Whiplash: A Stirring, Cathartic Masterpiece

WhiplashThere are some films that move you. There are others that shake you long after the screen has faded to black and the lights turn on. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has certainly delivered such a stunning cinematic achievement with Whiplash, a visceral, overwhelming exploration of obsession.

Premise: A young drummer enrolls in a top-tier music conservatory where his dream of mentoring from a great music director opens him to untold greatness and misery. Result: An intense, inspirational and terrifying account of the raw power of passion.

Practice makes perfect. While the majority of us think of this innocuous pet phrase that adults pour over children as a guiding principle, the young low-grade Aspergian Andrew (Miles Teller), intent on impressing Shaffer Conservatory Director Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) with his drumming skills, takes this quite literally.

The next Charlie “Bird” Parker he wishes to be (and rise above his father Jim’s (Paul Reiser) supposedly meager accomplishments), even if it means working with Fletcher, a man notorious for inflicting unimaginable emotional torment unto his vict- er- students.

But obsession can only go so far before it becomes categorically destructive, and Whiplash runs audiences through this journey, past blood-soaked calluses, steaming tears, ruined relationships (like with Nicole, Melissa Benoist) and intense rivalries as with Ryan (Austin Stowell) and Carl (Nate Lang). In fact, all relationships are relegated to the non-existent: family, friends, lovers are all scenery to be stepped over or disdained.

The film is a staggering example of experiential cinema, where audiences are not only drawn in psychologically and emotionally, but the raw power of sound and visuals clashing resonate physically with observers, powerless to escape its grasp. It is a thoroughly discomforting experience while being both exhilarating and mesmerizing. It is cinematic “speed”, producing an audience high that will leave most shaken; we are both figuratively and literally” hit by a truck” by this film.

The performances are remarkable. Teller is brilliant as the obsessive, slightly unbalanced, and yet bizarrely anti-charismatic charismatic. He resonates with an energy on screen that is essential to what makes this film so amazing. It is a master class performance that one hopes is only the start to even greater things although it is hard to imagine him topping this.

tonygentilcore.comSimmons, for his part, is equally stunning. Invoking the ghost of R.L. Ermey’s Gny. Sgt. Hartman, Simmons delivers a sense of flawless tension and anxiety sure to suffocate observers, as if his splattering insults and oppressive gaze reach beyond the screen into the place their nightmares live.

Reiser provides us mere mortals with a lens with which to identify, as a loving, humble father who realizes that greatness need not be achieved at the expense of that which makes us human. He is subtle and understated, and his final facial expression in the film alone flawlessly encapsulates inevitable viewer perception of the resolution.

The resolution of this film, to that point, is one of the best, most discomforting, disquieting, and singularly impactful scenes in recent memory. It is a visceral representation of agony and perseverance, of genius, madness and precision congealing beneath a sweat, blood and tear-laden veneer. It is the denouement that audiences will not soon forget, even if they wanted to.

Not since Black Swan has a film so elegantly tackled destructive obsession. But unlike that film, which by comparison is a gentle meditation, Whiplash is a catastrophic catharsis, a personification of the differences between people, those that will do anything and those that won’t. It by its own nature relegates viewers to mere participants in a world not under their control. But, such is the fate of us mere mortals.

Rating: 9 –  An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

2 Responses to “Whiplash: A Stirring, Cathartic Masterpiece”

  1. Great review of a great film.

    In your next to last paragraph, you said –

    The resolution of this film, to that point, is one of the best, most discomforting, disquieting, and singularly impactful scenes in recent memory.

    I was going to suggest Black Swan when she dances the Black Swan role towards the end of the movie.

    But you mentioned Black Swan in your closing paragraph.

    Excellent work.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree on Black Swan – at the time, that final dance was breath-taking and lingered with me as I watched Whiplash. But those final moments in this film blew me away. I shook for hours after. Both are must see for different reasons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: