WHIPLASH, or a musical thriller. Plot twists and suspense worthy of Hitchcock.

As befitting a musical thriller, the main character – music and the attempts to reach musical perfection by the characters – will ensure that the audience experiences emotions and will not allow...


7 January 2024

They say that the recipe for success is persistence and hard work. Talent, of course, helps in achieving success, but it is not necessarily its determinant. In the age of political correctness, stress-free upbringing, and an absolute ban on physical punishment in educational institutions, “Whiplash” may be somewhat surprising, although it is by no means a story of a confrontational nature.

“Whiplash” portrays the mentor-student relationship, which definitely does not belong to the conventional. The teacher, Terence Fletcher (the amazing J.K. Simmons), is a pedagogue who, in an exceptionally subtle way, values discipline and rigor in his class. Fletcher instills fear among young musicians, and being a part of his band becomes an extraordinary privilege coveted by first-year students of this prestigious conservatory. One of them is Andrew (Miles Teller), who manages to catch the attention of his master. He not only has to face his strict authority but, above all, confront his own weaknesses.

The director raises important questions in this remarkable film filled with tension. How much are you willing to endure to achieve success? Where is the boundary between ambition and arrogance, the struggle for one’s dreams and obsession? How much can one sacrifice to reach a goal? The narrative style presented by Damien Chazelle reflects the turbulent psyche of the characters, a rollercoaster of emotions, a complex composition like the “Whiplash” that resonates on the screen throughout the plot. Just when it seems that Andrew is leaving the “battlefield,” he is ready for a new stage in this tension-filled fight for his own future and territory for his inflated ego. When the stern teacher pats his student on the shoulder with a warm smile, only to humiliate him in front of the entire orchestra a moment later, we feel disoriented and helpless in the face of the director’s emotional juggling, much like Andrew was in front of his mentor.

Accustomed to the classical black-and-white characters of mainstream cinema, we are not entirely sure whom to root for. Fletcher’s tears of emotion and his not very often displayed sensitivity do not erase the harm he has caused to young people entering the adult world. The characters of Fletcher and Andrew are so colorful and complex that it is impossible to give a definitive judgment about either of them. In these nuances and the peculiar unpredictability of their behaviors, Chazelle’s skillful screenwriting emerges, creating ambiguous characters that force the viewer to ask questions for which they may not receive answers. J.K. Simmons, in the role of Fletcher, slips into memory like the worst childhood nightmare, a monster our parents warned us about or one we glimpsed in a movie unsuitable for children. When he appears in the room, we feel the urge to stand at attention along with the students. And when the camera shows his gaze searching for a “out of tune” victim in close-up, we would gladly lower our eyes to the floor, like frightened young musicians.

However, Fletcher’s character is primarily a manifesto of opposition to mediocrity. Fletcher is a tyrant who simultaneously gives hope and takes it away. He reveals the beautiful world and closes the gates leading to it right in front of your nose. He motivates and humiliates. Fletcher demands absolute listening. There is nothing in between. You can either be a perfect musician or a subordinate player (or, worse, a rock musician!). Andrew seems to adhere to similar ideals. If he cannot succeed in the best music conservatory in his country, he considers himself not a good musician. He rejects his previous persistence and abandons playing the drums. There is nothing in between – either I am an excellent drummer and achieve worldwide success, or I don’t play at all. However, Fletcher fails to notice that by opposing mediocrity in this rather unusual and harsh way, he himself “produces” intimidated musicians who focus solely on technique and tempo, treating music as a craft, thereby suppressing their passion for improvisation. As he admits, he has not yet discovered true talent and probably never will. Perhaps finding another world-class talent happens extremely rarely, and Fletcher simply had no luck? Or, consumed by his madness of perfectionism, he failed to notice the timidly budding above-average abilities of students, whose talent had no chance to sprout and develop under the weight of constant humiliation?

The artist from Fletcher’s world is a self-assured craftsman who does not contemplate his work, does not lean over it with emotion. “Making music” is above all hard work, training, sweat, tears, and blood. In “Whiplash,” music determines the pace of the narrative, and it is the main character of the story shaped like a jazz composition. The absolute hearing that Fletcher seeks is, metaphorically speaking, a kind of McGuffin advancing the film’s action and determining the behavior of the main characters, existing (or not) only in the teacher’s mind. And the concept of McGuffin, associated with the father of suspense and thriller, Alfred Hitchcock, seems very appropriate here.

This incredible work by Chazelle can be described as a musical thriller, full of unexpected plot twists and suspense that the master Hitchcock would not be ashamed of. I assure you that shivers can arise not only due to the electrifying plot. As befitting a musical thriller, the main character – music and the attempts to reach musical perfection by the characters – will ensure that the audience experiences emotions and will not allow them to remain unaffected.



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