“Whiplash”: Mediocrity is killing greatness

by Max Moore, Staff Writer

What would you do to be great? Would you play until your hands bled? Study until your eyes seared with pain? Dodge a wooden chair spontaneously being hurled at your head? The wildly talented Damien Chazelle raises these questions in his musical drama, “Whiplash.”

The film follows Andrew Neyman, played by Miles Teller, is a relentlessly stubborn jazz drummer who aspires to be the greatest to ever wield the sticks. Teller tows the line perfectly between someone who is gifted, has what it takes to succeed, but is still unsure of his future in such a cutthroat profession. Not allowing Neyman to appear too confident or certain in himself keeps the audience entertained to see where his journey will lead. He’s willing to end relationships and even shut out his family if it means getting just a little closer to his goal. I admire Neyman’s relentless drive to be the best; putting his head down and blocking out the noise. He lets his dedication speak for himself and even when he doesn’t get what he deserves, he continues to work. He’s sure that if he keeps working on his craft that he’ll be able to land a spot in the prestigious “Chaffer conservatory jazz band”, but that all changes once he meets Terrance Fletcher.

Fletcher, the callus, manipulative and ultimately vindictive conductor of the Chaffer’s band is played by the great JK Simmons. Simmons does a fantastic job of being terrifying but weirdly charming; not allowing himself to be the villain per say but rather an ideological counter to much of society when it comes to his teaching practices. Although Fletcher is abusive and many of his teachings are grotesque, the audience is still drawn to him. He says the worst two words in English are “good job”, arguing that our world has turned soft, one where everyone gets a trophy for participation.

Mediocrity is killing greatness and because of this are we depriving ourselves of the next legendary musician? Fletcher won’t allow that to be his reality. To him jazz is an exact science, perfected by relentless repetition and meticulous attention to detail. If a student of his is out of tune, or god forbid not on his tempo, then the price is a slap in the face rather than “you’ll get it next time.” For those who do believe that the world has gone soft, Fletcher seems to make a case for why he is so extreme.

While watching I found myself extremely conflicted with how I felt towards Fletcher. Part of me respected the dedication in his resolve; refusing to accept anything less than someone’s best. But the truth is that his ridiculous style of teaching pushed one of his students to suicide which he reveals early on in the film. This admission made me realize that no amount of greatness is worth losing a life. There has to be a balance between pushing someone to do their best but also preserving them so that they aren’t destroyed by their craft. Fletcher’s lack of understanding on this matter caused great pain in the lives of his students and ultimately hindered his own success.