I saw Whiplash late one night at the end of a three-movie-day before the Oscars in February, so I was tired and my eyelids were fighting me when seeing movie number three. As soon as Whiplash began, sleepiness was the furthest thing from my mind. I was captivated, disturbed, angry, shocked, and afraid. The movie itself is good…not great. But it features two stellar performances by Miles Teller as the student and especially by J.K. Simmons (who went on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, in addition to every other award under the sun) as the brutal and almost maniacal teacher.
When I say the movie is not great, I mean the ending kind of meanders some. I wanted more of a visceral punch of an ending after the raw and highly energized beginning. But barring that, this is one of the most uncomfortably intense movies I have ever seen. I tend not to like films or television that deliberately make the audience feel uncomfortable. But somehow with this film, which is filled with violent intensity at ever turn, just riveted me. Instead of wanting to look away, I could not take my eyes off of the screen. Instead of wanting it to end, I wanted more.
Simmons plays an ultra-demanding teacher at a music school and also is the leader of a famed student jazz ensemble. Teller is a young student drummer whom Simmons sets his sights on. The abuse (mostly verbal but also some physical) Simmons throws at his students – Teller in particular – is reprehensible and criminal. But somehow we want more (or at least I did), which is why the ending fell flat for me…the end is one giant mind-game rather than a brutal battle to the death. Simmons was so captivating as a fire-breathing monster, I wanted that in the end as well. I was so transfixed on his performance that I found myself not wanting the brutality to end (this sounds bad — you will understand what I mean after you see the film…hopefully).