‘Whiplash’ is what would define an electric kind of cinema for me. The much-needed jolt of energy and adrenaline, even inspiration for some, and a kick in the gut for creative professionals from all walks, much like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ was for the business and trading guys. Apart from surprising virtually everyone in the awards circuit when it released back in 2014, it can also be hailed as the film that put Damien Chazelle on the world map of the most promising filmmakers, a feat that was only cemented further when he became the youngest director to hold the coveted golden statuette two years later for ‘La La Land’.
What makes ‘Whiplash’ a great film apart from obviously being an exemplar in film scoring, editing and writing, are the omniscient questions it raises about true greatness, whether it even exists in all its subjectivity, the path to its attainment, and pushing oneself beyond mental and physical extremes in the process. Might I also add that a single viewing of ‘Whiplash’ may just leave you too overwhelmed and charged up to even contemplate on these larger, overarching questions, but a second, deeper viewing will leave you in search of answers and more. Worse still, ‘Whiplash’ does provide an answer that is a dichotomy at best, but to me, that impresses upon the intelligent nature of the film, especially the ending. We discuss what that meant and more in the following sections.
If ‘Whiplash’s ending doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat, your heart racing and your pulse in your throat, perhaps you were watching a different film. There will always be naysayers, but arguably so, ‘Whiplash’ has one of the best endings in modern cinema history. However, a few deliberate choices by the filmmakers have left some of it open to interpretation, and the very moral fibre of it comes under question with the kind of dichotomy created here. Let’s wind the clock to quickly recapitulate the ending and set the needle following Fletcher being fired from Shaffer conservatory after Andrew, under the condition of full anonymity and on discovering the cause of Sean Casey’s death, testifies against Fletcher for the abuse he suffered at his hands.
After an unspecified period of time passes in the film, Andrew is shown having settled for a more comfortable life, having moved on from his passion of drumming and working at a restaurant. While walking by a Jazz club, he discovers Fletcher’s name in the list of performers and goes inside to see him perform out of curiosity. Fletcher discovers Andrew among the bystanders, and the two share a drink and a conversation that really is the point of the entire film. I will quote part of the conversation verbatim later to analyse what the ending meant while offering my own two cents on it, but for now, let’s progress with the plot.
Following the conversation, Andrew is invited by Fletcher to drum for his band of professional players in the opening act for the JVC festival he was guiding that year. Naturally, Andrew accepts, and just before the beginning of the performance, Fletcher informs him that he was aware that Andrew was the one who testified against him that led to his dismissal, and starts off by cueing in a tune Andrew didn’t know. Realising he was being sabotaged, Andrew stays nonetheless, trying to improvise his act, but fails to keep and leaves, humiliated. However, with a steelier resolve, he returns to the stage, and interrupts Fletcher in the middle of his speech by playing ‘Caravan’, eventually cueing the band in.