Whiplash: Passion in New Forms


Even though Whiplash is told is conventional in the Classical Hollywood narrative, much of the other film’s elements are not.

Similar to Birdman, Whiplash experiments with editing techniques. Although, in terms of cutting it does the opposite of Birdman in some of the most memorable scenes. Like when we follow Andrew(Miles Tenner) into the rehearsal room where the intense Fletcher (J.K Simmons) is conducting his students. The camera only focuses on one prop for a few seconds. First it’s a drum, a cymbal, someone’s bloody hands, then a drooling mouth. These shots are cut short and zoom in on that single object, framing it perfectly. The quick shots leave me trying to keep up with everything going on in the tiny room, which brings about certain intensity I didn’t expect from a movie about jazz music. The intensity is also raised from the film’s diegetic sounds. The music becomes louder and quickens as the camera flashes from one frame to another. Except the sound is not the typical non-diegetic music that gets louder to heighten suspense like we hear in Hitchcock films, but comes from these talented students practicing in the band room. The objects within these shots may be simple, but the sound and quick camera movements are not and neither is the way we feel as these scenes unfolded. I even feel a little whiplashed—looking left, right, up, down—not sure where my vision will jolt to next. Most of all, I recognize the way Andrew probably feels seeing this for the first time: overwhelmed but inspired by all the chaotic talent.

Whiplash could easily turn into a typical coming-of-age story, but thankfully like the editing, it exceptionally differs. Part of the reason being that Andrew is a rare character. He has similar characteristics a nineteen-year-old college boy would. Headstrong. Stubborn. A little cocky. However, Andrew’s goals are not simple and never were. They are not entirely tangible like many of the other films involving someone his age. He doesn’t want to fit in with the popular crowd, attend the biggest parties, or the date the girl of his dreams. He wants to be the best drummer and invest all his time in doing so. Andrew’s passion also didn’t bloom halfway through the movie, it is there from the start and grows with the film. We also have many relationships worth analyzing in the film that stray from the typical coming-of-age father/son or mother/son relationships. I chose to focus on the most interesting: Andrew and Fletcher. It may not be apparent at first, but the two are very similar despite the age difference. In many instances, I find myself judging Fletcher with his cruel choice of words and the unrealistic way he encourages Andrew or any of his other students. It wasn’t until after the film that I realized Andrew and Fletcher were the perfect match. This is proved specifically in the last scene; however, it is apparent throughout the film, but just masked by Fletcher’s exaggerated teaching techniques.

The biggest commonality that drives the two together is passion. While Fletcher treats Andrew with disrespect and is unfair in many cases, Andrew fights back with talent. He takes his passion, practices until his hands are impaired and shows Fletcher that he wants to succeed just as badly as him. While Andrew would have the fame if this happened, Fletcher would receive much of the credit. Hence the reason they see the possibility within each other, but continue to battle until the very end. Yet we still don’t know what will happen to the relationship that was never really on the right track. There is a strange, twisted hope as the film ends for their relationship to continue—but a hope that is once again brought on by a rare, infectious passion few experience or see.

If only Andrew could inject us all with that young drive. But then the world might be filled with too many Fletcher.

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