03/04/2018

Whiplash - The Voidal Patriarch

Thoughts On: Whiplash (2014)


A drummer aspires to earn the respect of a tyrannical musical teacher.


There are many intriguing ways to read into and talk about Whiplash. You could explore the brilliant direction, its accumulation of rhythm and bounce, or the sumptuous cinematography, its embrace of the warm and real textures of faces, or even the maniacal and deranged performances. You could also confront the many questions the narrative poses, exploring the film's investigation of art, perfection and greatness. This has been done by many people already, but, there are other perspectives of the narrative. I have previously written about Whiplash as a coming-of-age film, one that plays with the coming as age as the coming of choice; the ability to choose the kind of person you will be. After watching Whiplash today--for the sixth or seventh time--what really jumped out at me were the intense themes of deception, but, more so, the idea of a father-figure.

It is uncoincidental that Whiplash opens with a juxtaposition between a scene with a man Andrew respects, Fletcher, and a man who Andrew certainly seems to feel he has outgrown: his father. With music being the waters in which these characters swim - Andrew's father not understanding his son and waiting to ship him away and Fletcher helming a submarine that Andrew is floundering to board - the unspoken relationship between Fletcher and Andrew's true father is immersed in one definitive step into adulthood: the death of the super-dad. With Andrew clearly having reached an age that allows him to see his father as just a man, not a superhero - a widower and a high school teacher - he clings to him, going to movies every now and then to feel a fleeting sense of home, comfort and childhood, with seeming resentment. This resentment is simultaneously implied and forgotten when Andrew is with Fletcher; we feel that Fletcher is the father that Andrew wishes he had, but Fletcher also becomes the father Andrew is glad he never got when he becomes an unbearable tyrant.

With such a relationship pulled out of the abstract, Whiplash seems to play in this arena of new adulthood, of Andrew searching for a new father. This idea of a new father is found in many archetypal, mythological and fantastical stories. Consider, for instance, Greek mythological tales concerning demi-Gods who come of age and must shed themselves of their mortal parents to reconnect or confront their heavenly parents. Harry Potter, too, deals with such an idea; Harry leaves his uncle and aunt in search of the spirit of his lost parents. Even Superman follows this paradigm as it is only when Ken becomes an adult that he realises his powers truly and must find out who his true parents are. This trope seems to be in many stories because the father or mother figure is something that we utilise throughout our lives, in evolving ways, to conceptualise guidance. Whilst the baby's parents are then literal, an older person's parents can't be. So, whether we honour, prey to, think of, or rely on lost parents, mentors, friends or teachers, they stick with us until we're gone ourselves. It seems, however, that the transition away from the literal parents and towards the abstract ones is a key one, one that we have always dealt with in stories.

Whiplash, a little like Greek myths, Harry Potter and Superman, is concerned with such a transition. More specifically, however, it is concerned with the shape of oneself, and its reflection in who we choose to be our abstract parents (the first kind of parents we have the 'liberty' and seeming freedom to choose). We could then argue that it is partly because Andrew's life and perception are caught in a torrent of thoughts, fears and aspirations that he lands himself with Fletcher; it is because he believes that greatness requires self-flagellation and dire sacrifice that he gravitates towards Fletcher and is forced to confront his ideals; if he wants to be Charlie Parker, he's going to find Jo Jones, and Jo Jones is going to find a cymbal to throw at his head.

This idea is what makes Whiplash such an engaging film and the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew so complex. Not only does this bond come packed with questions of greatness and pain, but it is also a void into which we, along with Andrew, stare. In such, how we feel about Fletcher and Andrew says an awful lot about who we are, who we think we want to be and who we think our parents are. It is then just as important not to forget who Andrew leaves to play his final solo in the end of the story as it is to ponder upon where we think he is going to end up after finishing.

To find out why this film is apart of the Kaleidoscope series, check out the screenplay now.

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