Whiplash, the movie and my life

When he found out I was a musician, a newfound friend of mine suggested I really had to see this movie “Whiplash.” I hadn’t heard anything about it, even though I consider myself a movie fanatic, but I trusted his judgment in flicks based on his list of favorite shows. Didn’t take me long to figure out we were on the same wavelength, so I made a point of checking it out.

From this point forward, I suspect any movie this guy tells me to see I will drop whatever I’m doing, even if it involves national security. I will dash to the car, screech down the highway to my favorite movie theater (the Star John R where the seats are like sofas and you can push that button on the side and lean all the way back), and then anxiously wait for the lights to go down.

I usually go to the movies alone. I’m a little too intense for my wife when it comes to my love of movies.

But intense doesn’t even begin to approach the level of a strong enough word to describe “Whiplash”.  Featuring Detroit’s own J.K. Simmons, one of my favorite actors ever since his days as the brutal Vernon Schillinger in HBO’s prison drama “Oz”, this was a movie that earned its name. If you haven’t seen it yet, just wait until the end. And I do mean the very  end. My neck is still sore, if that gives you any idea.

And although music and the musician’s life, specifically jazz music, was the framework for the movie, or perhaps I should say the launching pad, what this movie was really about was boundaries and commitment. As in, if you say you are committed to being the best that you can be at something, just how far are you prepared to push yourself? And when you’ve gone that far, how much farther are you willing to allow someone else to push you? Or drag you, kicking and screaming? And is there such a place as ‘too far’ when you’re seeking that holy grail of supreme excellence at your chosen craft? Are there any real boundaries that deserve to be recognized by the true artist when that artist is on The Path?

J.K. Simmons plays the role of a viciously masochistic musical conservatory instructor who doesn’t see himself at all in that light, but more as the Guardian of the Gateway through whom all seekers must pass before they can be allowed to join the company of true jazz masters. Simmons is the fire and the crucible, and Miles Teller, who plays the part of the student, keeps getting bloodied and battered as he is tossed time and again back to Earth like a stubborn Icarus who simply refuses to take the hint. You can’t help but wonder after awhile whether Simmons is truly what it takes, or is he simply insane and self-absorbed. Is he that type of talented musician who is respected in certain circles but who never quite made it into that elite Gold Card club, and so he beats down the aspirations of any other up and comers who he thinks may threaten to enter that club without him? Is he the gatekeeper or the dungeon?

But then comes that final scene…

 

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kaoblues
Writer and musician.

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