Whiplash is a 2014 semi-autobiographical film by Damien Chazelle. It follows an ambitious drummer, Andrew Neiman, and his intense jazz instructor Terrence Fletcher, who pushes Andrew to his limit and beyond. The film is a feature-length adaptation of the 2013 short film which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. From there, the film was funded and was later picked up by Sony Pictures for distribution.
Fear and Desire – Whiplash
In Whiplash, we see Andrew Neiman, a Shaffer student who desires nothing but greatness in his life. His idea of greatness is a rather naive one, and he considers it as an absolute necessity that he must achieve, whatever the cost. His first step to greatness comes right at the beginning of the film. We see Terence Fletcher noticing Andrew practicing his drums. He asked Andrew to do a double-time swing and leaves before he could finish. This tiny fraction of validation is enough to make Andrew pursue a part in Fletcher’s Studio Band.
We then explore Andrew’s personal life, his relationship with his dad. We see that Andrew’s father is a high school teacher who aspired to be a writer but wasn’t able to. This makes his father the literal manifestation of Andrew’s fear – mediocrity. Andrew doesn’t want to end up like his father and is completely focused on becoming better and better at drumming. Soon afterward, Fletcher notices him again and chooses him as an alternate drummer in his band.
Once he gets selected, Andrew’s confidence in himself increases. He asks the girl he likes out and starts dating her. On his first day, Andrew is asked to practice with the rest of the band. Though Fletcher likes him at first, that doesn’t last long. For a small mistake that Andrew made while playing, Fletcher berates him. He hurls a series of physical and emotional abuses at him mercilessly.
Andrew realizes he still has a long way to go and pushes himself to practice even harder. At Overbrook Jazz Competition, he accidentally misplaces the notes of Tanner, the core drummer. As Tanner is unable to play without the notes, Andrew steps in to take his place in the competition. When Shaffer Studio Band wins, Andrew replaces Tanner as the core drummer.
In a scene where Andrew argues with his cousins, we see what is great to him. He states that getting remembered by millions, at any personal cost, is what counts as greatness to him. We see that for Andrew, external validation means a lot, and that is why he is eager to impress Fletcher. Fletcher exploits this insecurity and recruits another drummer, so Andrew can compete against him. During this, Andrew breaks up with her girlfriend as he thinks she will get in his way to greatness.
In an intense scene, Fletcher makes all the drummers compete against each other and ends up giving Andrew the part of the core drummer for an upcoming competition. On the day of the competition, after a heated argument, Andrew makes a deal with Fletcher that he will deliver a great performance or leave the band. However, he ends up getting in a car crash, which causes him to fail. In his anger, he pushes Fletcher on-stage and is promptly expelled from Shaffer Studio Band.
Greatness – Whiplash
Andrew’s failure forces him to understand how he crossed his limits. He takes a break from drumming to get a different perspective on things. During this, he is approached by a lawyer who pursues him to speak up against Fletcher’s abuse, which leads to Fletcher’s firing. Andrew accidentally comes across Fletcher one day, where Fletcher tells him that he is not sorry for his methods. He claims his teaching method leads to people truly discovering their talents, and pushing people to their limits is absolutely necessary. He then offers Andrew a part in his new band, which Andrew accepts.
On the day of the performance, Fletcher reveals that he knows Andrew spoke up against him. He intentionally asks the band to play a song Andrew doesn’t know – to humiliate him. Fletcher succeeds, and Andrew leaves the stage for his father. However, something inside Andrew changes at that moment, and he returns on stage and starts playing the drums. He plays not to impress the audience or Fletcher, but for himself. He understood then what true greatness is, and in the finale of Whiplash, delivers his most amazing performance.