TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Whiplash “2014”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Drama/Stars: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Suanne Spoke, Jayson Blair, Charlie Ian, Henry G. Sanders, Adrian Rashad Driscoll/Runtime: 107 minutes

I think it is safe to say quite a few members of the community known as students, especially with the benefit of hindsight, will tell you that it was their teachers who were the most ruthless if not downright demanding and/or demeaning who were often among the best teachers they ever had. Indeed this is because despite not being liked by the majority of their pupils, these teachers show that they are invaluable additions to their career field when approached with the context of time. Indeed these teachers know that they aren’t meant to just simply give the student an abundance of information worth remembering, but instead to prepare for the student for the way the world actually is and to do so in a manner that is always malleable and able to adjust even when faced with the most stressful of moments in life. Indeed much in the same vein as the finest physical trainers know to take their clients past their comfort zone in order to help them grow, so too do the finest teachers in how they take their student to a place where they might actually fail so that the student doesn’t sink, but instead get them ready for the next journey in life. This incidentally is why coaches push a team of athletes to their breaking point or why drill instructors in the military are as hardnosed as they infamously are. Indeed simply showing a team of athletes or potential soldiers how to execute a certain play or be the pinnacle of finesse and discipline does not help these people in any way in a real potential life or death situation. Rather, it is the arts of comprehension, training, and bravery among other things that might give them the upper hand instead of that nice and shiny participation trophy awarded to all the kids at the end of the season so no one’s feelings get hurt. At the same time though, is there a barrier that distinguishes teaching in a hardnosed manner from what literally amounts to no less than torture of both the mind and body? Also is there a line a pupil should not break when it comes to being willing to learn at any cost and enduring agony which doesn’t gift the student with intellect and triumph, but rather emotional anguish? It is these dichotomy-style questions that are analyzed in 2014’s Whiplash, a phenomenal slice of cinematic pie that shows us what happens when a student willing to do anything to triumph is placed up against a teacher who wants more than even that student might be able to provide.

The plot is as follows: Whiplash tells the story of a young man by the name of Andrew. Andrew, we quickly pick up on, is just starting his academic career at a respectable place known as the Shaffer Conservatory of Music which is known for giving the United States some of its finest musicians. To that end, we learn that Andrew wishes to become an iconic jazz drummer and in order to do that he must learn from an iconic professor named Fletcher. A professor who is notorious for being able to get what he wants out of students by either pushing them to their breaking point and beyond or just doing what he feels is necessary to thin out the “weak members of the herd” that he feels aren’t going to be up to snuff in the brutal upper echelons of the musical community. Suffice it to say that Andrew’s dynamic with Fletcher is fairly difficult to say the least. Yet just when it looks like he has managed to acquire Fletcher’s confidence to say nothing of respect, we soon see things take a turn for the nightmarish as Fletcher brutally goes after our intrepid hero with a ruthlessness and a tenacity that is both horrific and visceral and goes way beyond what many would consider the “conventional limits”. As such, we see that Andrew finds himself faced with a difficult dilemma: get past it and try his best to focus on his music yet forfeit nearly everything else or allow his dream to fall from his grasp as swiftly as the derogatory comments come from the mouth of his instructor…

Now in the most simplistic way of looking at things, this movie is Full Metal Jacket for aspiring musicians with J.K. Simmons as R. Lee Ermey’s drill instructor from Hell and Miles Teller a mix of Privates Joker and Pyle. Of course, it should be noted that this film is a bit more complex than that generalized description. Rather, this film is also a phenomenally-well constructed dance between unrelenting rancor and unyielding perseverance that pits a student driven to triumph no matter what against a teacher who would rather belittle him and give him grief at nearly every waking turn and seemingly not care about either the student in question or anyone else in his classes. Yet the core of this movie is one which can be found in a set of questions. Those of course being what is it that is pushing these 2 individuals as hard as they are? What propels them to their respective extremes to the extent that they collide due to becoming no more and no less than a force that can’t be stopped and the object that won’t be moved? Is this duo meeting a freak accident that sees two unyielding forces crossing paths or is there some sort of predestined plan set in motion for them to meet so that they can have their methods either be upheld or annihilated? Suffice it to say that whilst the film doesn’t exactly provide any easy answers to these questions, it still ultimately does give us quite the riveting analysis of not only what it means to be human, but also what it looks like when the human spirit is violently shoved outside of its known limits.

