Whiplash Film Review - Be More Human

We've heard the expression "No Pain, No Gain" and it normally applies to muscle building when hitting the gym. The film Whiplash transitions this expression into the world of music, particularly drumming, while slowly revealing the innermost desires of the human heart to become the best version of itself. 

The film centers on Andrew (Miles Teller), a 19 year old drummer in Schaffer Music Conservatory, who finds himself hand-picked to play for the school's top jazz band and for their toughest music teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Andrew's determination to become "one of the greats" is no match for Fletcher's aggressive motivation techniques. From throwing chairs, to rage-like rants, and public humiliation Fletcher deems emotional torture a necessary step in a musician’s blossoming of greatness.

While the film expresses this boundary pushing in a dangerously exaggerated way, it holds some merit and credibility. Fletcher's techniques work until the question of humility is raised. Andrew quickly begins to practice harder each night surpassing the threshold of pain while playing through bloody blistered hands. The better he gets the cockier he becomes and Fletcher takes notice. Andrew is given many opportunities to remain humble throughout his trainings, but as he gets better he lets pride impulsively make his decisions. It's no longer about training to become the best, but feeling he has worked hard enough already to deserve to play with the best. To test Andrew, Fletcher replaces him with another drummer a few weeks before a major performance and it sets Andrew off in a rage. This pride combined with the emotional scars created by Fletcher establishes a monster within himself that Andrew does not recognize. He begins playing his music with hate, frustration, and pride rather than joy, love, and humility. The day of the Jazz competition Andrew is hit by an oncoming car while speeding to get to the concert hall in fear that another drummer will be playing his set. Despite the physical “whiplash” from the car wreck, a bloody Andrew arrives at the competition to satisfy his own ego rather than to see his company succeed.

Why the push?
Reebok just released a campaign called "Be More Human". A synonym for this campaign could be called" Become the Best Version of Yourself" The campaign shows athletes, firefighters, parents, and factory workers all training their bodies to keep up with the many demands of life. Why would anyone cause physical pain to their body through intense exercise? Reebok’s answer is to become a better and more determined human. This is why I feel that Fletcher's technique of pushing his students to their breaking point molds a stronger performer, but it is also a lesson for every area of one's life. While Fletcher’s way of motivating is far-fetched, I do believe in healthy practices of pushing the limit in order to become better at anything you do. We don’t see enough of this kind of pushing anymore.

We have become a society of settlers. We tend to settle for lives of mediocrity rather than push ourselves to achieve the things we know we can. Whether it is as difficult as becoming the greatest musician in the world or as simple as becoming the best possible friend to others, we lose sight of the bigger picture when faced with the hard work it takes to become the best version of ourselves.

This is where the film shines because at one point Andrew has the opportunity to become one of those settlers in life. He gives up on drumming after a major melt down and fall out with Fletcher and his school. He abandons his passion for music for the wrong reasons. Rather than investigate his obsessive compulsion to drumming he simply walks away from it. Yet at the end of the film we are given the magnificent visual of a person "fully alive", living out the best version of himself.  Without giving the finale away, we discover that when Andrew plays to prove to himself that he is a great drummer rather than to impress his teacher, the best version of himself shines. All of his hard work pays off and he musically blossoms in front of his father, his peers, and his teacher.

We live in a time of what Henry David Thoreau called "Quiet Desperation", this complacent settling of the cards life deals us. We get discouraged when our hard work does not pay off immediately and become too caught up in our own little world that we forget about the other people around us. This discouragement causes us to settle and take the first job that comes along, but never do the things that make us truly happy. We lead lives of this desperation and do not know how to escape from it. Whiplash shows us (in an overly exaggerated way) that every day we must stretch the talents we want to continue to develop, keep track of the dreams we want to achieve, and ask ourselves “what are we doing to accomplish them?”

I don't agree with Fletcher's aggressive techniques, but I do agree with the psychology behind them. He tells Andrew that “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” If more people analyzed this statement while asking themselves why they haven't accomplished the dreams they set for themselves, their lives would become less desperate and more passionate.  

I am voting Whiplash as Best Picture and J.K. Simmons as Best Supporting Actor for the Oscars 2015.

Also, Check out this great Whiplash review from a well-seasoned film reviewer, Mark Kermode.
The Imitation Game: Does Homosexuality Take Away Your Talents, Contributions, and Identity?

The Imitation Game is a film about secrets. Secrets which determine life, death, morality, and identity. From one perspective it is a spy film, from another it's a war epic, and from another it's activism for "gay" rights. There is also a hidden spiritual dimension of the film that slowly unravels. It is this generations “A Beautiful Mind” and is one of the most important films you will see this year.

