‘Whiplash’ and the Troubling Notion of Success by Any Means Necessary

Doc Coyle

In the wake of three wins at the Academy Awards highlighted by J.K. Simmons seemingly inevitable taking of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, jazz master class meets boot camp themed film, Whiplash, is very fresh in my mind. Like many other viewers, I have to say that I flat-out loved the film, and also like many others, the film affected me in a very personal way. I am a (self taught) career musician, and my father is a piano teacher with a robust jazz background. Although music is the tool that Whiplash wields, music could be a placeholder for any obsessive passion that we seek to perfect. Be it football, ballet, the military, or any environment that’s meant to be tutorial and academic, we’ve all been under the thumb of a superior who we are trusting has our best interest at heart, while holding kernels of wisdom still mysterious to us. That power imbalance is something we’ve all felt, and is the reason why Whiplash touched a nerve with so many.

Last week, a moment struck me as troubling in regards to Whiplash. I was discussing the film with my roommate’s friend (Let’s call him “Barry”), and his takeaway was that Whiplash had inspired him to work harder, and that he should push himself more to succeed and be great. I was flummoxed. Did he see the same film I saw? (Spoiler Alert) I saw the film’s protagonist, Andrew Neiman, (played by Miles Teller) almost die foolishly in a car wreck trying to make it to a performance. Conductor, Terence Fletcher (played by Simmons), was held responsible for an ex-student’s suicide. Neiman only succeeds in the film’s finale in spite of Fletcher’s plot to ambush him. I did not see a tough love allegory hidden beneath the muck. I saw a bad guy, who probably had good intentions at some point, but whose methodology had gone off the rails by way of physical, emotional, and mental abuse. What was I missing?

Embedded from www.youtube.com.