What are you willing to sacrifice for greatness? Whiplash, a film by Damien Chazelle, forces its viewers to confront this question. Whiplash is about a boy named Andrew, played by Miles Teller, who gets accepted into the Shaffer conservatory, a prestigious music school. Andrew’s passion for drumming is clear from the very beginning of the film. He tries at a seat in Terence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) class. Terence Fletcher is a widely-known conductor inside and outside of the school. Under his teaching and guidance, any student would thrive in the musical world. By a stroke of fate, Andrew is able to get into Fletcher’s studio band. He soon finds out that getting into the band is only the beginning of his struggle. It is soon realized why Fletcher is seen as a great teacher and conductor. He searches for perfection from his band as he conducts, and will not settle for less. Fletcher’s abusive and questionable teaching methods come into consideration as he hurls insults and even a chair at Andrew’s direction to mold a great musician. Several scenes show Andrew’s struggle as he practices his drumming. He drums with speed trying to keep the tempo that Fletcher screams for, he bleeds without care as his determination urges him forward, and his face is visually twisted with anguish. His pain felt almost tangible, yet his drive was crystal clear.
The movie becomes personal as I connected to him and it made me question my passions. The drive to succeed was redefined as I watched Andrew through his journey. As an artist, going into a field that is competitive, large, difficult to succeed in, I wondered if I could apply my motivation as Andrew did. Would I sacrifice as much as he did? Andrew seemed to detach himself from all his friends, a significant other, and even his family. Drumming became his life and it was frightening to see what control it had over him. Was that what it took to be great? Is that maybe why some world-famous artists become insane?
Art needs equal amounts of observation as practice and action. To observe is to feel, to see,and to experience. The ability to interpret and transform those observations into something new is the ability to make art. One can continue to master the basics, but if that touch of creativity and one’s own unique style is not included, one cannot stand out from the rest. The struggle lies in originality and the ability to distinguish oneself from the others. In that process, many fall prey to comparing oneself to the next artist which can affect one’s confidence in one’s art. We are our own worst critic and in some ways, Fletcher embodies the cruel voices that we shout at ourselves – that we are not good enough, that we must work harder, that we are good for nothing. Fletcher reveals that he teaches this way because he believes that the two most damaging words to society are “good job.” He believes that it calls for mediocrity. Whether it is true or not is left for the viewers to decide.
The film brilliantly explored the fragile line between determination and insanity. It was an intense experience that lingers days after watching it. It left me with many questions and no answers. It renders the viewers to think twice about fame and fortune and breaks the stigma of its glamor.