India Slodki/The Broadside
After its initial release in 2014, Whiplash from director Damien Chazelle stirred up the world of film. Praised for its unusual use of cinematography and deeply complex characters, the film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, losing to Birdman in 2015.
The film revolves around the relationship between Shaffer Conservatory student Andrew Neiman (portrayed by Miles Teller) and his relationship with his mentor, Terrance Fletcher (portrayed by J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is well regarded as one of the best professors at Schafer, and Neiman is stunned when Fletcher singles him out and asks him to join his studio band.
Once Neiman joins, he is faced with an onslaught of psychical and verbal abuse from Fletcher. Fletcher, always one step ahead, claims that the abuse is fuel for Neiman to become a better musician. In Fletcher’s most memorable line from the movie, he explains that “There are no two words more harmful than ‘good job.’’
At its core, Whiplash is a conversation about motivation and desire. Neiman’s desire to be the best drummer motivates him through the abuse he faces from Fletcher. Fletcher’s desire to craft one of the best musicians motivates him to persist and pursue Neiman until Neiman is the player Fletcher wants him to be.
The film makes us question our own motivations, our own desires. It asks the audience what lengths we would go to in order to obtain our aspirations. Would we face verbal and physical abuse? Would we spill the same sort of blood that we see Neiman spill? Would we sacrifice relationships in a “Neimonic” fashion?
The tools in which Chazelle explores these ideas of persistence, desire and passion are presented in very stark terms. Often, Chazelle will slow down shots, and essentially incorporate stills in the scene. The effect this gives to the overall atmosphere of the scene is one of detail, yet simplicity.
A good way to illustrate this is in the first scene in the Studio Band classroom. Every player meticulously tunes and preps their instrument, although the camera hardly captures the player. This kind of shot likens the instruments as a sort of weapon, with Fletcher at the head of the cavalry.
The finale of the movie is a showdown between Fletcher and Neiman, as their building power struggle comes to a breaking point. In an effort to not spoil it, all I’m going to say is that the exchange constantly leaves you questioning who has the upper hand, and who will finally win the power struggle. The entire scene feels like a study of how complex relationships can be, and how subtleties can make a world of difference.