‘Whiplash’ deals with controversial themes…and explores extreme angles of a relationship between a music student and his teacher. How hard an aspiring musician should try for perfection and how hard a teacher can and should push to spot and hone greatness in his disciples….these are a couple of questions that linger in the mind, while watching the film. But, from a cinematic experience, the film is pure joy, with a superb cast making it all believable.
JK Simmons (Fletcher-Teacher) and Miles Tiller (Neiman-Student) compliment each other very well and hold the film together to make sure it doesn’t slip out of the audience belief zone. Mike Tiller displays the range of emotions perfectly, as his character goes through a seesaw of feelings …in quick succession. Worth mention is the initial change in his feelings when Fletcher plays with his psyche, with a bit of unexpected praise and following it up with a chair thrown at full speed.
But ‘Whiplash’ can never be the movie it turned out to be without JK Simmons and he deserves the Oscar every bit of it. Right from the word go, he is unpredictability at its best, which is the core of this character. He has to be both unpredictable and believable at that very moment and he pulls it off with elan. He keeps the audience guessing as to what his real motives are….and that becomes the driving force of the screenplay. Worth mention is the scene in the restaurant with Neiman just before the climax, getting him to accept as a drummer in his upcoming programme. It’s tough to be nice without showing any motive and that too after a sonofabitch portrayal he had shown until that point of time and he does it effortlessly.
Of course, Whiplash couldn’t have been possible without the director Damien Chazelle. To conceive and execute such an offbeat story is an extraordinary feat and in the process creates a music-based film that compares with the classic ‘Amadeus’. Interestingly the love-hate relationship of the student-teacher in Whiplash is a tad similar to that of Salieri-Mozart. In ‘Amadeus’ Salieri’s struggle is more internalized and only comes out as narration…whereas in ‘Whiplash’ it is brought out in several scenes, with ambiguity thrown in, for the sake of driving the plot.
Like any good movie, the heart of the film lies in its climax. All three–Damien Chazelle, JK Simmons and Miles Tiller leave their best to the last. It’s a unique set-up and a mini-movie by itself. If you decide to watch just a portion of the film then this has to be it. And after watching it, there are quite a few takeaways…and it is up to you to pick the version you like. I for one would like to think that Fletcher found both his genius and nemesis.