Just over a week ago I went to see a film that affected me so deeply I think I’ve only just begun to process it now. It left me sweaty-palmed and short of breath. As the final credits rolled to a halt I was so restless I couldn’t bring myself to take the Tube home so I marched/ran home from Leicester Square, my heart racing with every step. Never before have I had such a physical reaction to a film. As I write this JK Simmons has just picked up a BAFTA for his role as Best Supporting Actor and deservedly so.
I am, of course, referring to Whiplash. If you haven’t seen it you are missing out big time. The film is up for a number of Awards around the world and not without reason. We follow 19 year old Andrew Neiman, (Miles Teller), who studies music at prestigious Schaffer Conservatory in the hope he’ll eventually turn his passion into a profession. Terence Fletcher – played by Simmons – is leader of the elite Studio Band where Neiman aspires to play and is eventually chosen as an alternate to swap in with the core drummer during rehearsals.
What follows is an incredible insight into what it takes to become Great. It’s distressing in the way that makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat; contort your face in anguish yet, hypnotised, you chase Neiman’s pursuit of perfection, dragging slightly, nevertheless like a lemming running headlong off a cliff. We’ve all encountered people with glimmers of Fletcher: mean, manipulative and cruel, masquerading as an ally with only our best interests at heart. I definitely know a few of those. But what is astonishing is Neiman’s drive to push himself beyond his limits to achieve success.
One scene in particular brings this home when we see our protagonist play through searing pain, bloodied and bruised, in order to retain the part he has earned. I was in awe of the actors and musicianship in Whiplash. The music is, as you’d expect, magnificent and the writing is brilliant – the dialogue rising and falling with the frantic rhythms of the title tune. Teller and Simmons complement one another perfectly and while Fletcher is not a character who is easy to like, behind the bullish mask he does bolster Neiman’s drive to constantly better each and every performance. Neiman’s playing improves steadily throughout the piece thanks to ever stricter drills and regimes to practise his skills but the question at the end of the movie is ultimately where can he go from here? Are Great people ever really able to be content with what they achieve or must they always strive for better?
If you only do one thing for yourself this week go and see this film. While you’re doing that I’m away to brush the dust off my saxophone and get practising.
See you Wednesday! xx