Does Chazelle Present This Concept in a Positive or Negative Light?
The Pursuit Of Greatness
Is Damien Chazelle’s portrayal of Andrew Neiman as the obsessed artist a reflection of toxic perfectionism or strength in pursuit? Through Chazelle’s Whiplash, the audience is shown the tireless journey it takes Neiman to achieve his goal of becoming “one of the greats” while also seeing the detrimental tolls it takes on him psychologically, romantically, and physically. Despite Whiplash’s release in 2014, the film has been brought back into light these past few months with TikTok’s “core core” video trend, using drummer Andrew Neiman as the quintessential representation of a character with passion, motivation, and strength for movie edits of characters with those traits. Neiman’s appearance in the media has stayed constant in every motivation edit involving any assortment of film characters due to his intense strive for drumming glory. So, does Chazelle share Neiman’s story to demonstrate obsession as a positive or negative trait?
Not On My Tempo: Musician’s Abuse
Perhaps the greatest catalyst other than Neiman’s ambition is Terrence Fletcher, leader of Shaffer Conservatory’s jazz band. As the movie progresses, viewers are offered an even greater insight into the verbal, psychological, and physical abuse that Fletcher gives Neiman. This is first seen in one of Neiman’s first practices with Fletcher; he dictates one of his most famous lines in the film to Neiman, “You’re not on my tempo.” Just when viewers may think he’s finished with pressuring him, he is not. Fletcher proceeds to throw a chair at Neiman’s head, slap his face multiple times, and provoke his crying. Fletcher forces Neiman to scream at the whole band, confessing that he is upset after he yells and targets Neiman’s trauma by referencing his mother’s abandonment, making a sexist comment about him reacting emotionally like a girl, and degrading him incessantly. As seen through the multiple methods within the same scene of how Fletcher targets Neiman, viewers are guaranteed to have sweaty hands and heavy chest palpitations after sharing the anxiety Neiman presents on screen. One can only think, “How can Neiman sustain this abuse? Is it not the most logical decision to quit for his psychological and emotional benefit? Would this not destroy a musician in the end?”
Towards the end of the film, when one may expect Fletcher’s abuse to be done, he strikes again as he sabotages Neiman. After not seeing Neiman for a while, he invites him to play in one of his shows, explaining how all the songs will be the ones he knew from being in Fletcher’s band. As Neiman gets on stage, viewers may get chills up their spines as they realize it was not, in fact, the same songs that he knew and that his musical career could have been entirely ruined.
Because I Want To Be One Of The Greats
Funny enough, what would normally serve as an incentive to quit was Neiman’s motivator to evolve. Shortly after the introduction of Fletcher’s abuse, viewers are given moments of Neiman’s catalyzed efforts to reach perfection. Neiman is shown printing out music pages, listening to the band’s songs on repeat until memorized, and drumming so intensely that blood is all over his hands. He does not even stop drumming when the blood is present. He continues, despite every sign that he should stop.
Although a very minor part of the film, Whiplash still manages to communicate the theme that the pursuit of a dream can cause you to sacrifice the ones you love in the process. It may cause someone to put everything else in their life aside to achieve their maximum potential. Neiman breaking off his relationship with his girlfriend, Nicole, is a prime example of this.
Towards the middle of the film, Neiman is shown at a restaurant with Nicole as he explains the sacrifice he will have to make to reach optimum musical potential. Neiman says to Nicole, “Because I’m doing that [drumming], it’s going to keep taking more and more of my time, and because I’m doing that, I’m not going to be able to spend as much time with you, and even when I do spend time with you, I’m going to be thinking about drumming. And I’m going to be thinking about jazz music and my charts and all that.” When Nicole presents confusion over Neiman’s confession, he clarifies with one of Whiplash’s most famous lines. “Because I wanna be… great. I want to be one of the greats.”
In this scene, Chazelle provides three things from Neiman’s demonstration of his motives: Neiman’s goal of notability, shown through his wanting to be one of the greats, his willingness to sacrifice love for perfection, and his strength despite abuse. Is it truly worth sacrificing relationships with those around you to achieve your dream? Chazelle’s Whiplash brings this argument to light, and Neiman’s journey subsequently explores this debate.
Control of The Band: A Finale Of Reward
It surely doesn’t take long for viewers to empathize with Neiman, desiring a moment of musical satisfaction for him just as much as he does. Luckily enough, this is achieved in the final scene. It begins with Neiman realizing that Fletcher had tricked him into inviting him to perform for a sequence of songs he had not prepared for. Defeated for only a moment, Neiman walks off stage and hugs his father, though returns shortly after. Viewers could consider this his redemption arc as he returns to the drum set and cues the band for Whiplash’s main song, “Caravan.”
Throughout the film, a power dynamic is displayed, with Fletcher as the dominant character and Neiman as the subordinate tolerating his abuse. In this scene towards the end of “Caravan,” Neiman is defiant of any control Fletcher may have on him and controls the band as Fletcher would do. Viewers can even tell the shift in the power dynamic by Chazelle’s cinematography, placing Neiman at the center in the light of an extreme long shot as Fletcher stands there motionless, in silent awe of Neiman’s drumming ability. Fletcher’s verbal and psychological abuse caused Neiman to build immense strength, a power strong enough to withstand the journey to perfection and that could even defy Fletcher himself in the final scene- strength that likely would not have been attained in the absence of his abuse.
Within this scene, Chazelle implements cinematography to communicate to viewers that this is Neiman’s first moment of greatness. When Neiman is shown drumming his immensely intense solo, Fletcher’s facial expression resembles something of approval, a demonstration from him that viewers only receive in the ending scene. Chazelle incorporates slow-motion pan shots, where the camera runs from one symbol to the next to show the dynamic motion of his sweat bouncing off the instrument and the motion of his sweat falling off his hair. If the intensity of Neiman’s music did not exemplify his achievement of greatness well enough, Chazelle does not fail to do so through the craft of his camera work.
Perfection Through Pain: Is It Worth It?
Fletcher says to Neiman at one moment, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than a good job.” Is this true? Is it certain that praise serves as a detriment to ability, causing the individual to be satisfied with their progress and withhold from extending further; or does it do the opposite and push them even farther, knowing that they have the potential for something greater? Whether praise in a musical sense or any other serves as beneficial, it will always be open to debate. However, what viewers can undeniably conclude from Chazelle’s Whiplash is that obsession can push the human mind to its limits, leaving no possible parameters for which it stops trying. Obsession can most certainly destroy an individual physically and emotionally… and from what viewers know from Neiman, whether for better or for worse, is that it is possible to achieve one thing.
Whiplash is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV.
Whiplash (2014) Official Sony Pictures Trailer