Whiplash follows drumming prodigy Andrew as he tries to make a name for himself in the music world. Having been accepted to the fictitious equivalent of the Lincoln Center’s Juilliard School, he needs to impress teacher-to-the-stars Terence Fletcher to achieve his ambitions. An unhealthy, sadistic relationship develops between teacher and pupil, and the obsessive Andrew becomes entangled in a downward spiral as he puts all other elements of his life, health and well-being included, behind drumming.
The film is incredibly tight, like a well rehearsed live band no less, with a one-track plot focusing solely on Andrew and his drumming. When he isn’t practicing his music, we barely see him, and whole months flash by unseen as the narrative skips forward.
Endless close ups place the audience under the drummer’s skin; an uncomfortable place to be, as he pushes himself physically in ways you’d imagine only athletes achieving - not musicians. Scene after scene shows bloody injuries forming and breaking, hammering home the relentless psychological and physical lengths that Andrew pushes himself to in order to win over his teacher’s admiration and achieve perfection.
J.K Simmons is terrifying as Fletcher, and Miles Teller, as the increasingly antisocial Andrew, is at times just as unsympathetic a personality. The two characters’ interactions and confrontations are magnetic to watch, and allow for a sparse plot to remain engaging throughout.
See Whiplash on our screens until 5 February.