To be sure, this movie is definitely the saga of a pair of people who are equally as driven to succeed no matter what and it is their external tit for tat that is core to the narrative as we see Fletcher take Andrew not only to his limits, but past them as well. Yet perhaps the most intriguing narrative hook this movie has going for it is the psychological one that strives to have the movie goer look past everything happening externally and look at the much deeper issues internally as well. Indeed this is a slice of cinematic pie that is on a basic level about locating the right tempo on the inside not an odyssey to play the best tempo you possibly can on the outside. This of course is made apparent throughout the film as we see that our intrepid hero challenges himself on the inside and on the outside by Fletcher which then subsequently makes him push himself even harder to the extent that he not only bleeds for his work, but he is also placed in a mindset and erosion of spirit that start to make his life a nightmare rather than productive by any means. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie is one that almost operates more like a cautionary tale on the perils of how bad too much of something truly can become, a concept that exists in this film from beginning to an end that is both riveting yet also quite uneasy if not satisfying and intriguingly complex all at once. Regardless of how the film manages to wrap things up though, this slice of cinematic pie does conjure up the question of if things really do go too far thus taking this past beyond just an phenomenally well done yet hard to sit through movie and makes you almost disgusted in seeing just how far the characters go. Yes you may at first find yourself unable to do anything but respect what these 2 men are striving for, but as people’s lives begin getting annihilated and a passion quickly turns obsessive in a way that tears a person apart on the inside and outside at the same time, the movie does get quite perilously close to putting space between itself and the audience rather than inviting them into its world and the lives of its characters.

Yet although this slice of cinematic pie often comes quite close to going past the point of no return, it surprisingly is able to consistently stay on the right side of things thus making you feel like you are in a feeling of emotional turmoil through the majority of the film, but at the conclusion more in a vibe of wonder especially when taking into account how phenomenally well done this movie is in regards to its technical ingredients as well as the delivery of some of the most riveting yet tough to swallow material to put on the silver screen in a while. Indeed this movie’s script, written by helmer Damien Chazelle, is both incredibly satisfying and immense and his helmsmanship is downright riveting to say nothing of how they both are able to locate subtle and little details that help to strengthen both the film and the pair of performances that help to make it something truly special. To that end, it should be said that Miles Teller is fantastic as Andrew. Indeed Teller manages to locate Andrew’s inner obsessive nature and is able to transform it from a point where he is determined to whatever he can to succeed to quite a few points where breaks down and past that in a turn in this that is not only a challenge on a physical level, but one that is just draining emotionally as well from beginning to end. Yet the performance that is perhaps the finest in the film is the absolutely riveting and borderline terrifying one we get from J.K. Simmons who gives us an instructor who is such an complicated enigma that even as the movie ends you will never entirely be sure if this man is genuinely insane or if maybe just maybe there is some kind of method to his madness. I mean does he do the things he does in the hope that it’ll make the student tougher than before they took his class or is he just someone whose experiences have molded him into someone who is only satisfied with finding the best of the best and then breaking them so they are never able to meet the standards that society has bestowed upon them? Whichever answer you choose to go with, I think what is clear is that Simmons does a truly powerful job whilst also perfectly embodying all the major thematic concepts at play within the film itself.

All in all I think it is safe to say that Whiplash is a wonderfully complicated slice of cinematic pie that, in all fairness, might rub some people the wrong way especially when taking into account this film is both a run of the mill narrative involving the bond between a teacher and his student as well as a riveting analysis of an obsession and teaching manner that might not exactly be the healthiest in the world. At the same time though, this slice of cinematic pie does a wonderful job at operating as a bleak and complicated analysis of being human that is highlighted by a pair of some of the best performances from the year 2014 especially the one from J.K. Simmons who truly delivers some next-level work here and then some. On a scale of 1-5 I give Whiplash “2014” a solid 4.5 out of 5.