorium 20 minutes before the performance. Not really late considering he had to travel outside the city and his bus had a puncture and he had to race a rental car to the auditorium. Simmons tells Teller that he is giving his spot away as punishment. Teller loses it and demands that it is his rightful spot. Simmons disagrees. Teller insists on ragingly. Simmons says Teller doesn’t have his drumsticks and that he won’t be allowed to play if he doesn’t get them back. Teller had forgotten them at the car rental shop. He drives there and gets the sticks and races back, but is hit by a truck and his car is crushed completely. He crawls out of the debris, gathers the drumsticks and limps to the auditorium in time.
He gets onto the stage, bleeding from his hands and his face…completely wrecked and in need of medical assistance. Yet he performs until he falls exhausted midway. Simmons, contrary to the audience and Teller’s expectation, doesn’t express a hint of sympathy. He says, “You are done. You are out.” Teller loses it and attacks him in front of the entire audience, swearing at him and pouncing upon him in rightful resentment until he is dragged away.
It is insane. As a result Teller is dismissed from the institution. His father appoints a lawyer and they persuade him to anonymously report on Simmons. Teller is reluctant at first but agrees eventually. Simmons is fired from the institute.
Later Teller meets Simmons at a bar where the former instructor is playing piano for a jazz group. They share a rather educated conversation and Simmons insists that he has never felt guilty for his actions and never will and that what he does is for the betterment of his students because, in his words, “The two most dangerous words in the English language are: Good job.” He later offers Teller a spot in a grand jazz performance. Teller – unbeknownst to Simmons’ ulterior motives – accepts.
Teller calls his ex and asks her to attend the Jazz performance and share a pizza, only to be declined and informed that she has a boyfriend now. He is left to rue his wrongdoings.
On the performance night, right before the orchestra commences, Simmons walks up to a very gleeful and placid Teller and says, “I think I’m f***ing stupid.” Teller, bemused, asks, “What?” smilingly. Simmons says, “I know it was you.” referring to his exemption from the institution due to Teller’s anonymous complaint.
He doesn’t stop there. He tells the audience that they will be playing a new standard, while he had told Teller that they will be playing Whiplash and Teller must play because he knows it like the back of his hand.
Teller is dumbfounded. Simmons turns to him and smirks and conducts the performance. Teller, knowing jacksquat about this new piece and not having the musical sheet for it, embarrasses himself on the drums and ruins the performance much to the chagrin of the audience, and his peers.
He walks off and Simmons is overjoyed. Teller’s father embraces him and says “Lets go home.” Teller refuses and returns to the stage. Simmons is about to make an announcement. And as Simmons as three words, Teller starts playing the drums and breaks his speech, embarrassing Simmons and saying, “Follow my cue.” Everyone has to follow it of course and Simmons conducts it. The performance is brilliant but even when its done Teller doesn’t stop and continues drumming at inhuman consistency. Simmons asks him to stop. Teller is deaf to all opposition and starts to give the performance of a lifetime. Simmons is furious and envious at first but as he sees Teller give an awesome performance, he aids Teller in continuing the momentum. They both smile and Teller proceeds with the performance…drumming solo for 6 mind-blowing minutes and then he comes to an end of it and smiles. And then the screen fades to black.
I recommend this film to my readers, though not gladly because that would be sadistic; it is a truly torturous film.
~ Zalysar Cuvegis.