The intention of this blog is to write about ‘films with something to say’; that’s a bit of nonsense as all films have ‘something to say’. I’m trying to suggest the blog’s about films that have ‘something interesting to say’. Many films are interesting though I tend only to blog about films I like. I’m making an exception of Whiplash because it has been critically acclaimed whilst I detested it. If you’re planning to see the film don’t read on as there will be spoilers. In brief: the film celebrates JK Simmons’ character despite the fact he is a homophobic, racist, sexist, violent bully.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle is trying to pull of that difficult trick of getting us to admire someone who’s abominable. Daniel Day Lewis managed to get me to sympathise with his monstrous Bill ‘The Butcher’ in Gangs of New York (US-Italy, 2002) and I understood the psychological torment suffered by Michael Fassbinder’s Edwin Epps, a racist in love with a black woman, in 12 Years a Slave; however JK Simmons’ martinet music teacher, Fletcher, is irredeemable. That’s not, I think, to do with his performance but because the premise of the film, that such bullying can be necessary to achieve greatness, is wrong. Greatness in musical performance, and other spheres, is achieved through talent and utmost dedication to practice. Whiplash does show that but the closing scene’s exchanged smile between the protagonists suggests that every vile thing Fletcher did was to the good is, for me, as vile as his character.
Recently sexual abuse of pupils at an elite music school in Manchester has come to light (that’s one sin Fletcher is not guilty of) and high-pressured relationship between tutor and pupil can obviously be psychologically damaging. For Whiplash to acknowledge this, Fletcher has to resign after a bullied pupil (who nevertheless became successful) committed suicide, and then to say but really what Fletcher did to Miles Teller’s Andrew, a drummer, was right is reprehensible. I could go on about the absence of women, Andrew’s girlfriend only exists to be dispensed with and his mother is dead, but I won’t.
The critics and audiences love the film (imdb is at 8.7) so I’m out of step on this one. Maybe because I am a teacher Fletcher’s dreadful behaviour is personal. I don’t know but I do know I hated this film.
PS the music is terrific.