WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen or plan on watching “Whiplash” then be warned I will be discussing pivotal elements of the movie. Viewer discretion is advised.
There’s something so ruefully captivating about a character whose professional volatility purposely averse their own inert human decency. An acerbic mentor with obscenities and a rigid vocabulary devised as a means of motivation for eager ears. Whose stature as a human being registers in only fleeting glances, hinged on otherwise adjunctive aggression. Essentially a cantankerous old goat deprived of emotional solidarity, mere syllables adrift of dysfunction that any moment could spark an ignition of hostility with profoundly visceral fluency. Nothing illustrates this point better than Terence Fletcher. Portrayed emphatically by J K Simmons, a role which subsequently secured him numerous accolades including an academy award- Terence Fletcher is an abusive music instructor teaching at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory for the performing arts. A college featuring a repugnant hue of some of the most repellent, cretinous, overly ambitious and sanctimonious snobs outside of Cambridge. You follow Andrew Neiman an ambitious jazz student looking to become one of the most successful drummers in jazz. Beyond the alluring pomposity, Fletcher possess all the distinguishing characteristics that could be perceived as human, without a solitary redeeming feature nor capacity for leniency, complacency or heavens forfend mediocrity. The idea of students their mandatory tasks without severe encumbrances or challenges rankles Fletcher, as he considers pushing people beyond what is expected a necessity. He’s crass, offensive, he’s belligerent to the point of being desperate. His methodology in motivating potentially talented students is undeniably malicious particularly when compared to his faculty. He is cautiously measured in his approach to identifying an individual’s pressure points, by lulling new pupils with cordial enquiries into their background and using any sensitive or potentially traumatic events as a means of vicious encouragement. Opening loosely healed wounds with precise incisions for abrasive emotional torture, or failing that flinging chairs or musical instruments at students, berating their weight, sexual persuasions, parents separation or heritage! Unsettle the orchestral melody and prepare to receive severe slaps to your face. Yet does such resilient antipathy really encourage someone to become better?
Were you dragging or were you rushing?!
Throughout Whiplash Terrence’s vindictive prejudices against performers that are marginally out of time, or in one horrific case dismissing one student for not knowing whether he was out of time or not, is continually vindicated by him, suggesting that the next big name wouldn’t be discouraged. I personally find that hard to believe? If a talented musician is being physically and mentally abused how could you not feel…… suicidal?! The maleficence is inflicted with such intimate severity and rationalised as if his rancour was somehow a beneficial exhortation to promote pupils innate capabilities. With no thread of human decency or sincerity attributed to his guidance, such malignancy could surely only expedite hatred towards a mentor? With someone in such a position of authority it seems callous to continue such potentially dangerous practices, particularly as it eventually leads to the death of a former pupil. This tragic event sparks a rare interlude of remorse for Fletcher, with succinct glimpses of civility expressed for his departed pupil as he openly grieves for his untimely passing. He soon recedes behind the permissive and the veiled contradictions of such platitudes, now shrewdly absent when he steps back into the classroom. That brief congenial recognition for empathy reflects a man who is capable of feeling guilt, yet observes such instances as a necessary risk for musical perfection, epitomised by sublime recordings left by the deceased student, that later transpires his death was no accident, but self inflicted. With Fletcher’s aggressive tutelage the influencing architect of his demise. Is that the cost of meeting Fletcher’s standards? Yet in spite of his sneering antipathy and general contempt for human life, his methods do kind of make sense.
The folder is your fucking responsibility, Tanner. Why would you give it to Neiman? Right? You give a calculator to a fucking retard he’s gonna try to turn on a TV with it. Now get your sticks and get your ass on stage!
OK, perhaps not to the same devastating extreme, but his labouring disdain for adequacy is reflective of someone who wants the best from his pupils. Sometimes the nuanced paucity indicative of a tutors coaxial support of inherent abilities, slowly cultivating and harnessing their talents isn’t going to generate the appropriate vigour from a potential musical genius. Exposing the less talented members is not likely to yield the same effect if it’s done via the cathartic stupor evoked by general congeniality that merely mediates the necessary applications, without enforcing there importance. The coddled refrain of vapid simpering is a regressive teaching method, one you could argue will only utilise a fragment of dormant talent. How much can you really know about yourself if your not challenged? How can you improve if your mistakes are mitigated by pampered censure? Fletcher’s ruefully conducted veracity is intentionally designed to root out the weak, arresting rhythmic frailties with violent displays that are temperaments bred through frustration. The strategic dismantling of his pupils weaknesses is proficient in demeaning their confidence and is difficult to condone such an elaborate dispersal of both vocal and physical humiliation. His volatile lecturing techniques are deserving of scrutiny, which eventually leads to his dismissal, yet enforcing a stilted capacity for empathy is in essence a hostile projection of his passion. Someone of such scintillating hubris, an adamantly repugnant egocentric with a speciously conceived teaching methodology actually proves (in the end) that he was right!
And here comes mister gay pride of the Upper West Side himself. Unfortunately, this is not a Bette Midler concert, we will not be serving Cosmopolitans and Baked Alaska, so just play faster than you give fucking hand jobs, will you please?
During the movies final act, Andrew, one of Fletcher’s most vilified and tormented apprentices encounters his now dismissed mentor performing jazz at a local bar. (Having privately testified at Fletcher’s hearing to hasten his expulsion after provoking him into suffering with mental deterioration and other exertions, sought restitution penance for his abuse, which also culminated in a violent skirmish with Fletcher while on stage.) During their discursive reconciliation at the bar Fletcher, in a moment of contemplative humility asserts that he was harsh to Andrew, but only because he wanted him to excel. Fletcher then offers Andrew the chance to drum at recital Fletcher would be conducting, to which Andrew agrees. Upon arrival at the venue, seated and eager to demonstrate his musical prowess having established that he would be playing the titular song Whiplash, Fletcher, mere seconds before they are to perform reveals that he knows it was him that got him fired. And then there’s the startling realisation that he has deliberately given Andrew the wrong song sheet. He won’t be performing Whiplash, but another song he is unfamiliar with! Stuttering his way through the performance Andrew leaves the stage totally humiliated by Fletcher’s treacherous omission. Such a publicly abhorrent indignity would be suitable cause to diminish, but motivated by his mentors duplicitous scheme Andrew returns, interrupting Fletcher’s speech with an impromptu rendition of Whiplash. Though ostensibly antagonised by Andrews brazen return, Fletcher soon recognises his determination, even beginning to encourage him. At this point there is no Orchestra, no audience, no ambient distractions. Just teacher and pupil in perfect, academic harmony.
That is not your boyfriend’s dick, so don’t come too early.
There’s a knowing smile reciprocated near the end that suggests a tender parity between them, a sanctioned truce between student and teacher. That despite all that’s proceeded them they are now friends. To me I think it was an acceptance from the pupil admitting that Fletcher was right, that the gruelling teaching procedures adopted by Fletcher results in Andrew’s ultimate progression from adequate percussionist to fledgling star! Something that Andrew had desired. Was Fletcher intentionally provoking a reaction from Andrew? Or was it simply a case of revenge? Though the latter is perhaps the more compatible narrative, with Andrews stubbornness to capitulate more of a convenient outcome. But I’d like to believe the former, because at least then there is a slight yet critical distinction you can derive from Fletcher’s proponent aggressions. All I know for sure is that Fletcher is not the kind of tutor I’d want teaching me to drive at the moment!
Have you seen Whiplash? Do you think Fletcher’s harsh treatment of his students can be advocated? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments below. Cheers.