Blood. Sweat. Tears.
After Whiplash premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, it immediately drew comparisons with one film: Full Metal Jacket. On the surface, it’s an odd analogy: what does a Vietnam War film have to do with a movie about a kid at an elite music conservatory?
One word: perfection.
While Full Metal Jacket focuses on the brutal process of turning drafted teenagers into remorseless, efficient killing machines, Whiplash focuses on the brutal process of turning musical teenagers into the best musicians the world has to offer. It is the pursuit of perfection, but also of leaving a lasting legacy – of being remembered in a future sea of forgotten and anonymous souls long gone.
Brutality must come with brutes and the R. Lee Ermey of Whiplash is veteran character actor J.K. Simmons as music conductor Terence Fletcher. He is always dressed in a tight black t-shirt tucked into black pants. He stands stiff and erect, with efficient movements like a Navy SEAL. He demonstrates a type of sadistic patience, weeding out the weak… but is quick to throw a chair at someone’s head when they mess up too much.
The dubious recipient of that chair is Miles Teller’s character, Andrew Neyman, who wants to be the greatest drummer alive (and still be it after he dies). Everybody wants greatness, of course, but Neyman (and Teller) put the effort into it. There’s a lot of blood – most of it’s real from the intense drumming – and there’s sweat and tears here too.
Neyman also sacrifices a girlfriend, Nicole (portrayed by Melissa Benoist), which is unfortunate because the sequence where he asks her out was so adorable, so sweet, it actually gave me a cavity. Alas, Neyman values his future plans more – a seething desire for success that is only exacerbated by his family’s general disregard towards his career path.
The act of drumming in itself is very good at increasing adrenaline and demanding attention, but director Damien Chazelle does an exquisite job in his commercial directorial debut. The camera is very active, with a variety of different shots at different angles and distances to visually stimulate the audience.
Whiplash is one of the first movies to officially enter the Oscars conversation, and it’s a strong contender. There is very real chatter in the air for J.K. Simmons to be nominated come Oscars time, although at this point, only time (and momentum) will tell.
There’s really only one significant flaw here, and it has less to do with any technical aspects of the movie, but more with the theme: practice makes perfect. Contrary to popular belief, practice does not make perfect. But apparently, Whiplash would like you to believe that, which is somewhat connected to the notion of underdogs magically pulling ahead in the end.
In reality, the real saying is twofold. The first is from Vince Lombardi when he said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
The second is from Bobby Robson, when he said, “Practice makes permanent.”
If you practice correctly, and diligently, you can certainly improve. But to imply that practice – no matter how vigorous – can lead to legendary status is simply a fallacy.