Whiplash is a horrifying movie. So why do I love it so much?
This article is about Whiplash (2014), written/directed by Damien Chazelle
I know it’s been 7 years since this film came out, but I watched it again recently with my girlfriend so it’s been a topic of discussion lately. Despite its toxic subject matter, it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but to be honest, I don’t completely understand why. So I’m just gonna keep writing here and maybe something interesting will pop out.
Like all great movies, its message is ambiguous. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys”. Depending on who you ask, the ending is either a great victory or a great tragedy. It doesn’t leave you with neat and tidy morale, it leaves you with a conversation to explore. The movie helps to get that conversation started.
The relationship between Fletcher (the teacher) and Nieman (the student) starts out mildly but devolves into an utter psychological onslaught. The audience watches Flecther with incredulity as he ceaselessly tortures his students over the smallest of musical fumbles. Our amazement is then taken to new heights as Nieman not only endures this torture but welcomes it. The temperature continues to rise over the course of the film: name-calling, slapping, bleeding, a car crash. It’s all in the context of a music school. Not a warzone, not a prison, not Mordor — a music school.
Okay, here’s a reason I like this film: I like when people care about things. In my opinion, our society suffers from an epidemic of apathy (I’ll have to explore why in another post). Sometimes I feel a bit lonely in this world because, whether it’s really true or just hard to notice, I don’t see a lot of other people caring about sh*t. I guess a lot of people have decided that it’s just not worth the energy to care. That sucks.
Whiplash feels refreshing to me because it’s the opposite of apathy. Its characters care about an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way. They care so much that it blinds them to make mistakes and hurt themselves. That part isn’t desirable, of course, but you know what else isn’t desirable? Not giving a sh*t about anything!
I have sympathy for Fletcher and Nieman because, even though they make mistakes, they care. And the mistakes they make in the film are pretty similar to some mistakes I’ve made in my life, albeit a little more extreme. The relationship between Fletcher and Nieman, in many ways, reflects the relationship I have with myself. I’ve been mean to myself, I’ve been petty to myself, I’ve sabotaged myself, I’ve pushed myself too far. I forgive myself for these mistakes, and I forgive Fletcher and Nieman for theirs as well, because we’re doing this in pursuit of something greater.
The “pursuit of something greater” means different things to everyone, but in my opinion, such a pursuit is a vital ingredient to a fulfilled human life. It doesn’t need to be a pursuit of money or clout or even societal change. It just needs to be a pursuit. Pursuit breeds purpose. Without a pursuit, there is no purpose. And without purpose, everything is meaningless. Through this lens, the insane methods of Nieman and Fletcher start to make sense. Through this lens, the price of blood and tears is well worth it.
I think that’s pretty awesome.
By Tim Connors