Music to die for
The beginning of the movie starts creeping in from the darkness of the screen, a slow snare drum tapping gradually building, increasing in speed, dragging your progressively panicked beating heart with it. From this slow build to a frenetic beating rhythm it’s almost like the big bang itself, the birth of everything, the grand explosion from silence into the pure unadulterated energy of life itself, music.
Depending on your relationship with music in your life, if indeed it is soundtracking it or not, it will probably affect your enjoyment by degrees of ‘Whiplash’ (2014) by Damien Chazelle (pictured above far right). Not that it should put you off if your days aren’t seeped or even sprinkled with tunes, as to a greater extent the music (albeit stunningly good) is a metaphor for the search for excellence, via a punishing military boot camp, in Hell. First destroy, then rebuild.
Andrew (Miles Teller owning the character) has is enrolled in the elite New York Shaffer Conservatory, an academy for music. But that’s many many notes lower than excellence he aspires to in the eyes of himself, and the dizzy piercing heights is the only place he wants to be, the best jazz drummer EVER. He’s Icarus with drumsticks and a jet pack. He knows the fatal outcome of that dream and doesn’t even put on sun cream. He just dons his shades, smiles and jumps. Like an addict he wants that high, at any cost. Play fast (but with perfect timing), die young.
Thankfully for this apparently kamikaze addicted musician he has someone to supply him in the guise of a renowned academy music tutor/drill sergeant/Beelzebub Fletcher (J.K. Simmons in absolutely outstanding brutal form) who runs the prestigious academy band. Fletcher for all intended purposes is effectively Satan at the crossroads. Andrew must give him his soul as the price of admission to the stage of perfection, and that’s just for starters.
In modern culture we are constantly bombarded from birth with themes of aspiration and success at the cost of everything (family, friends, sanity), with constant appraisal of comparison in regards our success/achievements/failures. There can’t be much doubt that in such a misguided environment many will suffer such as in the rise of depression which alot of the time stems from emotions of failure. Whiplash in a very shrewd way shows what it takes to achieve what the collective deems the nirvana of excellence, it costs everything.
It’s a gruelling movie in the most brilliant way. A fundamentally wonderful, exhaustive experience of a world where Andrew is singularly focused on a zealot goal, and the equally fanatical Fletcher is probably the only one who recognises that desire. The interactions between the two main characters are like the most vicious chess game ever, where encouragement comes in the form of bruises and stab wounds.
It’s worth noting that Teller was actually a drummer in a real band for a few years previously and was retrained for the movie, knowing that only ads to the sheer incredible musicianship presented on screen, it’s him doing the drumming. Added to that one of my favourite movie soundtracks ever (I immediately both the album after the screening) it’s an incredible whirlwind experience of beats and blood, just like some of my best nights out.
Whiplash is out in UK cinemas now