I was expecting Fame but with a back story about thwarted ambition. Mostly I don’t like the cinema because I don’t like having to concentrate on the same thing for two hours. After the argument about seats in the row in front of me and the trailer for Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow’s brain cell killing next movie, Mortdecai, I was already bored. I stared at the ceiling for a while wishing I’d gone to Taken 3 instead. But I missed Taken 2, and I believe it’s important to watch such cinematic masterpieces in sequence. I ate all my popcorn and then the film started. It’s a great opening. Its director, Damien Chazelle, said he wanted the movie to speak about the challenges of musicianship and all the cruelty and pain that goes with it. He wants the audience to equate the sound of the drum in the opening scene with warfare. The single stroke roll is supposed to put the viewer on edge. It does.
Whiplash is the story of an ambitious drummer and a nasty music teacher who breaks his students down on the off chance that it might bring out their greatness. And it really is just an off chance. J.K Simmons is Terence Fletcher, the conductor of a band at the music conservatory attended by Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller). Neimann is determined to be one of the greats and Fletcher is a pr**k. His redeeming quality, if he has one, is that he believes that what he’s doing is right, that he’s torturing his students for the greater good of bringing great musicians into the world. When he explains this to Neimann towards the end of the film I don’t really believe him. It’s sort of like the shock doctrine gone jazz. You destroy a person and build them back up into something great. The reality is you just destroy them. And while there’s no real time for character deconstruction in the film my gut tells me that he’s a pr**k just because he is. That genius is a licence to be a horrible person is a reoccurring trope in our cultural imagination. But sometimes people are just mean because they are. The moral of the story is something about greatness. It might be that being great isn’t easy, or that sometimes the only thing for it is to say “Fuck you”. I’m not sure. It’s a very good movie, maybe even better than Taken 3.
In a wonderful moment of serendipity as I left the cinema the sound of drums were coming very loudly from DIT on Bolton Street. Maybe there was a psychopathic teacher and lots of bloody hands and buckets of ice behind the door. Who knows.