Why I HATED "Whiplash"...
Recently someone asked me if I had seen the 2014 Oscar nominated film “Whiplash” directed by Damien Chazelle. I told them that yes, I had seen it, and that I have a deep, visceral hatred for it. Without fail, people are SHOCKED to learn that I, a musician and music educator, would dislike the film, and they ask me why I so strongly hate it. I am usually equally shocked that they enjoyed it. My hatred is so overwhelming that I am usually inarticulate in my explanation, so here are my calm, cogent thoughts about this movie.
First, I can applaud the aesthetic beauty of the film. The cinematography, color, shot composition, editing, etc. are fantastic and I really enjoyed the immersive way that the ultra-close-ups pull you into the scene, and how the highly stylized lighting and color grading supported the overall characterization of Jazz. Even the performances I can admit were outstanding, J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller have insane chemistry and the tension is legit. Many other aspects of the film as a “film” were also excellent.
The root of my hatred is in the writing. The basic premise or “take away” from the film is that (Andrew) the student became a successful musician as a direct result of the fascist, sadistic, and cruel teaching methods of his homophobic, manipulative terrible-person of a teacher (Fletcher). Fletcher yells, demeans, insults, physically slaps his student, throws a chair at him, and uses private details about his students’ personal life to embarrass him publicly. He also psychologically manipulates his student, uses him for his own advance, curses at him, intentionally sets him up to fail, undermines him, coerces him to injure himself, and flat out bullies him.
Fletcher is THE WORST TEACHER IN THE HISTORY OF FICTIONAL TEACHERS. He makes the teacher from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory look like a pedagogical genius. Class dismissed.
About 30 minutes into the movie I was thinking “oh man, is this going to be INCREDIBLE when this kid (Andrew) finds the courage to stick up for himself, and brings down this colossal ass of a teacher.” I truly thought that was where it was headed; surely this “best picture” nominee couldn’t be as predictable and trite as a “Jazz version” of some cliché sports movie where the “tough coach” pushes the “cocky but gifted” young athlete to achieve greatness… oh wait that’s exactly what happens. Class un-dismissed.
One of the most insulting things to watch is how completely incompetent this teacher is. I (or ANY decent music educator) could have solved the “issues” that Andrew was struggling with in about five minutes. Want to play faster right now? Lower your stick heights, play quieter, make smaller movements. Want to play faster later? Use your metronome, go slow, adjust your grip/technique, gradually speed up and stop trying to be Buddy Rich. Etc. Etc. Notice the lack of physical violence or chair throwing. Fletcher’s “teaching techniques” exist because he has no pedagogical skills, no tools in his toolbox, no patience, no empathy, and no love for people or music. He’s basically a sociopath, using people to get what he wants, even pretending to have emotions (when he learns of the death of a former student) to trick his students into thinking that he cares about them.
Again, if all of this character development was done to setup the premise that Fletcher was a horrible person and terrible teacher, then I think it could have been a spectacular moment when Andrew has a musical triumph or breakthrough (as result of his own hard-work) and demonstrates to everyone that he achieved IN SPITE of his abusive teacher. Paradoxically, when Andrew has his big musical breakthrough, it is portrayed as justification for all of the horrible abuse he went through, validating Fletcher’s behavior. Class re-dismissed.
OK so he’s a terrible teacher and a bad person. Does that make it a “bad movie?” No. What makes it a bad movie is that it disrespects music educators. It demeans us. It reduces what we love, what we have devoted our lives to, down to bullying. And it says that not only is that OK, but that’s how you get it done at the highest levels. It’s BS.
It is deeply false to suggest that artistic greatness is achieved through fear or coercion. It is equally false that students who are terrified of their teachers can somehow grow into the best versions of themselves. Every effective teacher knows that students can only learn in an environment that is comfortable and controlled. The kind of motivation that leads to greatness is INTRINSIC, and cannot extrinsically come out of fear. Andrew is intrinsically motivated, he WANTS to be great. NOTHING that Fletcher does helps Andrew achieve. I would NEVER behave in this way, not only because I would get fired and likely sued, but because it just DOESN’T WORK. Ever. Even if it did work, nobody would want to join my band because ensemble music is about people, and playing TOGETHER, and the joy of working toward a common goal. It is about creativity and expression, NOT fear. To grow, you must make failure your friend, and learn from it, not live in terror of making a mistake. Especially in Jazz, where improvisation is central to the art form! The students in Fletcher’s Jazz Band are terrified. They take NO RISKS, show NO JOY, NO CREATIVITY. They are basically machines, who play like robots programmed by their control freak professor.
