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Tuesday, January 13

Whiplash or how to break a spirit

I am left puzzled after watching this one. Drawn to write about it, yet fearful about how it is going to feel asking some uncomfortable questions. For instance, does an artist -may he be a writer, a painter, a musician, a dancer- need to fear being abashed by others and life itself in his pursuit of perfection? Do we come out as being great on our own, at the price of our own abandonment or do we allow others to break us and make us back into excellence? Who gets to tell you what is at stake before embarking on the strenuous road to greatness? Call them redundant or, on the contrary, essential questions. And only if you want to find yourself among "the greats'' as the main character of this movie aspires to be.

And I am not done questioning myself and these readers of mine. Where do we draw the line, as teachers, between fostering talent into a pupil and carefully watching over his steps and turning ourselves into ferociously demanding, abusive tormentors? In the age of overtending to the harmonious development of a child, where adults deprived of warmth and unconditional love spend endless hours in therapy or toying with the idea of either suicide or slowly slipping into the same abusive pattern, here comes Whiplash. Ruining your every fantasy of the beneficial, satisfying, rewarding student-teacher relationship. Say goodbye to Dead Poets Society or any warm reminiscence of To Kill a Mocking Bird. Let in all those dreadful stories of over-starving, love-deprived, childless gymnasts who went through hell to make it to the big competitions and bring back home gold medals. And I know the safe answer to this- there is no gain without pain. Nothing great comes out of enjoying your comfort zone and wrapping yourself into coziness. You need to go for it and hope that somewhere on the way, some lizardlike, yelling, gangsterish figure shall do you good by taking you down, mocking you, humiliating you, pushing you to the very edge of insanity.

Come meet Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons), a jazzman with a foul temper and the scary muscles, a freaky conductor, high on black, tight clothes. He loves ruining it for all the student musicians in his band but soon comes to enjoy tearing to pieces the soft nature of Andrew Neyman (Milles Teller). Andrew was raised by a single father and lives for playing the drums. He is a student at the Shaffer Conservatory and after pulling up the courage to ask out a beautiful girl, he has the audacity/stupidity/maturity to cut her off for focusing entirely on music. He comes to realize that it is impossible to leave the world aside or behind you and that we have various needs in life. It is funny how whenever he gets a boost in his pursuit for greatness in jazz, he reaches out for her to share. When he is down and expelled from the prestigious school for having given in to Fletcher's abuse and attacked his teacher, he turns into a robot. He eats, goes to work, walks the streets, returns to his movie-watching routine with his father and no longer feels music running down his veins. His statement against the cruel treatment of the teacher gets Fletcher fired and playing the clubs. When they accidentally meet, Fletcher plays him again, as before, swaying between the soft, understanding person and the cunning, revengeful abuser. Andrew falls for the promise of being the next Charlie Parker and when being embarrassed again, on stage, he takes charge of the situation. He beat him up once so there is no point in doing so. He has a moment of weakness and leaves the stage, only to return to run the show for Fletcher and his crowd of musicians.

What do you make of it? Do you get yourself to applaud the abusive manner of the teacher who goes the whole nine yards to find the next remarkable jazzman hidden under layers of self-sufficient comfort and minor accomplishments? Or do you shudder at the thought of such a person secretly hoping your kid will never fall into such hands? What about Andrew? Is he mature enough to decide that such an experience shall get him to the jazz walk of fame? Or is he stupid enough to chase a dream that shall leave him emotionally disabled? Do artists have to give it all to the drive that fuels them and at the same time, slowly burns them out? Is it worth it and is it all a human being needs in life? The answer to the last questions is what probably has me writing reviews instead of great short stories or outstanding novels. To me, it is a matter not only of choice but of being strong enough to fight the good fights. As a teacher, Fletcher is the nightmare I dread to ever become whatever the costs and the things I come to lose on the way to greatness, be that mine or the students'.

As a movie buff, chapeau-bas to JK Simmons who proved himself to those who thought him a television actor only or eaten up by fatherly figures such as the one in Juno. This Miles Teller- I say his name shall come back to our minds in the future for he has what it takes to make it as an actor. As a swing jazz lover, this is a movie full of rhythm and an opportunity to ravel into the beaty sounds of good music. And on a final note, does rejection breed greatness or monsters under the very bed of the great ones?
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