Blog Directory CineVerse: Suffering for your art

Suffering for your art

Thursday, September 7, 2017

You don't have to be a musician, teacher, student or jazz/music lover to appreciate the film "Whiplash" or its powerful message about drive, ambition, obsession and the teacher-pupil relationship. And you certainly don't have to take this film – or its plot – literally. You can simply examine it for the parable it is and the cautionary tale it tells. Our CineVerse group discussion yielded some interesting observations and insights that may help you better understand what's going on here and why this picture is important, including the following:

  • It’s shot and edited rhythmically like a jazz song.
    • The cuts are meant to convey feeling and emotion and to visually communicate without words. Consider the close-ups of hand motions brushing the girlfriend’s hair around her ear.
    • There’s a rhythmic variety of tracking shots, close-ups, pans and push-ins all used to suggest the growth of Andrew’s talents and desire. Think about how kinetic and fluid the film is from the start – the opening shot tracks down the hallway for us to see Andrew.
  • It’s also shot like a war movie more than a jazz/music movie. This picture is startling in its brutality, sudden violence, blood, profanity and overall tone. Alternatively, it feels more like a sports film, leading up to the big fight or the big game.
  • Consider the harsh extent to which Fletcher is willing to go as a teacher, using verbal and physical abuse and threats to push and punishes students. Fletcher’s character is so powerful and villainous that, on paper, he would seem to completely dominate and upstage anyone else on screen with him.
    • But Andrew’s character is written and played to go toe-to-toe with Fletcher and equally capture our attention. Andrew is not your typical protagonist who is entirely sympathetic and comprehensible. He could be an arrogant, insensitive jerk, and he has qualities that are not so admirable.
    • While the monstrous personality of Fletcher may seem implausible, the movie aims for accuracy by casting a young actor – Miles Teller – who can really drum, as well as real music students and musicians in the classroom and performance scenes.
  • There are multiple climaxes and dénouements to this movie:
    • the festival were Andrew survives the car accident
    • the tenuous reconciliation between former student and teacher in the bar, plus the scene before it where he learned that Fletcher has been fired and Andrew is expelled
    • the JVC Festival conclusion
  • Surprisingly, Andrew is given a love interest, but abandons her fairly early on and she does not return – unlike so many other films of this type.
  • Fletcher doesn’t care about properly training and educating students: he wants to mold his own new jazz legend and perpetuate the tall tale about Charlie Parker becoming greater after having a symbol thrown at him. He’s all about upholding his ideals of jazz tradition.
    • He believes you need to suffer for your art and that greatness comes from pushing yourself to the limit.
    • He’s very much like a Marine drill sergeant and Captain Ahab rolled into one – searching for the elusive white whale (next jazz great) and eager to break the spirit and the body of his soldiers to try to shape them into perfect killers.
    • Consider how Fletcher usurps the truth about his student who commits suicide; he creates a myth about an untapped talent cut down too early: this indicates how truly dangerous, warped and evil this man is.
    • Fletcher believes his means to an end are justified – that his tactics and approach are necessary for jazz to survive.
  • Andrew believes he could be the next all-time great jazz drummer, so he subscribes to Fletcher’s philosophy and is willing to endure the punishing tactics.
    • By subscribing, he forms a symbiotic relationship with Fletcher that initiates a cycle of abuse; he becomes reliant on the abuser to follow his masochistic dream.
    • But Andrew is becoming a mini-Fletcher: he abandons his girlfriend; he becomes a jerk to his classmates; he tells his family at the dinner table that talent, fame and legend are more important than living a mediocre life, in a cynical manner like Fletcher; then, he upstages Fletcher at the end as Fletcher tries to do to him.
  • To what extent are you willing to push, sacrifice and compromise yourself for the pursuit of art and excellence? Do the ends justify the means?
  • Obsession, drive and ambition: an obsession with the past and in creating or perpetuating myths and legends is dangerous and misguided. And an obsession with achieving perfection creates a very imperfect human being.
  • The quest for excellence can be lonely and unappreciated.
  • The duality of our nature.
  • Being torn between two father figures: Andrew’s real dad, who was a failed novelist turned English teacher and is a milder, more compassionate person than Fletcher; and Fletcher, a hard-driving, uncompassionate teacher who also apparently failed to make it as a full-time artist.
  • The Faustian gambit: making a pact with the devil.
  • The Red Shoes
  • Fame
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Scorsese films like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver– where the main character pushes away his love interest and enjoys masochism and violence
  • The Piano Teacher
  • Rocky and The Fighter, two sports films depicting the struggles and sacrifices of an underdog athlete
  • Mr. Turner
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus

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