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Last Night I Watched: Whiplash

It’s rare a film leaves me with such a palpable sense of exhilaration as it cuts to black, and rarer still that it has this effect on me after my third viewing. But Whiplash is a special kind of film, the sheer doggedness of the main characters seeps into the audience, infecting them with the same kind of obsession that threatens to destroy the protagonist.

Whiplash, released in late 2014, was written and directed by Damien Chazelle and follows ‘Andrew Neiman’ (Miles Teller), a young jazz drummer at the best music school in the US, Shaffer Conservatory. Andrew is given a chance in the top jazz band at Shaffer by the ruthless conductor, ‘Terence Fletcher’ (J.K. Simmons), starting Andrew on a journey that pushes him to the verge of insanity all in the name of fulfilling his potential.

the score is packed with lively jazz numbers

The tone of Whiplash is varied but never feels inconsistent, the score is packed with lively jazz numbers and the director draws the audience into his creation with warm brass colours which echo the foundations of the film. This enticing warmth is broken by cold teals which soak Andrew in moments of failure and madness, reminding the audience that this warm, musical world is full of abuse and chilling isolation.

The characters of Andrew and Fletcher and the world surrounding them are crafted impeccably. Andrew’s father, a failed writer, is a constant reminder of mediocrity and the disappointment that accompanies it, whilst the rest of Andrew’s family are unable to appreciate the magnitude of his achievements. This lack of respect is what draws him into the grasp of Fletcher who, through damaging manipulation, drives Andrew to dangerous levels of fixation. As his desires intensify, he begins to alienate those around him, including girlfriend ‘Nicole’ (Melissa Benoist), and throws away all distractions in his tireless pursuit of being one of the greats, “the next Charlie Parker”.

From the moment he appears on screen it’s clear how much power he holds in the world Andrew longs to be a part of

The character of Fletcher is one of the most iconic aspects of Whiplash. From the moment he appears on screen it’s clear how much power he holds in the world Andrew longs to be a part of. Be it through his ability to silence a room simply by stepping into it, or the cruel yet creative insults he blasts at his students, he commands absolute respect. He builds Andrew up, so he has further to tear him down, he humiliates him during his first practice, just to let him know he’s out of his depth. He’s a person who can be as kind as he is cruel, as amusing as he is insulting, he will stop at nothing to produce something outstanding; it’s hard not to admire him a little.

The central theme of the film is easy to relate to for anyone with a dream: to achieve true success you must make sacrifices and push yourself past what you think is possible. Fletcher holds an extreme view of this idea, he thinks that any wasted potential is a catastrophe and to achieve genuine success, no line can be drawn when it comes to the methods used to push people forward as he believes, “the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged”.

It boasts creative storytelling and excellent cinematography

Whiplash is a film that never seems to sag; it manages to stay visually fresh even though much of its screen time is taken up by a jazz band playing music. It boasts creative storytelling and excellent cinematography, especially in the final climax which is a thirteen-minute performance with very little dialogue. With 3 Oscar wins including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons (the result of a blistering performance) Whiplash was Damien Chazelle’s breakthrough film and kicked off a career which saw his next film, La La Land, take home 6 Oscars in 2017.

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