It’s the mechanism of Whiplash, a tense real-world fantasy tale of a jazz student who finds himself miraculously and terribly tied to a brilliant, mad icon of his genre.
There’s suddenness in how Miles Teller’s Andrew Neiman comes into relationship with the famed Terrence Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons. There’s the brutal suddenness of Flectcher’s mood swings and Andrew’s family and social relationships. And of course, the loud, brash crashing of drums constantly. Suddenness.
And yet something slow and gradual runs the entire length of the film – underneath all the tension and stakes. Whiplash tells you, over time, all the things this movie is about.
It’s about music.
It’s also about idol worship.
And obsession. And family and greatness and hard work.
But for me, there’s was something else happening; because the movie didn’t end the way I wanted. Its climax is a vacuum, an absence of what you think is going to (or should) happen. And that’s the lesson itself. The emptiness I felt after watching it eventually solidified a few days later when I realized what had been nagging me all along.
“This is what we want.”
Whiplash reminds us that we prioritize the wrong thing. We abandon what’s best for our souls to chase things that are the worst for our lives and for those who love us. It’s a great movie, maybe because it’s a cautionary tale for those of us who long to do great things.