What would you give up for greatness? That is the question brilliantly asked and worked out in the film ‘Whiplash’. A question I am still going over again and again in my own head.
“Whiplash” is a film about a very talented young drummer, Andrew Neyman, who through a scholarship, is accepted to the best music school in the country. This program is headed by Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons) who is the most talented and terrifying Band Teacher ever set on the silver screen. Terrence physically and emotionally frightens me and Andrew (Miles Teller) should get an oscar nomination simply for enduring his terrifying abuse.
Needless to say this is no ordinary band teacher. With fiery rage and deeply personal attacks he demands the best possible performance out of every member of his orchestra. He will not hesitate to berate or even kick you out of the orchestra in front of the entire group if he thinks you’re a hair off his rhythm. This abuse seems completely without reason at first.
The extremely personal put downs he inflicts upon his proteges while they look at the ground and shake are some of the most inspired scenes in the film. Even going so far as to befriend them during breaks to illicit sensitive issues to use as extremely personal leverage.
A few scenes get so intense, frightening, and personal I had to remind myself to breath. Definitely reminds one of Sergeant Hartman beating the last bits of sanity out of Gomer Pile in ‘Full Metal Jacket’.
The movie is well paced and edited incredibly fast. I literally don’t give two shits about any orchestra set up, foundation, inspiration, you name it but found myself riveted and fully tuned in to the screen and story.
The true underlying themes are 1. What does it take to be truly great and memorable? and 2. Is it worth it? In other words: is the path of broken bloodied relationships, extreme isolation, permanent emotional as well as physical damage, and utter despair worth fighting through to become truly great and memorable?
The first thing that comes to my mind is “GOD NO! Absofuckinglutely not!” It is NOT worth losing every friend, being beaten into a bloody pulp both physically and emotionally on a daily basis, and carrying on potentially forever until you reach the top of some unknown mountain. This seems extremely damaging and frankly insane.
I’ve always operated on the thought of being different and finding your niche. So as to avoid striving to be the best at what everyone else is striving to be the best at. My feeling is it’s easier and the odds are far more in your favor to take an alternate route to the top of the mountain rather than the main route that’s rife with the most dragons, goblins, and other knights hoping to kill you at every turn.
But perhaps being the absolute best there ever was, a few names come to mind: Jordan, Ali, Schumacher, Gretzky, Lance Armstrong (maybe?), etc is a different mountain entirely. Perhaps this is the goal that pushes the limits of humanity past their breaking point to new levels of greatness and achievement.
So is it worth it? Is it worth giving up everything to be the greatest?
My inspired gut says yes but my rational mind says FUCK NO!
What do you think?