Watch two minutes of any rehearsal at any top university or conservatory. You will see empathy, humanity, self-discipline (not totalitarianism), enthusiasm, determination, and joy. You will see respected (not feared) teachers helping (intrinsically) motivated students to achieve greatness. You won’t see chairs flying, vulgar insulting language and most certainly you won’t see blood. I have been lucky enough to have been the student of many of these outstanding educators, and never once did they demean me or put me down. They often challenged me, and pushed me through encouragement or by reminding me how very capable I was, but never ever tried to manipulate me or use my talent and energy for their gain.
I think that I could have LOVED this movie. I think I could have argued that it was one of the best “music” movies that had even been made… if, at the “big competition” (which is also BS), right when Andrew realized that Fletcher was trying to screw him yet again by calling a chart he was unprepared to play, Andrew stood up, dropped his sticks and walked out.
And the whole band followed.
Because how you treat people will always be more important than achieving “greatness.” So yes, I hated "Whiplash," because when you love something like making music with people, and devote your life to it, and anything (a movie, a person, a secretary of education) insults what you love, it bothers you.
3/29/2017 08:17:40 am
Spot on, sir. Agree on all points. You clearly received the message and are rightfully offended by suggestions that placed a wonderful educator like you in that light for others to suspect may occur.
3/29/2017 09:25:25 am
Neil, you bring up a great point about the perspective of the abused. I really was so busy being upset as a music educator that I didn't really think of other perspectives as an audience. Although I have to disagree with you, I think that it really did glorify the awful behavior of Fletcher, as it was presented (at the emotional climax of the film) as a win for him. Maybe not "Glorify" by at least justify. Either way, it was WILDLY inaccurate in it's depiction of music education, jazz festivals, the business of making a living as an artist, etc. Also, what kind of insane board of regents or dean allowed this psychopath to teach? And why was he so revered? Ridiculous. So many things I couldn't get past. And I so badly wanted Andrew to tell him off, or throw him under the bus at that jazz competition, but they didn't do anything with it. As always, I enjoy discussing film with you!
4/13/2017 01:29:23 pm
So glad that you're not like Fletcher. Part of the reason why I grew to love band and music in general was because of your friendly and often humorous personality.
4/14/2017 06:52:29 am
Appears to me we actually agree.
2/23/2018 02:24:53 am
Finally, i'm not the only one that feels that way about that asshole Fletcher. It was very pleasing to read your post. Greetings!
9/8/2018 10:46:35 am
Don't worry Mr.Perkins, you're literally nothing like Fletcher. I'm so proud to be a part of your band!
10/5/2018 05:55:04 am
Absolutely. I was regarded with incredulity when I said I disliked (hated, in fact) this film. I found it profoundly awful and felt it applauded bullying as a 'means to an end'. Sometimes teachers need to be tough, yes, but physically abusive? Never. That's not a teacher - that's a sadistic pervert.
8/20/2020 07:00:02 pm
Imagine being so self obsessed that you somehow make the movie about YOU just because you're in the same profession as one of the characters.
2/15/2022 12:51:58 pm
So you're saying that you'd like to be tha one hitting those kids? That's disgusting.
7/15/2021 05:10:45 am
I heartily agree with everything you said. The movie is nothing but lies. I'm so sick of Hollywood made movies that offer nothing but scintillating drama at the expense of truth. The movie is lie after lie after lie. The greatest that jazz has produced, and for that matter, music, comes from intense commitment, inspired by all consuming passion and dedication. Through it all is an excitement for joy and beauty. And careful guidance towards the sublime. I teach drums for a living, and the number one experience I aim for with the students is enjoyment. If you're not enjoying getting better, you're not going to keep doing it. And my great aunt was lucky enough to study with the very greatest piano teacher in Europe of practically any era. Ecstatic results emerged from profound love and support. I hate lying, and this movie propagates lies too many to count.
2/15/2022 12:49:53 pm
You're so right, Whiplash is disgusting.
3/31/2023 05:28:02 am
you're all misinterpreting this film. it wasnt an attack on music teachers, ya insecure bastards lmaoo. the ending is not a justification for the abuse, thats just how fletcher sees it. andrew is fucked in the head by the end. regardless of whether he achieves his goals or not, thanks to fletcher. andrew would down the line probably meet the same fate as sean casey. this movie is not celebrating fletchers abuse, its about andrews tragedy. this movie is not an attack on all music teachers, this movie couldve been about dancing or sports or anything. it doesnt matter. it was a criticism of overworking and abuse.
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