Alan Turing is a puzzle solving mathematician who enlists in the British military to help the government crack the unbreakable Nazi code, Enigma, on which all of the German intelligence transmits their secret messages and planned attacks during the Second World War. With a team of four other cryptologists, Turing builds the world’s first computer that deciphers the Nazi’s secret decryption.

The film is brilliantly written, edited, and pieced together like its own unique crossword puzzle, shelling out clues frame by frame. The film's non-linear storyline provides an extra shroud of mystery as we jump back and forth from 1951 when Alan Turing is arrested. We are told one thing via Turing's opening voiceover, "Pay Attention". We then begin a flashback about Turing's interest in building a machine to break the Nazi code at the start of the war, and then a third storyline of Turing's childhood days with his best friend Christopher. Each story unfolds beautifully revealing deeper truths to a film layered in meaning.

While Turing successfully deciphers Enigma, he struggles to solve the puzzle of his own life and identity. We discover that from a young age he has stood out as an odd ball in the social circle of his preparatory school colleagues. They criticize him, nail him under the floorboards of a classroom, and treat him as an outcast. All his schoolmates, with the exception of Christopher, his best friend and mentor, see nothing of value in him. It is Christopher who reminds Alan that "It's the people who no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine." From a social perspective, Turing's colleagues would have preferred him to imitate someone he was not in order to fit the mold of "normalcy". 

The title "Imitation Game" is befitting for every scenario in the film. From the actual machine Turing builds that imitates the Nazi code (which he names Christopher) to Turing's “imitation” of a straight man during his marriage proposal; the “Imitation Game” is played by almost everyone in the film. Everyone has something to hide or information another person wants. Even the film itself plays an imitation game with it's audience. It imitates the kind of war film viewers expected to watch all the while revealing its hidden identity as the film progresses. One must in fact "pay attention" in order to piece these clues together to decipher its message.

While on the surface you are watching a war story of the intelligent minds behind the destruction of the Nazi regime, you are also discovering an ironic prejudice behind the British government. As the Germans were persecuting the Jews for not fitting into a specific identity, England was forcing homosexuals to hide their identity under penalty of law.

We are given a clue early in the movie about how to decipher the film's message. It is given upon the discovery of a transcribed code from a Russian spy amongst the group of cryptologists. The spy used the Gospel passage of Matthew 7:7 as the key to decrypt the hidden messages and I believe that it is also the key to the film. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." It is a passage about discovering one’s identity and purpose in life which Alan Turing sought throughout the film.

After he successfully breaks Enigma and discovers the Nazi's plans of attack, Turing is forced to keep it a secret within a tight circle of individuals. In fear of the Germans discovering their code breaking, the content of each deciphered message is first analyzed meticulously to figure out which German attacks to allow through and which to stop.With the power of life and death in his hands it is Turing's decisions that ultimately bring the war to an end, shortening it by at least two years. Winston Churchill would later say that Turing “made the single biggest contribution to the allied victory in World War II”.

Despite his natural born genius, his gifted analytical thinking, and beautiful mind, Turing still struggled to find his identity within the film. He was unable to reveal that he was the man who ended the war and had to go back to his life of secrecy. He was a gay man in a time of major prohibition of "same-sex attraction". The only person he could ever be himself with was Christopher, who suspiciously died of bovine tuberculosis when they were in school together.

As the film jumps back to 1951, Turing is arrested for indecent exposure with another man. When he is being questioned, he asks the detective to play the "imitation game" with him. After telling the detective his entire life story he asks him to judge whether he is a machine, a person, a war hero or a criminal?

This is a critical part of the film's message. When the detective says that he cannot judge him, Turing sadly states, "Well then, you're no help to me at all." Turing was looking for someone else to help decipher his own identity. He was looking for a judge. Everyone else had failed him, his parents, classmates, people, and his country. He finally looks to the law to find some sort of fair judgment on his life and receives none. There is only one fair judge, qualified to reveal the purpose, identity, and mission behind any of us. This is where the film's spiritual message seeps through. 

God usually gets a bad wrap when it comes to homosexuality mainly because of human confusion and misunderstanding. God is love and creates everyone unique and unrepeatable. It wouldn't make sense for Christ to suffer on the cross for all except for those who are "gay". We need a serious reality check here. In Turing's case, those who were judging him were the same people he was willing to fight and risk his life for. He had never seen his talent and passion for justice as God-Given, at least not in the film, but those very qualities are gifts imbued in his identity. 

