Monstrous Cruelty and the Myth of Genius
Rohan Berry Crickmar

Yes, the point.

Martin, thanks for the feedback. I can’t share your enjoyment or pleasure in this film, however. The final sequence was perhaps as engaged as I could be with this material. I simply didn’t buy Simmons’ teacher, certainly not in this day and age, and regardless of the course of study. I’ve read in interviews with Chazelle that the character was based upon a music teacher he had, only bigger, edgier, more OTT, more grotesque. Now this is a lovely place to jump off into horror, but the first problem that I have with Whiplash is that its horrors come packaged in a pseudo-realist drama. Fletcher as a sadist and Nieman as a masochist, this should have the makings of a great psycho-drama, but instead Chazelle’s painfully narrow focus simply gives us Fletcher’s sadistic histrionics fuelling sadistic behaviour amongst those he teaches. It’s a horrible portrait of fascistic group thinking, the powerful picking of the weak. Again, great material for films, and being an avid Polanski fan I’ve seen my fare share of great works with that precise dynamic to them. However, Polanski discomforts through disorienting shifts in power. In Whiplash all Chazelle seems to be giving us is the power relationship of bully to bullied, with the bullied eventually biting back — very dull. Moreover, so profoundly alienating are both central characters that the hatefulness that inhabits them was of a brand unlike that I’ve seen in any other film — there was no release valve, no chance to think around the characters and their hatred. I found myself simply swamped in Fletcher’s bile and the conceitedness that it brings out in his students. Now what then becomes really difficult to swallow is when you sense that the film has nothing deeper to communicate than the experience of all of that hatred and the corrosiveness of that relationship. Nieman hasn’t been driven on by Fletcher to perform this wonderful drum solo at the end, rather this is a further furious outporing of hatred and nastiness, only this time in musical form. I couldn’t hear anything of pleasure in this final sequence, but rather heard the acting out of hate - the hammering of taut leather has never been so horrendous (and I used to be a drummer). Compare this end sequence to that of The Visitor, a movie with plausible human beings, one of whom becomes so angry that they take to a drum and pound and pound and pound. That closing scene communicated so much more in 30 seconds than the 105 minutes of Whiplash ever could. And without wishing to sound like some delicate wee flower, I was genuinely horrified by the fact that so many of Fletcher’s hate-fuelled and hateful verbal belittlings were met with howls of laughter from the surrounding audience that I watched the film with. Chazelle definitely needs to take some of the blame for this, because he has allowed one monstrous character to dominate a film in such a way that a horror film, masquerading as a drama, can actually get people laughing along with all that hate.

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