Whiplash Film Review - Be More Human

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.
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