Does homosexuality take away your talents, contributions, and identity? Turing needed to be recognized as a person, not as a machine or a war symbol. He needed the righteous judgment of his Creator. Turing never looked to God, but looked to his own creation. The only person he could relate to was Christopher, his code breaking mentor. Without Christopher around to affirm his identity he then built a second Christopher, a code breaking machine that he could dedicate his life to. How could we possibly come to the conclusion that just because someone is gay that makes them less of a person to identify with? 

Turing was on a journey of self discovery, but had poor guidance. Rather than shun each other we must support one another along our individual journeys to understanding our own purpose and missions in life. We all must ask, seek, and knock in order to have our identities confirmed and recognized within the recesses of our soul.

Much like Turing, we all hide a part of ourselves because of some fear, whether it is imprisonment, rejection, or persecution, we all play a part. We know how to act in front of parents, friends, family, managers, colleagues, or strangers. We find it difficult to be who we were born to be on display for others to see. 

We all yearn to know where we belong and how we fit in. This is especially true still to this day within the LGBT community as it was for over 49,000 men in Great Britain who were imprisoned for homosexual activity under the gross indecency law up until 2003.

Turing reminds me of Jesus in this film for so many reasons, one being that he was rejected for his innate identity. Yet Christ was a person who was always himself around everyone. He even went to his hometown and tried to perform miracles there even when they disbelieved. He was a man who lived his identity in every area of his life up to the point of death. He knew where he belonged.

Turing is definitely a Christ figure in the film for he knew he had a talent that was to be used outside of himself and despite the many years of humiliation, pain, and suffering from others he persevered to succeed in his mission. He tells the detective in a voiceover as we watch a young Turing being nailed into the floorboards by his schoolmates, "People like violence because it feels good, but take away the satisfaction and the act becomes hollow." That is the perfect description of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Rather than face imprisonment for indecent exposure, Turing chose chemical castration, a daily dosage of medicine aimed at curing his "gay" tendencies. This innocent victim took upon himself a chemical crucifixion that has not until recently begun bringing about fruits for the thousands of victims persecuted by the British government during this time. Whether this chemical obstruction was directly linked to his suicide or not, Turing was a victim of societal prejudice. And like Jesus, Turing was a man no one imagined anything of, but accomplished the thing no one could imagine.

Turing was pardoned in 2013 and you can check out the petition to support the pardoning of the 49,000 men convicted of being gay under British law. 

**Spoiler Alert
When was the last time you blubbered after a film? Maybe it was at the end of Titanic when you saw a young Jack take Rose's hand. Maybe it was at the end of Forrest Gump when he mutters through his tears about his son, "He's so smart Jenny." Or maybe it was the beautiful final scene of The Notebook which symbolizes the eternity of true love. We all have a blubbering film, for my wife it is Moulin Rouge, a film that she would start again from the beginning the moment it ended in a vicious cycle of tears. My uncontrollable tearjerker is the film Warrior. It is easily one of the most underrated movie ever made as it is the Rocky of MMA (mixed martial arts). The film is not so much about mixed martial arts as much as it's about the triumph of the human spirit. 

I've seen it four times now and each time I have embarrassingly cried at the closing credits. I'm talking shakes, lip quivers, and short breath panting. I needed to explore why this movie made me feel this way and I'm sure much of it has to do with my brother and my own masculine genetics.

The Plot
Warrior is a story of two estranged brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), who end up fighting each other in the championship bout of an MMA tournament. Trained at a young age to be vigilant fighters by their alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte), both Brendan and Tommy reunite to settle the ambiguous hatred for one another that was built from their parents separation. While Tommy followed his mother and watched her lose a slow battle with cancer, Brendan stayed with his father and eventually parted ways due to Paddy's abuse of alcohol. 

Brendan became the family man, was married, had children, and took a job teaching high school physics. Tommy joined the Marines and abandoned his company after a traumatic event overseas. The story takes place after Tommy returns and seeks out his now sober father to help train him for an MMA tournament granting a five million dollar prize to its sole champion. Meanwhile, Brendan's family faces the foreclosure of their home and in a desperate attempt to make ends meet he participates in illegal street fights for extra cash. By a stroke of luck Brendan finds a way into the same MMA tournament as his brother without knowing it.

Each character has something to prove, something to gain, and something to lose. If Brendan does not win he will lose his house and if Tommy does not win he cannot support the family of his fallen comrade (whose death he takes responsibility for).

Okay, so why all the crying?

