Director: Damien Chazelle
"The road to greatness can take you to the edge."
Remember the days when you would walk out of the movie theater and feel that uncontrollable rush of excitement? The triumphant feeling that comes from pure, sustained satisfaction? The highest level of entertainment?
This is exactly how I felt upon watching this film.
It's been a long time since I've walked out of a movie feeling this way. This is why I consider Whiplash to be one of my favorite movies of all time. (I saw it 4 times in theaters during the first two weeks of it's release... yeah, a little embarrassing).
While reading this blog, there will be times where it seems like I'm over-analyzing the movie. However, that is the goal... Maybe not to over-analyze, but to take a deeper look of what's really going on beyond the film. Whether you have seen the movie or not, hated it or liked it... I believe this post to be a helpful read. So let's get started!
OVERVIEW: Whiplash is about a college student named Andrew (Miles Teller), a promising Jazz drummer, who wants to be "one of the greats". Attending one of the top music schools in the nation, he struggles to make it to the top. His cruel overbearing instructor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) pushes Andrew to the edge of his ability. Fletcher stops at nothing to help his students discover their true potential, even if it means abuse anything short of physical.
WHAT I LIKED: The number one thing movies are missing today, is strong character development. This is where Whiplash does not lack. The journey through the pain with Andrew as he grows from a shy drummer into an ardent musician, is nothing short of riveting. Fletcher is one of the most powerful characters I’ve ever seen in a movie. (J.K Simmons won an Oscar for this role). He truly is a character I love to hate. I don’t want to oversell this movie, but if you wanted a story with strong characters and marvelous writing, Whiplash is for you.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Being a Christian, one would expect me to disapprove of the strong language in this film. I would like to go on record and say that I do not condone the use of inappropriate language. It’s no secret that Whiplash has some of the strongest language I’ve heard in a movie. With that being said, I think the bad language helped this movie’s story.
Let me explain why.
In cheesy “Christian” movies, there are perfect examples of what flat uninteresting characters look like. The bad guys are unrealistic, and normally not horrible people. The good guys have a generic “good boy” disposition, and make predictable decisions. These movies lack realism… that’s why they are bad. So, when strong language is used in Whiplash, it’s for a reason. It’s a tool, used in the writing, to get the audience to feel and connect to the characters. I look at it like this. If Andrew and Fletcher were real people, what would they say? The language in this movie does not feel too unnecessary or out of place to me, but I'm sure it does to many. You will have to make the call yourself.s
I am not saying that I approve of the words or actions of the characters in this film. In retrospect, the characters aren’t even good people, biblically speaking. However, I don’t need to like or approve of the characters to enjoy a movie, I only need to connect with and understand them. Whiplash made that happen.
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
If you feel watching a movie like this is wrong, I won't try to convince you otherwise. Listen to your conscience (as it is being informed by scripture). Everyone has their opinions and convictions. If one feels that a movie will leave them negatively impacted spiritually, I would say don't watch it. My personal way of deciding to watch a movie can be determined using two questions:
1. Is there anything redeeming about this movie?
2. Will this movie cause me to sin?
I have a friend who wont watch movies with a lot of f-words in it, because he is afraid it will slip out if he hears it too often. This is a good example of "question 2". There are many ways to check the content of a film before watching. I would recommend doing that before each one. I can talk forever on how to watch a movie properly, but I'll leave that up to you for now.
A very small amount. There is a car accident which is more intense than bloody. During Andrew's practice, his hands begin to bleed from countless hours of drumming. Fletcher slaps Andrew multiple times. In a burst of furious rage, Andrew tackles Fletcher to the ground, and begins striking him. There is an off-screen suicide, implied to have been caused by Fletcher's behavior. (This is only mentioned, not shown).
SEXUAL CONTENT: 1/10
For a rated R movie, there wasn't any nudity, sex, or even implied sex. The reason I give 1/10, is because of Fletcher's use of sexual expletives.
Close to 80 f-words, other uses of s---, b---h, p---k', 'f----t', 'd--k, 1 use of c----, and other words. Fletcher makes other explicit remarks about homosexuality that some may find bothersome. The strength of these words are also found in the inventive put-downs Fletcher comes up with. The movie easily earns its 10/10 score.
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS: (hints of spoilers).
It was said earlier, the characters in this movie aren't even good people, biblically speaking. Andrew is willing to push away relationships and everything else important to pursue his drumming career. He practices and pushes himself so far that it almost feels like a religious practice. While the world may define Whiplash as a "success story", Christians should define as an "idolatry story". Obviously this is a sin we are called to abstain from. (1 Corinthians 10:14 - Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.) The movie is a great example of what this sin can do to a human being.
Fletcher, on the other hand, uses his negative ways to push students to "greatness". He has convinced himself that what he is doing is right. In one scene he tells Andrew, "I wasn't there to conduct... I was there to push people beyond what's expected of them. I believe that is... an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we're depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong. The next Charlie Parker." Clearly, the importance of having great jazz musicians gives him the right to "push" his students in a cut-throat manner. In Fletcher's mind, a great musician will never be discouraged by his methods. Encouragement is nothing more than a harmful tool in making "The next Charlie Parker." With full confidence, he believes, "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than "good job".
When looking closely... Whiplash provides a biblically sound theme.
Idolizing anything above God will result in destruction.
Idolizing drugs, celebrities, money, sex, etc. we can all agree aren't acceptable things. What about the good things? Your wife, husband, kids, job, etc. wouldn't be considered idolatry, would it? That's just it. If you are more devoted to something than you are to God... it's idolatry.
Look at Andrew. Nothing is more important to him than his jazz drumming. He is shooting straight for the top to become "one of the greats". By the world's standards, it seems like an admirable goal. Being passionate about one's dreams is something promoted in today's culture. Although I agree that working hard to reach an objective isn't wrong, one still must look at their priorities. Andrew is a loner, pushing any friendships away, including his father and girlfriend. The more he obsesses over his goal, he estranges himself even further. When Andrew finally makes it to Carnegie Hall, he reaches out to his ex-girlfriend, expecting her to be supportive that he finally made it. She is uninterested. Andrew only has his father's attendance to account for.
Andrew knew the cost of achieving this goal (made clear during the family dinner scene). When he was asked why he doesn't have any friends, he replies with full tenacity, "I don't know, I just never really saw the use." He has a false sense that making it to the top will satisfy him more than anything else in the world.
All he does is for his jazz drumming. Nothing else matters. A perfect example of how easily it is to be blinded by a godless life full of idolatry... to get to a place where you think you have finally "made it", only to have an empty life. Whiplash shows all this well. Perhaps I had to dig a little bit to notice this theme in full force, but I'm glad I arrived here.
Like I said before, I love this movie. I went in with zero expectations, and came out fully satisfied. Writing, acting, directing, editing... all effective. The budget is an estimated $3,300,000 which is incredibly small for a movie like this. It proves that you don't need a big budget to make something truly remarkable. That to me, reveals the true talent of a director/writer. Raved about by fans and critics alike, it's no surprise that it was nominated for five Oscars (including best picture) and it took home three. I will be eagerly awaiting the next thing Damien Chazelle writes/directs, so until then, I'm going to watch Whiplash for the 1000th time.