Film Review – Whiplash

Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) does a lot of shouting in his classroom, during the film Whiplash. In the firing line is drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller).

Namby Pamby naysayers will discredit the value of shouting at children to make them achieve greatness. Even the characters in the film attempt to dethrone Fletcher, from his position as a jazz instructor at the illustrious Shaffer Conservatory, because of his aggressive approach. But the proof is in the pudding. Both Fletcher and his student Neiman fulfil their potential, and it’s not undue to the extensive bouts of yelling and expletives spilling from Fletcher’s mouth box.

Sure, having a calm and pleasant approach when talking to students will usually produce positive outcomes. But rarely exceptional results. There’s nothing like a bit of screaming in someone’s face to illicit the ‘I’m going to prove you wrong’ response. This appears to be the general tone of interaction between the two protagonists for the majority of the film -sometimes with the defiant quest for approval going both ways.

It’s not to say that Fletcher and Neiman are functional human beings. Both of them sit somewhere on a sociopathic spectrum. But their relationships with other people do not need to be healthy, because they have their music. The film certainly panders to the cliché that geniuses are introverted types who obsess over their artwork at the cost of everything else. The literal blood, sweat and tears from these characters adds to the cacophonous musicality of the drums and Fletcher’s shouting that carry this film. There are points at which the expletives become lyrics and almost merge into the percussive rhythms being smacked out on the Myler drumheads.

Whiplash is the dark evil cousin of Mr Holland’s Opus. It is a no-holds-barred look at the quest for greatness. It shows that there is a place for a red-faced outburst at children (and adults for that matter) when pushing them to their limits. The shouting does not come from a place of hate, vengeance or malice. It comes from the emotional core of a person wanting to drive their subjects to their ultimate position on the highest podium.

You must shout to be heard above the white noise of the masses.