We are pushed by those that believe in us. Naturally, the aim of any great teacher should be to encourage students in any way they see fit. Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), has taken that a tad too far. His explosive reactions found throughout Whiplash are monumental experimentation with how we perceive the impact of a mentor. Cold and calculated from the very first moments he appears, the mind games begin almost immediately. Whiplash is a film all about driving the talent of an individual to their breaking point. Whether or not they can truly make a career of their passion, or if it is just a hobby that will give them some brief notoriety.
Fletcher dismisses people with a little wave. Director Damien Chazelle presents the power Fletcher has almost immediately, and keeps it on the high from that. His entry into any room is met with silence and the clashing of doors hitting the wall. Chazelle knows how to give his characters the entrance they desire, but it is the actor that encourages these moments more than anyone. Simmons’ showcase is not just down to the entrance and the attitude, but the clothing and the scope of his ideas. Stern and eruptive, the mind games presented by Fletcher are the core mechanic of the fear he conjures. “Any musicians in the family?” is the probe he uses to interrogate Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), and upon hearing a fairly emotive story pour from the mouth of Miles, Fletcher couldn’t care less. He is there to make music and craft a new series of great musicians. His obsession is almost as worrying as Neiman’s.
Sultry, experienced jazz lingers on the soundtrack because of course, it does. What else could bring life to Chazelle’s fascinating dive into the world of dedicated musicians? While we may continue to remember Simmons for the performance that will forever define his career, do not let that detract from the delightful work Teller puts into depicting dedication that soon filters into obsession. How far can we be taken by these obsessions? Further than anticipated. It is the struggle we should all have if we are indebted with passion. Those that are unlucky enough to have none, do not worry, something may strike you soon enough. For Neiman, it was drumming, and the commitment and manic energy showcased by Teller should be present in the passion. Just know not to go overboard.
But that is where the best ideas lie, as Fletcher and Neiman and the great, non-fiction artists of our time have soon discovered. They must dive deep into the sea of ideas. Many have drowned there. Many more will. But the art they discover is worth the risk of life and limb for those with the passion for it. Neiman has it, and Fletcher knows it too. Whiplash convinces us and itself of its passion. That is what we are here for, and Chazelle makes a marvellous showcase of it. How much damage will we do to ourselves to pursue our hopes and dreams? What, too, is our breaking point? By the sounds of Whiplash and the methods of Fletcher, we are not allowed to have one. Good.