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Whiplash by Damien Chazelle (2014)

Essay by   •  May 14, 2018  •  Book/Movie Report  •  2,002 Words (9 Pages)  •  272 Views

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Extreme Methods

In the film Whiplash (2014), written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Andrew is a student drummer who attends an elite music conservatory in New York to become one of the greats but has difficulty in trying to earn respect from his abusive professor. Chazelle has centered the story on what it means to try to be one of the best Jazz musicians, especially drumming, but has structured it in the way of a sports film. The techniques of filmmaking Chazelle decided to use in this film helps in telling this dramatic, psychological thriller in showing the audience the consequences of how intense and questionable methods of teaching can affect someone in pushing themselves too far to achieve success.

The film is structured in the form of a sports film but with a much darker tone. There is an underdog who is trying to be the best at something and soon meets the teacher who will help him become the best. However, in this film, the teacher abuses his power over the underdog and causes him to push himself over the edge in order to become the best. The film opens with a wide shot that shows Andrew practicing the drums. The shot is of a dim lit hallway that centers Andrew and his drumset in between the shape of a doorway which shows the audience how confined and isolated Andrew will be with his drumming throughout the film. Since the beginning of the film, the audience can see Andrew’s ambition and determination to become one of the greatest Jazz drummers. The mise-en-scene helps the audience see how much Andrew is passionate about drumming when Andrew sits on the floor of his dormitory and the filmmakers decided to surround Andrew by many papers of drum patterns and famous drummers covering his wall.

In the first act of the film, the audience can also see that Andrew has no friends. However, as the movie progresses, when Andrew is noticed by Terrance Fletcher, the top Jazz conductor in the school, he finally builds up the courage to ask out a girl, named Nicole, and tries to involve himself in the social world. According to Richard Barsam and Dave Monohan, in their book, Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film, the events where Andrew tries to develop a social life are minor plot event that “add texture and complexity to characters and actions” which help deliver the message of the movie as a whole. Events begin to turn south when Andrew makes it to the rehearsal of the top studio band and Fletcher abuses him emotionally and physically. This causes Andrew to break away from Nicole and begins to isolate himself in order to practice much harder in order to impress Fletcher. These events help lead the journey of Andrew and his ambition to become a great drummer; they “enrich and complicate the diegesis… in a narrative film, but no single such event is indispensable to the story” (Barsam and Monohan 142).

The cinematography really plays a big role in helping the audience see how Andrew isolates himself. According to David Sims from The Atlantic, Chazelle shot Andrew, whenever he is talking to someone, in medium close-ups that show him in frame with a dark or negative space and only him in frame in order to emphasize “his enforced solitude.” The mise-en-scene also helps in showing the development of his mentality of isolation by showing objects such as counters, tables, and doors in between Andrew and Nicole or his father. The only time the audience can see Andrew interact with someone else directly is with Fletcher and this shows how Fletcher is causing Andrew to become isolated and much more ambitious in becoming the best of the best.

Moving on to Fletcher and the way he decides to teach in order to bring out the best in his students is what helps drive this film. Fletcher is always wearing black clothing. The decision to have Fletcher wear black clothing helps in showing how he is the antagonist of the film although Chazelle gives him human qualities. Fletcher has extreme methods of teaching in which he tries to bring out the best in his students but these methods have consequences. He is portrayed as a God-like human in the way the students and Andrew see him. Every time Fletcher would step in a room, the room would grow completely quiet and everyone wanted to be noticed by him. There is a scene where Fletcher is questioning a student whether he was out of tune or not. The camera angles in this scene help in showing the dominance Fletcher has over his students by having a low camera angle on Fletcher and a high camera angle on the student to show that the student is powerless. Another great use of cinematography to show the intensity of Fletcher’s methods is when he is yelling at Andrew because he couldn’t keep up with Fletcher’s tempo. The cinematographer decided to use close-ups on both Fletcher’s and Andrew’s faces which gives a claustrophobic and uncomfortable feel which also adds that Andrew has no escape and has to deal with the physical abuse from Fletcher when he slaps him.

As Fletcher explains how he wanted to create the next Charlie Parker, which the film acknowledges as one of the best Jazz musicians, show his motive in why he abuses his power and uses intense methods in his teachings. This brings Fletcher down to some relatable extent, although with still questionable methods. A scene where Fletcher receives a phone call about one of his best students dying in a car crash brings tears to his eyes which brings him much lower to a human instead of what he was portrayed as in the beginning as God-like. The audience soon learns that the student that Fletcher talked about actually hung himself instead of dying in a car crash. The message of how abusive methods in teachings can lead to devastating consequences no matter if the student became one of the best, arises again.

The film shows how the methods of Fletcher affect his students and the audience can see this through Andrews actions as the film progresses. After Andrew breaks up with Nicole, he pushes himself over the limits when he is practicing that eventually his hands begin to bleed. When Andrew finally earns his part as a core member of the band, he begins to gain some confidence in himself but in a negative way. There is a particular scene where the true effects of Fletcher’s methods and the extreme ambition that Andrew grew hunger for is shown. The band is to play at contest and Andrew is running late. The whole sequence of Andrew rushing to the contest and forgetting his drum sticks and him rushing back and forth in order to retrieve his sticks is a very hectic ride which ends up in a car crash involving Andrew. The camera movement has a hand held effect which adds a lot of movement and shakiness to the sequence. The editing is also follows the soundtrack that is playing during this sequence up to the car crash. In the entire sequence, Andrew seems to be losing his mind just to be



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