Whiplash: Good Job

I saw Whiplash at The Little last night. I enjoyed the film and I related to the characters on quite a personal level. I’m going to attempt to roll this post into another post that I have had on the backburner because I think they fit well together. As is customary I will say that, you should check it out in theaters. There are going to be some spoilers below but nothing major just so you’re all aware. Before I get going here is the trailer:

As the story unfolded, I began to have a tough time trying to figure out which character I enjoyed more. While the brash manor that the band director spoke to his pupils disturbed me. I was in awe of his candor and demand for excellence. Although I felt pity for the drummer as his mentor physically and emotionally abused him, I appreciated his dedication and his strong will.

As the movie continues, you begin to get a window into exactly what it takes to achieve greatness. The great ones all have one thing in common, hard work. These people seem to appear as if out of thin air. We rarely see the work they put in during practice to become great. We can all point to a couple of famous people right off the bat that meets my criteria for greatness. The obvious example is Michael Jordan:

A particular line from this video that struck a chord with me was,

Maybe I led you to believe that Basketball was a God given gift; and not something I worked for [sic]. Every day of my life.

Jordan’s point is clear. He worked hard, and things weren’t ever handed to him (in basketball anyhow). In every field, there are virtuosos that rise above the rest of the competition. Before Jordan, there was Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. These people appear in almost every generation. In many individual sports and activities, they give the best player the title such of, “World Champion”. In the world of chess, there have been many attempts to crown the, “greatest player of all time”. We can use the computer to determine the quality of each players move and the precision with which they played. Of course, it isn’t a perfect model, and computers do make mistakes. There are things that the computers still don’t understand; the human psyche is a good example.

The film Whiplash does a brilliant job of displaying what it takes to achieve “greatness”. In the film, Fletcher pushes Andrew until he reaches his breaking point. In one scene, Andrew breaks up with his girlfriend because he wanted to pursue his dream. He states that she will resent him for practicing so much and ask him to spend more time with her. In turn, this will make him resent her for not allowing him to pursue his dream of being great. Her response is, “you aren’t great?” To which he replies, “One of the greats”. This epitomizes the everyday real life struggle that people pursuing a dream face on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s the difference between writing a blog post and sleeping in some extreme cases :). I jest but the point remains, to achieve greatness you must sacrifice things along the way. There is a tradeoff between studying and maintaining relationships.

I enjoyed watching Andrew’s evolution that took place throughout the film. In the beginning of the film, Andrew is shy and meek around his teacher. Throughout the movie, we watch him grow and become more confrontational and outspoken. A turning point in the film was during the dinner conversation that Andrew has with some of his relatives. During the dinner, they begin talking about their own individual achievements. It’s clear that they don’t understand the kind of effort he is putting into his drumming. How can we expect them to? When you’ve spent your life being mediocre, it’s impossible to understand someone who has higher aspirations. On a related note, this movie reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from the 1990’s film, “Searching for Bobby Fischer”. To set it up there is a parent teacher conference between the Josh’s parents and his schoolteacher,

Fred: He’s better at this than I’ve ever been at anything in my life. He’s better at this than you’ll ever be, at anything. My son has a gift. He has a gift, and when you acknowledge that, then maybe we will have something to talk about.

A bit harsh; sure, but it drives the point home. I see people all the time who fail to acknowledge other people’s achievements. The lack of appreciation that Andrew receives from his family comes as a shock to him. His relatives at the table attempt to compare his accomplishments to that of their sons who are mediocre. An amusing repartee occurs at the dinner table. After some backhanded comments about Andrew’s aspirations, he lashes out. This was the first scene where I felt that he was taking control of his surroundings and I appreciated the sharp dialogue:

Uncle Frank: You got any friends, Andy?

Andrew: No.

Uncle Frank: Oh, why’s that?

Andrew: I don’t know, I just never really saw the use.

Uncle Frank: Well, who are you going to play with otherwise? Lennon and McCartney, they were school buddies, am I right?

Andrew: Charlie Parker didn’t know anybody ’til Joe Jones threw a cymbal at his head.

Uncle Frank: So that’s your idea of success, huh?

Andrew: I think being the greatest musician of the 20th century is anybody’s idea of success.

Jim: Dying broke and drunk and full of heroin at the age of 34 is not exactly my idea of success.

Andrew: I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.

Uncle Frank: Ah, but your friends will remember you, that’s the point.

Andrew: None of us were friends with Charlie Parker. *That’s* the point.

Uncle Frank: Travis and Dustin? They have plenty of friends and plenty of purpose.

Andrew: I’m sure they’ll make great school board presidents someday.

Dustin: Oh, that’s what this is all about? You think you’re better than us?

Andrew: You catch on quick. Are you in Model UN?

Travis: I got a reply for you, Andrew. You think Carleton football’s a joke? Come play with us.

Andrew: Four words you will never hear from the NFL.

Aunt Emma: Who wants dessert?

It’s like trying to explain quantum mechanics to a room full of monkeys. I recall listening to an interview with J.K. Simmons on NPR about his character in the film, Fletcher. At one point he says,

SIMMONS: And that whole scene in the jazz club, where I sort of espouse this philosophy that, you know, greatness needs to be – you need to be pushed and prodded and pulled. And I actually firmly agree with pretty much everything my character says. It’s just his pedagogy that I think could use a little work.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve devoted a lot of time thinking about a topic and I could go on for days about it. I’ll just leave you with this quote by Miyamoto Musashi that I first heard on one of my favorite new podcasts, “The Mating Grounds“:

"These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things."
“These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things.”


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