Every once in a while, a movie comes along that completely takes you by surprise. Not only because it turns out unexpectedly great, but also you come out of the theatre still charged with what you saw. The latter rarely happens even if you have really liked the film. ‘Whiplash’ is that rare film that will keep you electrified while it plays, and once it is done, you will still feel its current running through your veins.
‘Whiplash’ is a story of an aspiring drummer, Andrew (Miles Tiller), who is madly, wildly and deeply in quest to be the next great jazz drummer. He practices hard, day and night. He has no girlfriends. No friends even. Basically, someone for whom drumming is his whole life. He is enrolled in music conservatory to learn drumming, where he runs in with a strict-to-the-point-of-being-hostile drum teacher, Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons), who believes himself to be a perfectionist and hence, stretches limits of his students until they have given their everything. Andrew knows his path to greatness is through Fletcher, and hence, despite the latter’s hostility, he is desperate to perform in his band. What happens when two egos clash ? Will Andrew hold on to his dreams, or will he crumble under the toughness of Fletcher ? And just when you think the film is done with what it had to say, there’s a clever twist in the tale towards the end, and a rousing finale that will kick-in your adrenaline like you are watching your favorite sports team play.
In fact, ‘Whiplash’ follows a narrative that you usually get to see in sports based dramas: an underdog, a tough task-master, cut-throat competition, and ultimately the big climactic pay-off. That doesn’t mean Whiplash, a story of drummer, provides less fireworks than a sports-based drama does; if anything, it’s more adrenaline-inducing than most of the sports-based movie I have seen.
As aspiration turns into goal, goal into passion, and passion into single-minded unrelenting devotion, it starts becoming more and more difficult to get a sense of what’s going around you to the point that your aspiration-turned-goal-turned-passion-turned-devotion becomes your life. Whiplash is about that passion, that untiring zeal, to which you lose yourself so much so that everything else ceases to matter. Is it okay to be so madly passionate about your dream ? What are the consequences of that, if you do ? And what if, your ambitions are unconventional and don’t align with what the society thinks as worthwhile ? In a great dinner table scene, Andrew’s cousins are praised, while he is ignored, just because their successes, even if mediocre, were in the fields that were deemed to be conventional while his own success was either not recognized or deemed to be not worth the risk; clearly showing that if you want to get to the top in a field that most people don’t care about, you may have no one to prove to, except yourself, since others would hardly recognize your achievements, unless of course, you reach the top. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and a very challenging path to tread, as Andrew realizes this the hard way, when at one point of time he nearly losses everything: his girlfriend, his life, and even his dream because of his blind devotion to what he wants to become.
Whiplash was a surprise. A real surprise. I expected it to be good, but didn’t expect it to blow me away the way it did. In fact, for people with conventional tastes, this might be the best movie you will see all year. And also, you would be hard-pressed to find better performances this year than that of Miles Tiller and J K Simmons; the latter of which is receiving some major Best Supporting Actor Oscar buzz.