My Brother
My brother and I grew up very close. I remember how he would cry on the front steps of our New Jersey home when I refused to take him with me to go hang out with my friends. He so badly wanted to be a part of my life at such a young age (there is a four year difference between us). I remember one time our older friend, Derek, was criticizing my brother Chris over some dispute about roller blades. To alleviate the pressure off of my brother, I picked up Derek's roller blades that were sitting on my front porch and I threw them off to the grass below. The thud of the blades lit a flame of anger in Derek's eyes as he turned his attention to me now. He simply said, "Why don't we go across the street, if you are man enough." This was clearly going to be a fight and I was definitely not going to win as Derek was twice my size and much older. Yet, I was not going to allow Derek's criticism of my brother be taken lightly.

Rather than appear like a wimp in front of our two other friends who were present for this as well, I obliged to meet him across the street in the parking lot of a Jehovah's Witness church. It was freezing that day and there was snow all around me. The moment we reached the emptied lot, Derek threw me to the ground and pinned me there. He picked up my head and began smashing it against the cold asphalt. He kept seeking an apology, but none was offered. I just stayed there quietly and took an ass whooping for my brother. Derek did not feel good fighting someone who wouldn't return his frustrated blows and he let me go, riding away on his bicycle. (Ironic side note, Derek is now an MMA trainer!

That was a great day of bonding for my brother and me. I stood up for him and he was proud of that. He was much smaller than I was and I was obligated as his brother to protect him. He wouldn't stay little forever though.

Sometime later, Chris and I were standing in line buying Mystic drinks at our neighborhood Exxon convenient store, when the guy in front of us turned around and asked if we were brothers. I told him we were and he told me to remember that one day my brother was going to be bigger than me and I would have to learn how to deal with that. He said that his brother now towers over him as an adult. I never forgot that because eventually Chris grew to become bigger and physically stronger.

Through the years we slowly drifted apart, taking separate paths and finding different interests. The most devastating divergence between us was when I asked him to step down as my best man at my wedding because I felt he was not stepping up when I needed him most. We never talked about this further and it still feels like a wound in our relationship even though it has been almost six years since. I grew up like Brendan Conlon, a family man working hard to support the ones he loves. My brother is a less angry version of Tommy Conlon, focused on physique, nutrition, and holding a dark cloud of emotional repression.

Masculine Sentimentality
Men have an inner need to express themselves physically. This is why violent sports are entertaining. This does not mean that women are excluded from this, but it tends to be the majority of men who have trouble communicating their feelings through thoughts and words. Men communicate physically through the pummeling of their bodies. Maybe it is rooted from the early days of Gladiators, but men tend to settle the score through physical means.

There is a dichotomy when it comes to the way men and women share their feelings and connect with others emotionally. Without completely generalizing, women tend to express their feelings more openly then men do. Saint John Paul II said that women are more sentimental and men tend to be more sensual. It is through that sensuality that mend discover their sentimentality. However, I also believe that men are called to sacrifice their bodies as a virtuous act. This driving force to lay down one's life can be misconstrued and taken out of context when it comes to violent sports, but it can also be used to understand the way men communicate. Think of William Wallace in Braveheart or Leonidas in 300. A hardworking husband may show his love through the intense hours he puts in, trying to balance work, family, and self-development. Physical activity is a way men work out the emotional stirrings that settle in their hearts. Is it perfect? No, but it's our challenge as men to be aware of our masculine sentimentality and its deeper desire to express externally that which is hidden internally.

This is vividly expressed in Warrior when Tommy faces Brendan in the final showdown. Despite the many attempts to reconcile, Tommy refuses to listen to Brendan and see reason. At the same time Brendan refuses to see his brother’s emotional pain caused by witnessing the deaths of his mother and Marine brothers. So they must settle their emotional battle in a very physical way. Without spoiling the ending, it is the last two minutes of this fight that always bring about uncontrollable tears. 

Those last two minutes send a shockwave of emotion through my body. I begin to shake because I am reminded of every missed opportunity I had to be a responsible big brother. I am reminded of all the times I failed to shield my brother from witnessing the domestic disputes in our household. I cry because I stopped fighting the Derek's of the world for him and lost myself in a web of familial numbness. I cry because when our parents split up I didn't choose him just as  Brendan didn't choose Tommy. And no matter how beneficial it was for my well-being and maturity, I'll always fee guilty for not being there when he needed me most. 

Those final two minutes showcase the need for the human body to physically break in order for one's emotional wall to be torn down. I secretly want to fight my brother in order to crack open the the sealed container we buried our childhood innocence in, allowing it to spillover in the grace of forgiveness. I cry because I find more courage in writing these emotions than actually speaking them. 

Is this a movie worth watching then? Definitely, especially with your brother.
I love you Chris!
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