This erosion of innocent ideas, like The American Dream, is becoming more and more prominent, especially amongst young people. The success of Damien Chazelle’s, Whiplash, is a testament to this. Miles Teller stars as Andrew Neiman, an obsessive drummer who is hell- bent on becoming a great musician. J.K. Simmons stars as Terence Fletcher, the muscled up old teacher who incessantly yells at Andrew and perpetuates his inferiority complex. A large number of High School and University students found this movie to be scarily relatable. Whether it was the memory of an intimating teacher/mentor, or the shared belief that socializing, relationships and ‘fun’, will impede on one’s ability to achieve some kind of success – audiences clearly empathize with this film, and that may not be a good thing.
In the final scene of Whiplash, Andrew and Terence have seemingly buried the hatchet on their old and troubled student/teacher relationship. Andrew agrees to perform at a Jazz concert, under Terence’s conducting. When the concert commences, however, the first song that is cued to be played is unknown to Andrew. He realizes that Terence has sabotaged him, and he ultimately leaves the stage. After embracing with his father, who walks over to console him, Andrew returns to the stage. To Terence’s bewilderment, Andrew begins playing the drums solo. The scene runs for a while, and as time moves on, Andrew’s solo becomes more impressive. Terence eventually accepts Andrew’s rebellious action and begins conducting him. In the final seconds of Andrew’s solo, Terence looks at him. Although the frame cuts off just below Terence’s nose, the film’s prior exposition suggests that he either smiled at Andrew, or said, ‘good job’. Terence then cues the rest of the band, and the film closes on a loud jazz cadence – cue: credits.
This final scene has been a hot-topic of debate in the YouTube and Twitter-sphere. The debate rests on whether or not Whiplash had a ‘happily ever after’ ending or not. Should the audience be happy that Andrew made his mentor proud, and that he became a great musician? Or should the audience feel melancholic because of what Andrew sacrificed to reach his level of excellence? Has Andrew’s story given the American Dream hope? Or has he demonstrated that it will doom you to live a life without happiness?
Film critics almost unanimously agree that it was a bitter-sweet ending; Andrew became great, but at the cost of his youth, and possibly his moral compass. Amongst the University student demographic, however, there seems to be a disproportionate number of people who interpreted the ending more so as a triumph of ambition and perseverance. For a story about a young man who pushes himself to the brink of implosion, this kind of interpretation should leave older generations wondering what kind of principles of ethics and work life balance their younger counter-parts are embracing.
Do not get me wrong, I think Whiplash is brilliant – too brilliant. If I am criticizing the film, then that is my criticism. I loved Whiplash. Many other people loved Whiplash too, but I am beginning to feel that this may be indicative of a warped understanding of success.
Films can be much more than weekend entertainment; they are a helpful way to gauge the psyche of a particular target audience. It is a shame that there have not been many social science studies that have attributed film preferences to specific human characteristics; it would be a very helpful variable. For example, if American Psycho has a large cult following, and millions of people still watch and love the film, would it not be fair to say that there are characteristics that the murderous protagonist, Patrick Bateman, has that most viewers within this demographic empathize with? I am not suggesting that these people are all secretly serial killers – however hyperbolic the connection, there must be something about a character or concept that people empathize with that makes the film so enjoyable for them. Similarly, Whiplash’s Andrew Neiman must clearly have some element to his character’s psyche that most viewers identify with.
10 out of 10 stars