The only story that matters…
Whiplash, I believe is one of the greatest movies of recent times. With minimal drama, fine screenplay storytelling, accurate scene editing, and exceptional acting, it’s no surprise the $ 3.3 M movie has won 49 awards. But my reasons for loving Whiplash are beyond it’s technicalities. So this is not a movie review, just my perspective about the story, and I want you to give it a thought. I want you to think of the movie as a template for success stories, replace the characters, the objectives and you will find out if your character is successful in its quest.
I know the idea of summing up someone’s story and shoving it into a ‘template’ is off putting, but hold on. There is a lesson to learn. Stories are always more about education than judgment. Warning! ahead lie too many spoilers, I would prefer you watch the movie before you continue. I would still try my best to help you visualize the story.
Whiplash, like any good story is driven by strong characters, their strength being their want to become great. Both, protege drummer- Andrew and mentor- Terence Fletcher, I believe are pure genius, and here’s why…
Act I: The Setup
Andrew, our boy is an upcoming drummer in a very reputed school for musicians. He has his aspirations and hard work is his only tool. Undeterred by comments of his peers or father, it is evident that it will take much more for him to give up on his dream of being a great drummer. In walks the man, Terrence Fletcher, famed conductor of school’s studio band. He has a class about himself, and no body dares look into his eyes. He is not to be taken lightly, a single miss step and he would invade personal space and go beyond limits to insult anyone. Andrew totally want’s to be in his band. He gets his chance, after Fletcher judges him for his skills. It’s a big deal for Andrew, and a good boost for his self esteem. This also allows him to go ahead and ask out a girl he was too shy to ask out before. Things are falling into place for Andrew.
It will not take you too long to understand Fletcher’s character. He is what Mark Manson would call ‘Don’t give a fuck’ kind of guy. Fletcher doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. He takes what he wants. We have all seen a Fletcher, sometimes in the form of a strict teacher, nagging parent or difficult circumstances. A Fletcher would demand the best out of you.
Act II: The Conflict or The Madness
Little does Andrew know what a mean guy Fletcher is. He is fooled by Fletcher’s sweet talk. In Andrew’s first session in the band he gets to spectate Fletcher dismissing a guy for lacking confidence, only after insulting him of course. It’s Andrew’s turn. He is on drums now, his face cannot hide the excitement inside him. And as expected, Andrew disappoints Fletcher. Fletcher uses his words along with some violence to break Andrew. Fletcher dominates Andrew.Andrew sheds few tears but he won’t be giving up any time soon. He really want’s to be the next Buddy Rich. Fletcher puts him through hardships, whipping him at every turn. Andrew takes it all, he is a madman, nothing less than Fletcher. Practicing harder until he bleeds, he know’s he’s going to get there. He has to let go of everything else, he doesn’t give a fuck anymore either.
You would think this is the hard part of any story, but it’s not. More often not, people are willing to shed blood and sweat for a cause. If you truly believe in something you won’t mind going through hardships. You would give up a meal, or a good night’s sleep for some work you want to accomplish. It’s pretty easy to go an extra mile, to sacrifice something for your partner who you truly love. It takes only a little will power to go on for extra 15 minutes of cardio because you really want to lose that weight. Some passion, a strong belief will easily get you through the hardships.
Andrew’s madness drives him to self destruction. Fletcher has pushed him too far maybe. He loses it… Attacking Fletcher during one of the competitions gets him expelled. Andrew’s father frames the situation as if Andrew is a victim, convincing him to rat on Fletcher, which gets Fletcher expelled as well. I believe, Andrew knew he’s no victim, but he had to get back at Fletcher, revenge his bruised ego. The drum set is gone, Andrew has given up on his dreams it seems.
Act III: The Conclusion?
One fine day Andrew meets Fletcher at a cafe, playing piano. With a friendly chat Andrew tries to confront Fletcher for whipping him too hard. Fletcher doesn’t bat an eyelash, he has no regrets. They discuss a real story about Charlie Parker (FYI , he’s a legend, inventor of bebop), about how he had a cymbal thrown at him, which pushed him on to become better. Fletcher suggested Charlie Parker won’t be deterred at any cost and Andrew agrees. Fletcher had always hoped he would find his Charlie like protege. Fletcher later invites him to a JVC Jazz festival as his drummer, and consoles him that they will be playing the same studio band tracks, so he doesn’t have to practice with the band. This kindles Andrew’s dream. He is up and ready for it. This is it, it’s like a dream come true. If he nails this he get’s to be in the upper league.
