J.K.Simmons as jazz teacher Fletcher who focuses on a drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) and sadistically torments him into greater achievement. In doing this Andrew rejects his girlfriend and nearly kills himself in an accident. Fletcher has caused tragedy for other students and is subject to disciplinary proceedings. Will Andrew prove himself in the big concert?
J.K.Simmons plays a role reminiscent of the bullying officer in Full Metal Jacket. His head is all whipcord muscles bulging at the moment of his snake attacks. This is the opposite of the Blackboard Jungle since in this film it’s the teacher who terrorizes, not the student. Fletcher’s insults are hilariously colourful as he verbally attacks anything in range. He indicts Andrew’s parents as losers as he gets nastily personal. Fletcher’s defence is that he must tease out genius to save the dying art form of jazz. Charlie Bird Parker’s humiliation and eventual triumph are supposed to make him a role model. Whiplash makes me feel like one of the uninitiated, I’ve never been able to enthuse about jazz, seems more like music from the head rather than the heart. This is no 80s feel good dance class for a Patrick Swayze clone, the drummer smashes his fists into blood. He suffers for his art and and makes sure everyone else suffers as well. He is prepared to sacrifice happiness and so his girlfriend quite rightly dumps him as the drearily obsessive perfectionist that he is. All that pain, work, and humiliation and the status of a drummer is still not great! Apart from his father and girlfriend, nobody comes out of this well. His fellow musicians are neurotic perfectionists ready to back stab each other. Whiplash cleverly leaves us wondering whether taking sadistic pains really does lead to greatness or whether it’s just a weaker will succumbing to a stronger one. This strikes a cord in the inherent puritanism of our work ethic, the snobbery of the superiority of very painful effort. As cinema audiences we’ve become inured to cartoonish violence and nastiness, this approach to every day professional sadism gives us the thrill of recognition. There is vicarious entertainment in another’s humiliation, right?