Thoughts On: Whiplash
The 2014 music drama about Andrew who wants to become an elite jazz drummer – one of the greats.
Life, we’re all walking our paths. But, where to? Ultimately, death, yes. But we’re going to keep things short term for this. For this talk, we’re going to jump right to the end of the film, Andrew has got into the core group, fell out, come back and… whew!… yeah… that solo… I need say no more. Actually, before we start… drums, the foundation of almost all music. Drummers, the foundation of almost all musical jokes. People talk down on them, but, why? Yes, they have the ‘simple’ job of keeping time, but drums done well is impossibly impressive. True, anyone who’s good at there job is fascinating to watch, I could watch a professional painter decorate a room and then watch the paint dry in awe. But, YouTube the best of any musical instrument and drums, especially for me, is bar none the most impressive–this film kinda demonstrates that. I mean, what other films anchor their ends to a musical performance? Sure, there’s Crossroads, School Of Rock and tell me more in the comments, but none to this level. Music is emotion translated through sound, kinetic energy, vibrations, moving through the air, implying feeling, conveying movement, tone, sensation. Humanity, communication, through particulate motion. The drums control the conversation, they command tone, speed, rhythm, feeling. Notes flavour, they detail, they emphasise. Voice, guitar, trumpets, violins rely on this idea of ‘when’, timing (even without drums present). Beat is primary in music. Drums are primary to music. They have the say, they have ultimate control because… uh… if it’s not quite your tempo… well…
Back to movies, I have to say this one of the best looking films I’ve ever laid my eyes on. It reminds me a little of Taxi Driver with its gritty texture, warm colours, reliance on the yellows and greys, smeared, glowering lights, yet clean cut illumination when in focus. I’ve also got to say, the close ups on Nicole, Andrew’s kinda girlfriend, are… astounding to say the least–though not just because of the cinematography–obviously. Excuse my infatuation. Down to it, this film is about opportunity, more specifically, what you do with idea of choice along your path in life. Sticking to the smash cut to black, Andrew ends the film with 3 paths to chose from, to take in his life. People love to talk about Andrew vs. Fletcher and who wins in the end. The truth is, mmm… don’t matter. The end of the film and its consequences centre around the choices Andrew has burrowed out for himself. Over the film he gains and loses 3 things that centre around his 3 core relationships in life. There’s the familial one with his father, the professional one with Fletcher and the romantic one with Nicole. He both makes (not entirely with his father, but) then brakes these three relationships through the course of the film. By the end he’s fought for the opportunity for redemption along 1 of these paths of his choosing. Before I define them, the film demonstrates that one needs to devote all of their time to one idea, to dedicate themself to one goal to become truly successful. That in mind, with Nicole he may pursue love, the normal life of suburban marriage and general insignificance. This is pathway is symbolic of independence (and I’ll get to why in a moment). The second pathway is for Andrew to stand, take a bow and never return to the stage, to hug his dad and walk home to a bowl of popcorn in front of the T.V. This path means dependence on one’s family, on what you have in life without pursuing more. The last path is of course to return to Fletcher. Here we have an unstable path (yeah, to say the least). Andrew is both independent, in that he more or less controls his success, but is extremely dependant on a system around him – on Fletcher, JVC, and audience, the music business in general.
So, we have the three paths: mundane independence (average insignificance), dependence (painful insignificance) and a horrible, yet enthralling, cocktail of dependence and independence that could lead you to being ‘a great’. Of course it’s easy to argue that Andrew could take two of the paths such as Fletcher and Nicole, but, Andrew doesn’t agree with you there. In fact the only joint pathways he could get away with is with his father and Nicole – family life. But, the film is very set in its opinion of definite paths – having it, or not. Every argument made toward Fletcher being wrong and ‘greats’ not being of a certain breed of human is quickly shot down. ‘Maybe you can go too far?’. ‘Charlie Parker wouldn’t have been discouraged’. Paths can be trodden, but if you want to get anywhere far your going to have to dig your heels in and give it all you got, you’re going to have to run like nothing can stop you. And remember we’re talking in metaphorical terms here. You want to be the greatest zero? You’re going to have to work at it. You want to be the greatest husband, wife, parent? Damn, you better get working. The greatest professional? Artist? Banker? Doctor? Teacher? Whew, lot of work there. We can be one of three things, bottom of the heap, part of the bulk or atop it all. In a capitalist, hierarchical world we live in (hierarchy being inevitable between animals–people) your path in life leads you to your place in society. This is what the film is about, choosing where you stand.
