Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Movie: Whiplash

Oh my god. This movie. Is amazing.

In one sentence, Whiplash is about a hopeful 19 year old drummer called Andrew (Miles Teller) who makes it to the top music school in the nation, only to come across Fletcher (JK Simmons), one of the harshest and most fearful teachers ever conceived in the mollycoddled Western world.

The tagline that could have been? See what South Korean schooling looks like on a daily basis, but with white people.

So yes, it's a very simple plotline. With lots of loud yelling, brief but suspenseful pauses in betwixt, shameful drooping of heads, crying, really good jazz music... But holy shit, Miles Teller and JK Simmons are so goddam convincing and ALIVE in this movie that for two hours, I basically time travelled back to my childhood and got to relive all of the shitty experiences I had with my tennis coach dad, aka author of the best-selling Chinese parenting manual 'how to verbally abuse and scar your child for life and never apologise for it'. Hurrah.

Honestly, I loved this movie precisely because it was so fucking accurate. Of course, young and ambitious, I understood everything that was going through Andrew's mind - the burning desire for success fuelled by a debilitating need for acknowledgment and respect. Only by gaining these things will Andrew ever be able to prove his worth to his mentor, and most importantly, to himself. For a lot of kids that are constantly put down by their teachers or parents, self-worth goes hand in hand with academic achievement, or in this case, musical achievement. Obviously, as we have sometimes read in the news, such pressure can lead to devastating consequences - depression, self-harm, suicide. Here, the film deftly confronts this issue in an unexpected, but unsurprising, twist of events.

However, one really outstanding aspect of this movie (of which there are so many) is how deftly it deals with the other side - WHY is it that these teachers/parents push their students so hard? What runs through their mind when they slap their student in the face, calling him or her a useless fucking prick? In this day and age, they must know that such abusive treatment may drive students to their grave. So HOW can they be so callous? So cruel?

JK Simmons, displaying an extraordinary gamut of emotions as the teacher Fletcher, even makes you feel sympathetic for HIM! And his character is truly, a huge douchebag, so this is no small feat. He reveals bit by bit to the audience that he himself never really achieved the greatness he desired. And even as a world renowned music teacher, he longs for the day when he can produce a student who can be the best - to become the next "Charlie Parker" (some famous jazz musician whose teacher once threw a cymbal at his head [sorry I'm such a pleb]). "I've always wanted a Charlie Parker," he even says during a woeful conversation with Andrew at a bar.

Yes, very cliche. Of course, he aims to vicariously enjoy the successes of his students. The acting though, was simply breathtaking. With every enduring second of silence, every blink, every sigh, every convolution of the wrinkles on his face, Fletcher suddenly reveals so much vulnerability - it opens your eyes to how equally scarred and desperate he is... nursing an affliction just as lacerating as Andrew's. You don't see him simply as the villain, or someone to hate, but someone whose ridiculous actions you can actually sympathise with. You know... he's still human after all.

Overall, I still can't believe how brilliant, accurate and gripping this film was.... Watching the young Andrew pump away at his drum set for hours on end until his hands bled, seeing the pool of sweat and tears drenching his face, and even watching him very awkwardly, break up an early relationship with a girl he liked to concentrate on his drumming .... man, I could relate. Because once upon a time, that's how I felt - I was Andrew.