There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”. — Terence Fletcher, Whiplash
On concert day, Fletcher warn’s his band members that this is their only opportunity, they could become stars right here or if they goof up, they will never get another chance. While the band is prepping on the stage Fletcher walks to Andrew, and looks him into eye and tells him he know’s Andrew ratted him out. Fletcher played Andrew, he brought him on stage just to fuck him over. Fletcher finds out they will be playing a different tune, one he has never seen. It’s over, the excitement on his face, the anxiety of performing has washed out, fear has taken over. The band start’s playing, Andrew has no clue what he is supposed to play. The song goes on for eternity, as Andrew’s attempts to play anything meaningful fail.
The Song is over, Fletcher gives him a ‘you’re done’ look, as lights dim and the crowd awkwardly claps. Andrew knows he’s finished, he has been whipped again, this time for good. Fletcher walks towards him to let him know ‘you don’t have it’. Lost, Andrew gets up and walks out of stage. His dad who is in audience, runs to backstage to hold his shaken son.
This is where most of our stories end. At least that’s how I got to be jack of most trades, master of none.How our fitness plans fail. This is how we let go of the one we truly loved. You don’t deserve this you can cry, and people will tell you, ‘yeah! you deserve better’. You did the hard work, now you are allowed to curl up in your bed and pity yourself. You could sell this story to people for comfort, they will tell you how wrong Fletcher is. But do you care? Is that really what you wanted? Are you really gonna call it a day and tell yourself ‘you tried’? This story isn’t even interesting. Is this how your story ends?
That is not Andrew. Andrew is done. Done being a victim. He is done being on the wrong end of the whip. He let’s go off his father after’s hug. Turns back and walks to his seat. Sleeve rolled up this time, he picks up his sticks. Fletcher looks at him, weirdly, not surprised by his return. Fletcher ignores him and continues with his announcement of the next track they will play. Andrew doesn’t let him finish his sentence, and begins playing all by himself. He cues in a fellow musician into a tune they all were familiar with. The rest of the band follows. Fletcher’s band is playing, he has to act like things are under control, saving an embarrassing situation for himself. But he is pissed off. Andrew fearlessly stares into Fletcher’s eyes, as if he has picked up the whip now. Fletcher keeps on conducting the band but he has no control over Andrew now.
Fletcher has softened. The band finishes the tune, they stop playing. Andrew doesn’t, he’s not done yet. Putting on the best show he can he show’s off his double time, something Fletcher had been demanding of Andrew before. Andrew goes on, he is in his zone, true form, flow, peak of his element or whatever you would call it. Cymbals covered in sweat and blood from his palm, there’s no stopping him now. He is going to be a great drummer, that’s all he knows.
His father, the people in the theater, the band members, and Fletcher witness the madness he has unleashed. Fletcher now understand’s this is his moment. He starts conducting Andrew, Andrew let’s him take control, letting him do his job. He has flipped the circumstances. They are now coordinating together to put on the best show of their lives. Andrew made it.
Now this is a success story we all would want to hear. This is the hardest part, because it takes more than hard work to get through, it takes true grit. It is extremely import you do not give up at this point, all your hard work
The story hardly explains the genius of Fletcher. But what if, he knew all along that Andrew is the one, his Charlie Parker? What if he knew it would take more than slaps, abuse and hurling a chair to get Andrew to reach his peak? What would Fletcher get out of destroying Andrew anyway? Maybe he devised this plan, all along believing in him, hoping he would walk back to his drum set? I would say Andrew is lucky Fletcher did now give up on him.
The point is, every new obstacle seems unfordable, but successful people never give up. In retrospect all success stories seem to be about entwined twins, Andrew and Fletcher that they are. Fletcher kept them on their feet, like life, throwing one problem after another onto Andrew’s face. Successful people fall, and instead of looking for sympathy pick themselves up. You could try and put any successful entrepreneur, sportsman or an artist’s story into this template… You would find they always got back to their seat.
Time and again you will find yourself in difficulties, you would be tempted to get off stage and go home. You can go on and tell your story about the mean Fletcher you had in your life, the story will soon be forgotten. Or you could go back, back to what you truly believe in. Stick to the fitness plan even after you have lost your track for few days. Hold on to your loved ones even when they deny you any love. Do not give up on your dreams. Then you would have a story to tell, something people would bother listening to.
So where does your story end? Will you give up when you come face to face with your Fletcher?
Because there’s only one story that matters, the one where you walk back onto stage, sleeves rolled up and pick up the drumsticks…