Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Whiplash: A full throated defense of physical and emotional abuse

"Are we having f*cking fun yet you simpering, whiny little b*tch?!?"
The film is about achieving greatness, and uses two characters to tell the tale: Andrew (Miles Teller) and Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Andrew's a young drummer who dreams of being the next Charlie Parker, so he joins Fletcher’s elite jazz band class at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York City.

Fletcher's tyrannical and emotionally abusive, but also a gifted perfectionist, He runs his class like a demented, obsessive compulsive drill sergeant with a Masters Degree, but it is to a purpose: Fletcher's monomania pushes Andrew past his limits to greatness.

It’s an agenda driven film with a strong point of view.

Our dear, driven Andrew wants to be all that he can be, musically, so he willingly lets Fletcher subject him to pure hell. Andrew even chucks his directionless girl friend overboard so he can dedicate more time to music.

Because music ├╝ber alles!

There are suicide bombers with less zeal.

Shaffer is an elite school. The best in the country, or so we're told by Andrew. And Fletcher's class is the best of what Shaffer has to offer. Students are ‘free’ to quit and walk away at any time. And yet, they’ve invested copious amounts of money to attend, and it is the path to prestige employment, the realization of their dreams, so… not so simple.

Obviously there is a need to push people to the extreme at elite institutions. It builds toughness and weeds out the weak, which serves a purpose, especially in the military. They strip people down and then rebuild them as part of an integrated team, not only so they can carry out their orders, but better survive them.

But once you accept the filmmaker’s message, where does it lead?

Many of us now work in a global marketplace. People living in areas with a high cost of living must compete with people living in areas with much lower overhead.

So jobs get outsourced overseas.

Because capitalism is competition.

It’s like nature: the best win, the losers become extinct. So to survive, companies must push employees. Hard. That's the mantra of Tiger Moms and drill sergeants. It’s also the message of Terence Fletcher, or more to the point, writer and director Damien Chazelle.

If you don't want your job to go abroad, you'd better be great.

How do we achieve greatness?

Why, Chazelle just gave us the answer: tough love, aka emotional and physical abuse.

Fletcher (the writer / director's mouthpiece) lays it out for us in a monologue:

"Parker's a young kid, pretty good on the sax. Gets up to play at a cutting session, and he fucks it up. And Jones nearly decapitates him for it. And he's laughed off-stage. Cries himself to sleep that night, but the next morning, what does he do? He practices. And he practices and he practices with one goal in mind, never to be laughed at again. And a year later, he goes back to the Reno and he steps up on that stage, and plays the best motherfucking solo the world has ever heard. So imagine if Jones had just said: "Well, that's okay, Charlie. That was all right. Good job. "And then Charlie thinks to himself, "Well, shit, I did do a pretty good job." End of story. No Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy. But that's just what the world wants now. People wonder why jazz is dying."

It's good, if blunt, dialogue. The film is full of it.

Whiplash is a full throated roar to bring Basic Training to every workplace. Why? Because if we don’t, we’ll fall behind. We’ll be out competed. Only the hardest will survive.

To the films credit, the cost of this approach is not skipped over: students break down, they cry, and one even commits suicide. As a result, the worrywart administration and the coddler brigade intervene.

The teacher, Fletcher, is sanctioned and driven out.

A safe environment is restored.


Butterflies out of bums.

But in the last few seconds of the film, this narrative is inverted with a snap so hard it will give you… well, you know: whiplash.

It's all in a look exchanged between teacher and student, one which signifies realization: Andrew has emerged through the crucible, fully realized, and has now achieved true greatness. Fletcher, the erstwhile villain, is vindicated. The worrywarts and school administration are revealed as simpering weaklings standing in the way of achievement, the very thing an educational institution should be promoting. Instead, they're holding people back from achieving their full potential.

And don't we all want to fulfill our potential?

From a film making point of view, it's brilliant. It breaks the 'Save the Cat' structure that has become so ubiquitous. The entire movie builds to a nonverbal exchange that occurs in the last thirty seconds.

So the film presents us with a choice: you can either have greatness through 'emotional and physical abuse', or you can give up on greatness in order to avoid the harshness of 'tough love'.

"Just relax and enjoy, you worthless, limp-dicked, pansy-assed piece of shit!!!"
The two opposing views have built-in defense mechanisms, starting with slanders: you’re either an abusive tyrant (and I imagine a few other appellations, probably the catch-all 'Fascist') or a simpering weakling, a 'worthless, friendless, faggot-lipped little piece of shit whose mommy left daddy when she figured out he wasn't Eugene O'Neill, and who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drum set like a fucking nine-year old girl!’

As Mr. Fletcher might say.

In fact, he does say that.

Such a charmer.

I'd pay money to see this guy teaching nine-year olds while screaming that they cry like five-year olds. Maybe in the sequel: Terence Fletcher Goes Grade School, Eight Dead, Film at Six.

Get them while they're young, right? In fact, excellence starts in Kindergarten. Fletcher's next monologue practically writes itself...

The real kicker? 

The omission: there is not a single woman in the class.

Fletcher does invite the five-year old daughter of a former student to join his band, though.

Boy, does she have something to look forward to.

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