Whiplash (review)

I’ve just seen the film and wanted to write on it while I am still hearing the magnificent Jazz tempo bouncing around my skull. J K Simmons has already won the best supporting actor Oscar a few days ago, and no I had not got around to seeing all the nominated films before the ceremony. That is a life goal I’d prefer to perpetually keep in front of me — particularly sound thinking after just having seen a film about obsession.

The plot is simple. And it succeeds. Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a student at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York. He plays the drums, and has ambitions to be something memorable. J K Simmons is Dr Terence Fletcher, possibly the most emotionally aggressive conductor imaginable. He tries to “push people beyond what is expected of them”, and he sure does that. I won’t do a further run down of the plot. Either see the film for yourself or read the relevant Wikipedia entry.

As I said, Whiplash is about obsession. Andrew Neiman is obsessed with becoming the greatest drummer of his time, and meeting Dr. Fletcher’s insane expectations. Dr. Fletcher is obsessed with finding the greatest musicians by subjecting them to such prolonged physical and mental stress that they literally break. At times bleak, this film is utterly enthralling. Editor Tom Cross won the Oscar for Best Film Editing, and the quality of his work really shows. A good editor will make unsettling on screen action watchable. A great editor makes them flow with such imperceptible subtlety that you never look away.

I couldn’t look away, and found the simplicity and barefaced honesty of Whiplash extremely entertaining. And even though the broad narrative could be seen as ultimately supporting obsessions, and Dr. Fletcher’s aggressive approach to ‘teaching’ music students, it is clear that his pursuit of the next great musician leaves behind many casualties. If you don’t like shouting and foul language, this film may not be for you. But if ytou are in any way musical and/or are no stranger to obsessions, give it a watch.