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November 30, 2023
Peter Calder

Rushing or Dragging? "Whiplash" (2 minute read)

One of the greats, “Whiplash,” is what every filmmaker strives for.  “Whiplash” was a short film, then became an indie feature.  It ultimately became a box office success, bringing in ten times its original budget, winning 3 Oscars and numerous other awards such as BAFTAs and a Golden Globe.

I recently watched the short film, which was made before the feature.  Because of the 18-minute short’s success, it was turned into what people now know to be Whiplash.  Writer and director Damien Chazelle used experiences from his earlier life playing in a jazz band to inspire the film.  I was quite interested to find how similar the two films were.  In fact, all of the scenes in the 18-minute short are repeated in the full feature.  

Many aspects, such as the general story, plot, characters and tone, stayed the same.  Even the actors were the same except for the protagonist, Andrew Neiman, whom Johnny Simmons initially played in the short and then Miles Teller in the feature.  J.K. Simmons gives an incredible performance in both films; in my opinion, it’s his best role.  

Something that dramatically changed was the set design and look of the movie in the feature; it is pretty simple night and day.  The short is filmed in a less dramatic, lighter and brighter environment and then the feature is dark and heavily colour-graded in a warm yellow/green way.  The new feature’s production makes much more sense than the previous short, complementing the intense storyline following Newman and Fletcher’s harsh teacher-student relationship.  

The story follows Andrew Newman, a young, ambitious drummer, and Terence Fletcher, a long-time Jazz teacher and conductor; they meet in Fletcher’s band at a prestigious music conservatory.  The film is a roller coaster between their relationship with each other.  After establishing their characters, the two have a constant back-and-forth between positive and negative.  Newman, wanting to be the best at what he does, considers Fletcher’s more traditional teaching methods.  

The film goes back and forth between Fletcher being unsatisfied with Newman and pushing him harder while Newman is in agony and then sharing their love for music.  We are left at the end with Fletcher finally respecting Newman.  Newman goes through his obstacles to achieve self-confidence and thrive as a  great drummer in the final moments before the credits roll.  It is pretty apparent how ethics play a  huge theme in this story—specifically, the ethics of being someone’s superior, teacher, coach or mentor.  

Depending on the people you grow up around, the place you live and the information you consume determines your ethical point of view on what’s right and wrong.  Wherever you are, people have different ideas of what is over the line and right or wrong. Damien Chazelle uses Whiplash to push this idea.  It is depicted in the film that one of Fletcher’s past students took their own life, quite possibly because of his tormented abuse of Fletcher.  Although we see Newman get tormented and verbally and physically abused by Fletcher, in the end, he thrives.  

This leaves the question open-ended: was  Fletcher crossing the line with his teachings?  

This is why I chose this film as one of my favourites.  This kind of teacher-student relationship can be compared and contrasted across all areas of society (including coaches who push athletes hard in a way some would say is abusive).  Is this right or wrong?  What is your definition of crossing the line?  Where would you say the line is?