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Film Review: Whiplash

If you know me, you know that I love movies yet rarely get around to watching anything. Yesterday, I actually managed to get ahead of schedule on all my not-actually-writing-self-loathing time and sat down to watch Whiplash.

I hate synopses because they leave out so much (or maybe I'm afraid of commitment and there is far too much pressure in being held accountable for boiling an entire film down to a single sentence). Though there's far too much nuance in a film like Whiplash to say it's about any one thing, let's try:

Whiplash is a film about a first year jazz student, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and his instructor Terence Fletcher's (J.K. Simmons) relationship to art, passion, obsession, and the stakes and sacrifices of becoming truly great.

Whiplash was... not my tempo. I mean this, of course, in a good way - in a loving way; it completely blew me away. I don't know much about the minutiae of what makes a film great, but I do know that I can at least recognize when something stands out. That said, the editing of this film was superb, and the acting was, to me, incredible.

Let's talk about the acting. Simmons plays a sadistic jazz instructor in Terence Fletcher (who, without knowing any better, reminds me a lot of what it must have been like to take a writing workshop under Gordon Lish). His demanding personality is so intense that it's bordering on disbelief... yet Simmons nails the role in a way that is not only intimidating and violent, but empathetic as well. I understood Fletcher's aims, and was rooting for him in spite of his tendency to be a complete piece of shit to anybody who so much as shifted their eyes the wrong way. Incredible. Teller does an excellent job conveying a sense of safety and urgency to the audience. Through him, we are lulled into a false sense of security only to have the rug ripped out from beneath us. A notable example of this is his approval seeking from Simmons. Every time Teller smiles at Simmons expecting perhaps a nod of satisfaction back, we understand that everything is not okay and shit is going to hit the fan.

The pacing and editing of this film was absolutely break-neck. From the opening scene to its incredible climax - I've never been a part of something so raw and visceral. I didn't know what to do after that hard cut to the credits that I sat in my chair staring at my screen with chills overtaking me. For a film grounded in realism, there were some parts that may have required a minor suspension of disbelief - I'm talking the car accident, the willingness for Andrew to accept and understand his emotional abuse, and but that's okay because of how important they were to what was ultimately an extremely tight, gratifying story. Everything in this movie exists for a reason - much how everything Fletcher does seems to happen for a very specific, if not cruel, reason. Because of this, the ending is allowed to be what it is and there is no need for further explanation. The story serves itself.

Whiplash is incredible in that the film is constantly pushed to the very edge of its own limits, only to be brought back and then pushed even further again. It is a raw, emotional experience that comments on the demand, obsession, and passion of artistic drive. Most importantly - it's was fun.

What a ride.