by Tim Jones 2/22/15
When hurting feelings are part of the course curriculum • With the Academy Awards being televised tonight, I thought I would try to get out and see Whiplash, one that has been nominated in five categories including big picture, best actor in a supporting role, best adapted screenplay, film editing and sound mixing.
It is an unbelievably intense movie, which is surprising since the story takes place in a music school, one that is clearly modeled after The Julliard School in New York City, the best of its kind in the country. It’s about a first year student, Andrew, played by Miles Teller, who dreams of becoming a jazz drummer and a great one at that, only to find out that his instructor is like a marine drill sargeant dressed in a black t-shirt and pants. It appears from the beginning that this guy doesn’t cut any of his students an inch of slack when it comes to their musical education and training.
Fletcher, the band instructor played by J.K.Simmons, is particularly rough on Andrew, who tries his best to meet the nearly impossible demands put upon him by Fletcher. Fletcher has a mouth that could rival that of soldiers in combat and an attitude that could be even rougher than the most hardened war veteran. He looks like he could have easily been in the military, with his bald head and a physique that looks like he’s in great shape for a man his age. In one scene early in the movie he brings Andrew to tears after slapping in the face multiple times for failing to successfully perform a drumming exercise he wants him to do.[pullquote]It’s actually a great commentary and an indictment of the country’s educational system where the promotion of self-esteem (and victimization) has become more important than excellence and hurt feelings.[/pullquote]
The key scene comes late in the movie after Fletcher has been fired from the school after its learned that his teaching technique has inflicted such emotional damage to one of his former students that he commits suicide within years after graduating from the school. Contributing to his firing was a fight that occurred between Fletcher and Andrew. It’s a physical encounter between the two you can feel building throughout the movie. It’s just surprising it didn’t happen sooner. Andrew is also dismissed from school for attacking Fletcher.
This scene is when the two have a chance encounter that’s cordial in an NYC nightclub where Fletcher is playing piano with a jazz combo. The two sit down for a drink, where Fletcher explains why he was such a bastard as a band and music teacher.
First, he takes what I thought was a pretty good shot at Starbucks and the CDs you sometimes see on their counters peddling the watered-down jazz that’s been homogenized like so much else in today’s culture. Fletcher goes on to say to Andrew that the reason he was so hard on him and his other students was to really push them to try to achieve greatness, that in order to really be successful one also has to push themselves to their limits and that too often people settle for mediocrity. It’s actually a great commentary and an indictment of the country’s educational system where the promotion of self-esteem (and victimization) has become more important than excellence and hurt feelings.
Fletcher recounts the story of how Charlies Parker, early in his career as a teenager, gets soundly rejected by a mentor/teacher only to wake up the next day more determined than ever to achieve greatness, which is exactly what he did. Fletcher goes on to say the two worst words in the English language are “great job,” implying that like jazz itself, greatness and excellence have been homogenized with so much focus being put on students being taught to feel good about themselves rather than being the best that they can.[pullquote]…the two worst words in the English language are “great job,” implying that like jazz itself, greatness and excellence have been homogenized . . . students being taught to feel good about themselves rather than being the best that they can.[/pullquote]
Another particularly noteworthy scene comes about halfway through the movie during a family dinner where Andrew is trying to defend his career in music to some of his family members. He says he would rather die early in life while contributing to lasting greatness as Charlie Parker did, and that this is much more worthy than investing a long life in a career with no lasting legacy.
The final scene is one that is totally unexpected and comes with a major “twist,” a surprise that I doubt anyone will see coming. It has an intensity to it that will make one leave the movie in awe.
Whiplash does a great job when it comes to portraying how political correctness has watered down our society to the point where excellence, where it exists, is hardly recognizable anymore except possibly to the very few who are paying attention. Whiplash itself is a movie that is definitely recognizable excellence. • (1449 views)