The ability to totally understand the emotions of a character in a movie is rare. Yes, we empathise, but how often do we really, truly come close to “I know how you feel”? Of course we can never know exactly how anyone feels as we are all different but we definitely have levels of understanding based on experiences. For once, I can say, I know. I have been there. I’m on about Fletcher (J.K Simmons) shouting at Andrew (Miles Teller) “You’re fast”, “Now you’re slow” and on and on. Most people don’t understand this…really, really, understand this. I do: It was inevitable that on those days when screeching resonated down the passage from behind that scary closed door, you were about to be in for a similar experience as the poor sod finishing off their piano lesson. I dreaded lessons on those days because no matter how I tried or what I did, I too was playing either too fast or too slow or just not quite getting it and when I eventually got it right, I had no idea what I had done different to the previous 30 or so times. In my novice opinion (as was made clear to me then), that last correct attempt was no different to the first incorrect one. But, something minuscule, inaudible to my ears must have been. Yes, agreed, the second attempt was usually exaggeratedly too slow resulting in a highly irritated “Lovey…” accompanied by eye-rolling and some additional comments on being such an amateur or that now I’m just being ridiculous. The 3rd attempt was naturally then way too fast but I had to do something, anything, to get through this hour of hell. Gosh, thinking back, I’m so glad she was perched next to me and didn’t see the glistening eyes. She definitely would have increased her fire-breathing had she had the slightest idea that “I am upset” as Andrew puts it. So yes, Whiplash really hits home. Very hard. For some of us, not so much fiction is it? Even I ran off to the practice rooms to really pound those torturous bars into my brain only to play them even worse during the following week’s repeated torture session. Interesting enough was that until the day before the exam the particular section that was considered shocking and worthy of failing was suddenly “beautifully played…Lovey”.
The question raised is how far does one go? I’m definitely not the one to take it to the same extremes as Andrew did. His goal was to be the best, no matter what. But then why shouldn’t we aspire to be the best? What’s the point of doing something half-heartedly? Doesn’t mean you have to be the best but at least make the best possible attempt you can. Personally, I don’t think it is all Fletcher‘s doing. If Andrew wasn’t that way inclined to start with, no matter what Fletcher did, Andrew wouldn’t have done it. The point is, he accepted it in some masochistic pleasure.
I must say, I believe that the speech around Charlie Parker becoming Charlie Parker because Jo Jones threw a cymbal at him may have some truth to it. If Charlie Parker hadn’t been humiliated, would he have pushed himself and in doing so become great? Also the fact that Fletcher brought on Connolly as a motivator is a good strategy. Nothing like instilling some competition. I think it is our natural make-up to want to win or at least be good at things. Well, where it comes to our passions. Wouldn’t work for something we don’t really care about.
Looking back on my student days, I can laugh about it. But back then, it was by no means a laughing matter. In fact, the daily question piano students asked was “What mood is she in?” And each week we all swore we’d had enough and would transfer to another teacher. We never did.