The beautiful embodiment of toxic perfectionism in Whiplash


Abigail Roedersheimer, News Editor

Whiplash is widely regarded as the breakout film by director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, First Man, Babylon), and it’s clear why. The film finds the perfect tempo in the exaggerated relationship between teacher and student. 

The movie follows a young drummer, Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller (Top Gun: Maverick, Divergent, War Dogs), as he attends his first year at the prestigious, yet fictional, Schaffer Conservatory. There, Neiman meets instructor Terence Fletcher, portrayed by J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man, The Tomorrow War, Red One), who has a tall order for performances that are nothing short of flawless.  

When the audience is initially introduced to Neiman, he appears to live a balanced life. He goes to see movies with his dad, he asks out a girl he likes, and he works hard at school. But when he’s invited to play in Fletcher’s band, we begin to see a depth develop for both characters, and Fletcher quickly becomes the antagonist. 

Fletcher repeats, “Not quite my tempo,” at the first rehearsal, among a barrage of expletives and insults, before his frustration culminates into a chair being thrown towards the young drummer

However, Fletcher is not the sole perfectionist of the pair. Neiman’s goals are apparent at the beginning of the film:“I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.”

Neiman’s slow travel into the darkness is an intoxicating journey, leaving the viewer wondering just how far he’ll go to be great. 

As a film centered around music, the soundtrack is of equal importance as the acting. Justin Hurwitz, who has an identical bibliography to Chazelle’s, leads the stunning score. With masterpieces such as “Overture” (Hurwitz), “Practicing” (Hurwitz), “Caravan” (John Wasson), “Too Hip to Retire” (Tom Simonec) and “Whiplash” (the film’s namesake made by Hank Levy in 1973), the score is almost more memorable than the film itself.

Both actors had previous experience with music, which helped further enhance the film’s musical effect. Teller does 99% of the drumming in the movie, and Simmons’ piano experience is transparent during his performance.

The score of the movie was appropriately recognized with an Oscar for sound mixing.

J.K. Simmons was also acclaimed for his performance, taking home an Oscar and Academy Award for best supporting actor. The film was also nominated at the Academy Awards for best picture and received an Oscar for film editing. 

Most impressive considering the film’s high achievements was the profit. Costing just $3 million to produce, the movie grossed $13 million within the US  and Canada, and earned $36 million in other countries. 

Although the relationship between Fletcher and Neiman is greatly exaggerated (and notably based off of Chazelle’s relationship with his high school music teacher), I do believe that there is truth to it. Fletcher is not a person most will ever interact with, let alone voluntarily learn from, but he represents the voice that is in many musicians, athletes, and student’s heads. The voice that can never seem to be satisfied, that can never believe the words “good job.”

And as Fletcher would later tell Neiman, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’”

Whiplash can be viewed with a Hulu, Paramount Plus, or SHOWTIME subscription. It can also be rented for $2.99 on Prime Video.

Viewer warning: Whiplash is a rated R movie (strong language, some sexual references), and is not recommended for young children. Viewer discretion is advised.

Have you ever had a teacher/coach that pushes for perfection? Feel free to expand more in the comments below.


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