WHIPLASH (2014) – Damien Chazelle

How The Final Scene Embodies: Whiplash

WHIPLASH (2014) - Damien Chazelle


“There are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job-Terence Fletcher. 


In this article, I would like to talk about one of my favorite movies, Whiplash. In my eyes it is one of the finest tales of perfection and obsession in cinema, up there with the likes of Rope (1948), Black Swan (2010) and Nightcrawler (2014). These movies deal with different types of obsession and perfection, each outlining the personal ambitions of characters and how they become consumed by their goals and ideologies of which they follow, and thus affecting people and the world around them. Nevertheless, they stop at nothing to either prove a point, achieve mastery or be prideful of their achievements. Moreover, Whiplash holds a special spot in my heart, that being the jazz aspect of it. It becomes an intrinsic aspect of the movie and allows J.K Simmons and Miles Teller to give all-time great performances. Jazz in this movie also allows Chazelle, the director, to really dig deep into the theme of perfectionism. After all, there are  many artists we know from the world of jazz who have gone on a downward spiral of drugs because of the amount of pressure that lies on their shoulders-they needed to be perfect every time they were on stage. A few to note were Ray Charles, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Chazelle does not hesitate in crafting a complex relationship between the two main characters, which contributes to the movie’s thrilling ride and commentary on the cost of perfection and pride.

One of the early scenes in the movie touches on the aspect of perfection and how the unhealthy pursuit of achieving it can lead to a descent into this bottomless pit of pride and vanity through a casual conversation between Andrew Neiman-the movie’s main character- and his family that quickly turns hostile. Neiman, a newly accepted drummer into the renowned Schaffer Institution, was excited to share with his family the news that he was accepted into the prestigious jazz band. The family gives no attention to him so he decides to challenge their beliefs on what it means to be successful in life; “I would rather die at the age of 34 drunk and broke and have everybody at a dinner table talk about me, than to die at 90, sober and rich and nobody remembers who I was”. This perception of success and one’s self pride leads this character down an obsessive path that quickly strips away any humanity he had. One character that allows this obsession to further develop is Fletcher-brilliantly played by J.K Simmons- Andrew Neiman’s Professor. 

Fletcher can be described as many things, however, he does stand out as one, thing, a villanous maestro; he bullies his students to the brink of suicide, until they’re drowning into tears, using personal information to get the better of them. However, this type of behavior is what pushed Neiman into wanting more. We see this pendulum of a relationship between Neiman and Fletcher, in which they are constantly on different sides, never finding a place to settle in the middle, in a place of rationality; at one point they seem to be at terms with each other and then right after, they are at war, due to Fletcher’s unorthodox and abusive way of teaching. This complex dynamic between the two main characters of the movie allows Chazelle to present to us the future of Neiman, and what he might become with this obsessive behavior. Neiman searches for perfection, and in Fletcher, he finds a way. 

Now, the next part is about the movie’s ending; if you do not want to read this part that is totally fine, but I would advise you to read it, since it’ll be a thorough analysis on what the ending means to the main character. However, spoilers do lie ahead!

Whiplash’s ending to me is one of those perfect movie endings; other movies I consider to have perfect endings are 12 Angry Men (1957), Do the Right Thing (1989), City of God (2004) and Ivan’s Childhood (1962). These endings are unique in their own right, as they greatly differ from each other and all end with a message to take home and feel like the story has come full circle with its themes and ends in a way no more or less need be said about it. However, differently from the previous ones, Whiplash has an ending that is sharp and meticulous, perfectly capturing the movements of a drummer, it is Andrew’s catharsis. But the editing of his movement is just the tip of the iceberg. What’s really interesting is how the editing tells the story between Fletcher and Andrew, and how it all led up to this moment. Throughout the movie, Fletcher is mostly filmed on a lower angle symbolizing his power over Neiman, yet in this scene we finally see him at an eye level shot, demonstrating the respect he now has for Neiman. Eye level shots are extremely easy to make (which coincidentally is a juxtaposition to the amount of effort that Neiman has gone through to reach this moment) and represents a neutral position of the character at that point in the story, rather than representing an excessive amount of power or lack thereof. Because of the hard earned obsessive pursuit of success and perfection, which ultimately leads to the respect from Fletcher, Chazelle gives us the soul-crushing moment of the film. We see Andrew’s father watching from a door, separating the stage from the back rooms. Neiman’s father looks stunned. This one single shot emphasizes the distance and detachment that Andrew now has from his father, family and his own humanity. 

Many consider this ending to be “happy”/”fulfilling”, but what happens to Neiman doesn’t really happen in other more popular movies. Neiman gets what he wants and only what he wants. The character doesn’t acquire what he needs. He doesn’t learn a lesson from his past mistakes, he doesn’t get a final lecture to be a better person, no, he simply achieves his goal, which in turn continues that destructive obsession, it is as if the movie didn’t possess a “moral of the story”.  

In the end, the movie fulfils the “wants” of the protagonist, leaving us with a bittersweet taste in our sentiments, because Neiman got everything he wanted, however at the cost of his humanity. He became what Fletcher wanted his students to be: a machine. 


Truth is I don’t think people understood what it was I was doing at Schaffer. I wasn’t there to conduct. Any ….  Moron can wave his arms and keep people in tempo. I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is an absolute necessity. Otherwise we are depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong, the next Charlie Parker…”Terence Fletcher.