Whiplash is a 2014 film directed by Damien Chazelle that explores the themes of obsession and perfectionism through the relationship between a talented jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman, and his abusive music teacher, Terence Fletcher. The film provides a vivid portrayal of the intense pressure and sacrifices that individuals face in their pursuit of excellence, and raises important questions about the nature of humanity.
The film's central character, Andrew, is a driven young man who is determined to become a great jazz drummer. He idolizes jazz legends like Buddy Rich and dreams of one day being remembered as one of the greatest drummers in history. When he joins Terence's elite jazz ensemble, he is initially thrilled to be under the guidance of such a talented and respected teacher. However, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Terence's methods of teaching are extreme beyond eccentricity, and that his pursuit of perfection has consumed him entirely.
Throughout the film, Chazelle portrays the intensity of Andrew's need to be sublime, as well as the toll that this mania takes on his physical and mental health. Through scenes of intense practice sessions, where Andrew pushes himself to the brink of exhaustion, Chazelle shows the lengths to which individuals will go in their pursuit of excellence. He also depicts the psychological toll of this pursuit, as Andrew struggles to keep up with Terence's demands and becomes increasingly isolated from his friends and family.
At the same time, Chazelle also portrays the cost of Terence's perfectionism. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Terence's abusive behavior is driven by his own need for excellence and his desperate need to produce the next great jazz drummer. He berates and humiliates his students, pushing them to their limits in an attempt to extract the best possible performance from them. However, despite his intense focus on “being one of the greats,” Terence is ultimately unable to find the satisfaction and fulfillment that he seeks, and the film portrays the tragic and lonely existence of someone consumed by their own obsession.
Through these depictions of delusional infatuation, Whiplash raises important questions about the nature of these traits and their impact on individuals and those around them. The film asks whether the pursuit of excellence is worth the sacrifices that individuals must make, and whether the pursuit of perfection is ultimately a self-defeating and destructive endeavor. It also explores the idea that this insanity can have a corrupting influence on individuals, leading them to harm those around them and to lose touch with what is truly important in life. The film's powerful performances and intense storytelling make it a must-see for anyone interested in these themes, and its legacy as a classic of modern cinema is secure.
Aarna Tyagi (she/her) is a fourteen-year-old writer and avid reader who currently resides in Long Island, New York. She enjoys playing discordant yet soothing chords on the piano, reading books, writing poems, and listening to music that speaks to her soul. Her favorite musical artists are Mitski, Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Cocteau Twins, and Men I Trust. If you don't catch her listening to music, she's probably reading poetry by Ocean Vuong and Sappho or novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Audre Lorde, and Franz Kafka.