MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Sony Pictures Classics
On DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, Google Play and other streaming services.
Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons.
Andrew Neiman (Teller) is a young man who has just been accepted into the jazz program at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City. Andrew lives and breaths jazz drumming and he hopes to become one of the best, emulating his idol, the late great Buddy Rich. If Andrew is going to fulfill his dream, he must not only practice for hours at a time, but also be willing to submit himself to the tutelage of Mr. Fletcher (Simmons), an instructor who motivates his pupils to be the best through sarcasm, yelling, and the relentless pursuit of perfection.
Whiplash is a coming-of-age story that insists on showing us the world solely through Andrew’s perspective, which is perhaps its most interesting feature. Andrew struggles to find his identity and is capable of pushing away persons who are not on his wavelength, including relatives and romantic interests.
Mr. Fletcher can be cruel, but he represents the kind of musical excellence that Andrew craves and the challenge that motivates Andrew to push himself beyond perceived limits, to the point of bloodied hands and physical exhaustion.
J. K. Simmons has won a mantelpiece of awards (including an Oscar) for his performance as Fletcher, and it is a real showstopper. Miles Teller is no slouch, either, and the two have great chemistry in their many encounters.
(I confess that I am the father of two professional jazz musicians who also attended a demanding music school and there is much in Whiplash that simply does not ring true, including the calm composure of band members who idly sit in silence during Fletcher’s rants and even the way in which jazz competitions are depicted.)
The strength of this little film lies in its ability to raise some big questions in an entertaining way. How hard should a person push themselves physically and emotionally to achieve greatness? Can an overly focused pursuit of a particular goal (sports, music, religion) ride roughshod over other important aspects of life? Is musical genius intuitive or learned? What brings you pleasure, meaning and purpose?
Whiplash is a great discussion film and I highly recommend it for older youth and young adults who are thinking about vocation. There are many voices calling out to us. Which ones will we listen to? And where is the voice of God?
Three halos: A provocative film about ambition, creativity, and the price we pay in the process.
Three pitchforks: Abusive language; cruelty; homophobic slurs – all courtesy of a demanding mentor.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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