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CULTURE: Whiplash Movie Review

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Art by Rebecca Song, Staff Artist

Both athletes and artists work tirelessly to perfect their crafts, but they cannot become truly successful without the guidance of a teacher who will push them to their limits to help them reach their goals. In addition to years of hard work and sacrifices, to go from doing your best to becoming the best cannot be achieved without a good teacher. However, sometimes the lines can become blurred between tough coaching and abusive behavior-- a story that Whiplash perfectly portrays, practically set up in the theme of a sports film. Whiplash was originally a short film that premiered in 2013, and a year later it was released as a full length drama film. Directed by Damien Chazelle and starring J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller, Whiplash dives into a deeper and darker tale of the relationship between an aspiring musician and his austere, almost sadistic teacher. 

Chazelle’s film centers around Andrew Neiman (Teller), a jazz drummer in a conservatory band led by the powerful but petrifying conductor named Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher treats the band members as if he were a drill sergeant, repeatedly berating and humiliating them both physically and psychologically by using profane and insulting remarks. Even through all of that, Andrew is still eager to participate in the band, hoping that Fletcher’s teaching will lead him to play at the same level as some of the greatest jazz musicians in history, like the famous Charlie Parker. 

Soon, viewers start to realize Fletcher’s nearly sadistic nature, taking advantage of Andrew’s desire to become great as a way to push him miles beyond his breaking point, as shown in many of the film's brutal and almost uncomfortable scenes. For instance, when Andrew is drumming so intensely that his blood gets on the drum kit. This is all while Andrew fails to get any sort of validation from his family as a serious musician, particularly his father who noticeably favors his older, football playing brother. Eventually, Andrew suffers a mental breakdown due to the intense pressure, and unknowingly gets Fletcher fired after telling his father about the reality of the situation. 

The film’s ambiguous final scene has Andrew spontaneously filling in for Fletcher’s concert band at Carnegie Hall, a final plot orchestrated by Fletcher intended to humiliate Andrew by cueing the wrong music. However, Andrew takes matters into his own hands, playing an incredible performance of the song he originally prepared. The scene focuses on Fletcher, watching Andrew with a look of awe-- as if he finally saw Andrew rising to his true potential.  In the corner, you see Andrews’ dad, whose expression shows him finally recognizing his son’s capabilities, but it could also be interpreted as a look of sheer horror as he realizes the monster his son has become. 

The movie is able to weld together a psychologically captivating drama with the upsetting and often ugly reality of what it truly takes to become one of the best. It takes viewers along an emotional rollercoaster, having them almost feel Andrew’s pain and suffering, but also commending his tremendous efforts to impress his teacher. It’s no wonder this movie was given five Oscar nominations, and is definitely a must-see. 


Ava Shaw is a high school writer from Orange County, CA. She loves writing about educational and social related issues, and her work appears in The Incandescent Review. In her free time, she enjoys watching Criminal Minds and going to the beach. Follow her Instagram @ava__shaw.

Rebecca Song is 18 years old, fresh out of high school and anticipating to start art school in the fall. She not only loves to make creative content through her drawings but she also loves to listen to music (from R&B to kpop), dance, read novels, binging shows and movies, learning new languages on Duolingo and hanging out with friends.

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