Almost everyone has someone who has pushed them to excel. It could be the coach who challenges you to run that extra mile. Or a teacher who knows you can make the grade, or a parent who loves you enough to convince you that you’re on the wrong path. Yes, you might chafe a little as they try to help you be a better person. But deep down you understand that they are doing what is good for you.
But is there a point where one can push someone too hard? What happens when the line between excellence and perfection is blurred? What is the result when the path to greatness is warped into something more akin to torture?
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’” Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) plumbs terrifying depths to follow this creed. Fletcher, a distinguished jazz teacher at a music school, finds Andrew (Miles Teller) practicing the drums in a tucked-away room on campus. He takes him under his wing, but Andrew finds out the price of his tutelage is high as he endures Fletcher’s abuse disguised as training.
For the audience, it is equal parts breathtaking and wince-inducing as we wonder how long Andrew will put up with Fletcher’s “teaching” – and whether or not Fletcher, in his own twisted way, is doing what’s necessary for Andrew to succeed.
These are the ideas “Whiplash” masterfully asks us to consider. The film presents the teacher/student relationship in the harshest light possible as a parable for our day. We are forced to question if our culture pushes people to greatness enough.
In an age when competition is discouraged, everyone gets a trophy, and we are encouraged into group thinking, this film makes a point that is hard to refute. But flip to the other side of the coin and we see the abuses that the push for individual excellence creates. It can lead to obsession, a devaluation of our self-worth, and the edge of a cliff that demands we die for our passions.
As the film concludes in a whirlwind of revenge and musical prowess, “Whiplash” shows us that the push for excellence is needed now more than ever. But it is up to us to ensure that we are not the push that causes someone to fall over the cliff.
“Whiplash” is a daring piece of American cinema that will be remembered for years to come. In his directorial feature debut, Damien Chazelle crowns himself as a bold, exciting talent in Hollywood whom I look forward to seeing again. He leads an all-star cast and crew who give their all in everything from the acting to the sound design and film editing. Simmons emerges as the movie’s MVP for his Oscar-winning performance as Fletcher.
This is a movie I highly recommend, and one you do not want to miss.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.