Whiplash is an open question to you. If you were sat on Andrew’s drum stool, smash cut imminent, who are you going to run to for celebrations? Are you going to stand and shake Fletcher’s hand? You going to run and hug your dad? Or are you going to bustle through a crowd or jump off that stage and take Nicole’s hand (for Nicole? I would)? I joke (not really). But, who, what path sounds most appealing to you? Then ask yourself this: what path could, not would, you take?
Choice, the closest thing to control we can experience. Opportunities are born of both luck and work. Opportunities lead us places, but our feet take us there. As a person who doesn’t believe in control in a general sense of the word, I do think choice, that in the every day, people have a degree of influence on the ideas around them. Humans and their outputs are malleable, and so success can exist. People drew a line in the sand, pointed to one side, saying, ‘good’, ‘success’, and the other saying, ‘bad’, ‘failure’. In reality, these things don’t exists. But, in our worlds of course they do. From the proposal the film gives I’d like to springboard into an idea of success–of self-worth. All this path talk is the result of us attributing ‘attainment’ to positivity, to a chemical rush. We do what we do because we’re run by a programme that’s always writing itself. Now, I know you’ve answered the questions the film, through me, has asked you. I also know I could have finished this talk a paragraph back, but I want to push things today. Why be nothing? Why be a great? Why be like everybody else? Who you want to be is an easy question, ‘why?’, I’ve already given you my main reasoning: chemical, biological and physical… science basically. But, why on Earth if we understand the choices we make and know they are invariably nothing, do the systems of hierarchy exist? Peace is not a hard thing to achieve, just like not taking that extra cupcake isn’t… BUT IT IS!! I feel you. But it isn’t, we know that. Here’s the kicker, humans are self-aware, we understand so much about life and existence inherently (no, I’m not considering the unimaginable grand scheme). We know so much and are capable of introspection and understanding, but lack an ability to act. No one likes to be fat (most probably). Yet there’s fat people galore. No one likes to be poor. But the rich are a staggering minority. Maybe you could argue here that the universe, that life, has its systems of establishing hierarchy, but, no. Look at the laws of thermodynamics, look at the idea of diffusion, osmosis, equilibrium. The universe wants a grey, luke-warm, mellow, to rule, but people don’t.
This is one of the most befuddling aspects of human nature to me: its obvious contradictions. Why does want and need exist? And you can’t say equal and opposites here. I turn back to you now and ask, what is choice? It’s there, kind of, but we don’t utilise it. Maybe this comes down to the path of least resistance. Humans are short-term goal orientated, but long-term cognitive. By that, I mean, our minds are built for speculation, for the future, but our bodies for the now. That kind of reduces consciousness to a blunder, a mismatch, no? Humans seem to be built from contradiction – automation, self-destruction in a self-preservative system. Where are we in the grand scheme? I think the best answer we can give concerns a question of, what are we? We are a cog amongst infinite others, a cog that fits, but wants to pull out and look at everyone else, to find a mirror and look at itself. That is what we are, and now comes what could quite possibly break me: why?… Yeah, it hurts. I haven’t got an answer on that one. All I can suggest is maybe we need to ponder a little when our smash cuts are imminent. Maybe life’s bliss is not standing at the end of a path – having succeeded or failed. As a short-term body with a long-term mind in face of goals, like us all, I suggest looking down a path is what you hold on to. That inertia, inaction, the dream beyond reality, be appreciated to its to full before making a decision – because we all know it can’t last.
The takeaway? Forget motivation for a moment, forget success and remember where you stand before you start walking as this is the only place us twisted, dissenting cogs may relax before entering the storm.
Donnie Darko – Conscientiousness Beyond Love And Fear
Batman V Superman – What Is A Scene?
More from me: