Reviews, Vol I, Issue III
“If you don’t have ability you wind up playing in a rock band.”
- Buddy Rich
Ever since I have heard Joker saying in The Dark Knight (2008), ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you simply stranger’, the phrase haunted me, as I never grasped the acumen behind the saying till I saw Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle. This movie is criminally conspicuous for its pernicious perfection that cinema can deliver. Now, all these negative adjectives that I’m garlanding this movie with is for a purpose. This movie is chaotic, is troubling and will haunt you as soon as it ends. An art that doesn’t consume the artist is no art, and by art I mean here creative skills of any sort (physical or mental). Once the artist emerges out from the turbulence of his creative endeavors, so rises his emblem that keeps people in awe for ages. That’s how we have known all the greats till date and that’s how greats emerge. And this movie stands out because it brings the turbulence with all its tour de force before audience.
This story is of a 19-year-old boy Andrew Neiman who is a first year student in a music school in New York, Shaffer Conservatory, where he is learning drums. He has been playing drums since he has been kid, and has dreamt only one dream, to be a great drummer one day. One day while practicing conductor Terrence Fletcher discovers him who further recruits him in his studio band. Thus, begins the estranged journey of a teacher and pupil that climaxes with pupil emerging over all the odds laid down by the teacher and displays the potential of the legend that he is ought to become. The story looks simple but it’s not even an iota close to the simplicity with which I have described the story. There are layers of tension accumulated within this simple story, which has been successfully brought on the surface by superlative performances of J K Simmons as the abusive Jazz instructor Fletcher, and Miles Teller as the determined Andrew.
Across a number of reviews I have seen critics and people showing their hate for Fletcher as being the mean and obnoxious teacher who is an evil for his students. But the way I perceived this character was totally opposite. No doubt he is an evil, but he is a necessary evil. Andrew understands this and that is why even when he is totally devastated, he does not wish to blame Fletcher for his condition. Andrew never had a normal childhood. Fletcher understood this and described it accurately though viciously in front of everyone that how his mother left him and his father because she saw a failure in his father. Andrew, thus, wants everything but not the ‘normalcy’ of his father behind the veil of which he can hide his failings. Also, Fletcher pushes Andrew out of his comfort shell to confront his emotions before others. When he coaxes him in his first session with his band, he asks him to say it loudly before everyone that he is upset, and this turns out to be one of the best, highly elevated and disturbing scenes from the movie. The ambitions that Andrew caters inside his naïve head starts taking shape only when Fletcher starts putting him at the center of the odds. I loved the dinner table conversation between Andrew and his father and other family members where he emphatically admits, ‘I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was’. Thus, characters like Andrew and Fletcher knows only extreme, as they both are driven by their ambition, one to become the best drummer and the other to produce another Charlie Parker, and they feed on their respective dreams.
You all reading this review, do yourself a favour and watch this movie. One of the best parts of watching Indie movies are to witness the budding filmmakers bringing new sense of breathe into storytelling. Whiplash is a prime example of such cinema. Also, performances by Miles Teller and J K Simmons are so captivating and powerful that you will start loving and hating the characters in a moment, and as per the length of the movie, you all will be driven to the extremes of opinion just like these characters. Last but not the least, watch it for its brilliant editing, one of the best in recent movies, by Tom Cross. The editing at the climax is so sharp, the way it criss-crosses between musical instruments and characters that it weaves music of the images. This is an exceptional movie and stands tall along the sides of Birdman and Foxcatcher as a cinematic feat. Watch it!
Reviewed by Amar Singh
Amar Singh, is a Research Scholar from Department of English, BHU, working with Prof. Anita Singh on the topic titled, “Hyperrealism and Christopher Nolan’s Cinematic Texts.”