By Francis Cabal
Imagine, you’re a 19-year-old jazz drummer in one of the top music schools in your country. You just wanted to be the best, and then you meet the perfect foil: a hard-as-nails music teacher who’s willing to do anything (and I do mean anything) to push his students to be the best they can be. Do you succumb to the pressure, or do you take the abuse because for some reason, you believe that the end justifies the means and that the method *somehow* works?
That’s pretty much the main crux behind the drama of “Whiplash”, Damien Chazelle’s sleeper hit of 2014. No need to talk more about the film’s synopsis because the above paragraph is pretty much a spoiler-free approximation of the film’s story. Miles Teller stars in the film as Andrew Neiman, the 19-year-old jazz drummer in question. Teller is joined by character actor J.K. Simmons (who won a Golden Globe for his work in the film) as music teacher/jazz musician, Terence Fletcher. And while the film has a good supporting cast which includes Paul Reiser (among others), it’s that chemistry between Teller and Simmons that provides the spark for the film.
There’s a sense of tension and foreboding that is there throughout the film, even though it’s just a film about music. Ok, wait… let me rephrase that. It’s not just a film about music. It’s a film about being the best, about pushing yourself to the limits, and about whether or not success is worth all the abuse and punishment and sacrifice that you must endure in order to get to the top.
Those are heady questions, and while the film doesn’t necessarily give us a definite answer, it does make us think about these things. And the conclusion is satisfying enough to make the experience enjoyable.
“Whiplash” is an achievement for so many reasons. Not only is it one of the best films of 2014, but it was done by a first-time filmmaker in the span of a couple of weeks. This is a labor of love for Chazelle, who admits that the story is partly autobiographical.
It’s worth seeing the film for its technical achievements and for the acting by Teller and Simmons. And while it’s a good film about jazz and music in general, you should really think about it as a film about obsession. Don’t think of it as a feel-good movie about the triumph of the human spirit. Think of it as a Hitchcockian fable about the dark and potentially painful side of following your dream. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more.