A closer look at…Whiplash

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The Scoop

Young jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is determined to be not only great, but ‘one of the greats’. He’s already studying at a top musical school, the Shaffer Conservatory, but what he really wants is to catch the attention of teacher Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). He knows that if he’s accepted into Fletcher’s legendary studio band, his chances of a high-level musical career will be far greater.

But Fletcher is feared by his students as well as admired, and Andrew is about to find out why. Brutal and uncompromising, Fletcher will make Andrew cry, sweat and quite literally bleed in order to push him beyond his limits. Is this man a genius who knows that hard discipline is the only way to make great art? Or is he a bullying tyrant whose manipulative power games can only destroy his young protégé?

Dig Deeper

  • How would you describe your first reaction to the film? What kind of experience did you have whilst watching it? Could you compare it to anything else you have seen?
  • How would you describe the way in which the film is shot and edited, and what impact does this have on the viewer? Were there any scenes or moments you found particularly striking in this respect?

‘The film poster for Whiplash recalls Saul Bass’s work for Hitchcock and this is entirely appropriate. Audiences know what jazz critics do not – that this is a horror film.’   – Critic Nicolas Pillai

  • What genre would you place Whiplash in, and why? Is the film really ‘about’ jazz music, and if not, what are its central concerns? How might you argue the case that Whiplash is actually a horror story?

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  • How did you react to Andrew throughout the film? At what moments is he particularly sympathetic, and at what moments does he become unlikeable?
  • How did you react to the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher, and what are some of the key turning points in this relationship? To what extent does Fletcher single out Andrew for his talent, and to what extent does he simply sense someone who can be manipulated? Are we given any insight into who Fletcher truly is?

‘Look at the fire in Fletcher’s eyes during Neiman’s final solo and the expressionistic flickering of lights as the camera crash-zooms. This is the moment when one psychopath creates his successor.’  – Critic Nicolas Pillai

  • What do you think we are supposed to take from the final scene of the film? Is this a scene of triumph for Andrew, or a scene of disaster? What do you imagine might happen to Andrew after the credits roll?
  • Do you think the relative absence of women in Whiplash is an oversight, or a deliberate statement? Why does Fletcher use so many gendered and homophobic insults towards the young men in his band? To what extent does Whiplash position artistic achievement as a male pursuit, or destructive obsession as a male flaw?

Left to right: Miles Teller as Andrew and J.K. Simmons as Fletcher Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

  • How does our culture react to the idea of vocation? What might be the main challenges faced by those with a single driving passion, and what are the challenges for those with a broader set of skills and interests? Is either group at an advantage in our society, and why might this be?
  • Andrew vehemently contradicts a character who claims that artistic excellence is subjective. Does the film as a whole support Andrew’s perspective? How can we go about judging artistic excellence, and what role do subjective and objective factors play?

‘I was there to push people beyond what was expected of them. Otherwise, we’re depriving the world.’ – Fletcher

  • What did you make of Fletcher’s defence of his teaching methods? How far is it justifiable for any teacher to go in order to get the best from their pupils? In your view, what consequences should Fletcher have faced for his verbal and physical violence towards his students?
  • What characterises an abusive relationship, and what abusive elements are present in Fletcher’s treatment of Andrew? How does he exploit Andrew’s vulnerabilities, and how does he exercise his power? How can we guard against the abuse of power in the places where we live and work?

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  • What cost does Andrew’s pursuit of greatness have for his personal relationships? Is Whiplash critical of Andrew’s behaviour towards Nicole, or is it treated as necessary? To what extent is it acceptable for someone with exceptional gifts to prioritise these gifts over their treatment of others?

‘There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”‘. – Fletcher

  • What do you make of the idea that pain, hard discipline, isolation and destructive obsession are prerequisites of greatness? Does Whiplash promote or undermine this idea? Is there any alternative way by which Fletcher could have drawn greatness from his students?
  • Does Whiplash promote or undermine the idea that Andrew’s achievements are worth his suffering? Can true greatness in any area ever be a more worthwhile life priority than personal wholeness, or good relationships? What stance does our culture generally take on these questions, and what answer would you give?
  • Why are human beings driven to try and achieve perfection? Why do we crave success, and what spiritual impact does it have when we fail? Is there anything we can hope for in life that isn’t tied to our own ability to succeed?

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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