Whiplash Ending Explained: “Whiplash,” directed by Damien Chazelle, is, on the surface, about a toxic relationship between a motivated teenage pupil and a tyrannical music teacher. Teacher Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, in an Oscar-winning performance) abuses his students in various ways.
It’s pronounced, and it can’t be tolerated. Fletcher tosses a chair at musician Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), repeatedly smacks him in the face, and calls him the worst things conceivable in a classroom, which is about as far as you can get from a safe zone.
Just one meeting, at that. Fletcher’s terribleness borders on the comical, as if the film expects you to share some lighthearted laughter at his expense. But it can’t be denied that this guy, the purported adult in the room, is a harasser and bully who berates and humiliates college kids to the point that he may have indirectly driven one of his former pupils to suicide.
Indeed, this makes the final scene of “Whiplash” so unsettling. There’s a chance that after seeing it, you’ll be wondering, “For what purpose was this done? I don’t know how I should feel.”
In 2014, when promoting the film, Chazelle shared his thoughts on its conclusion and aftermath. However, like every great film, “Whiplash” has multiple meanings and interpretations. Fletcher may also be perceived as a personification of one’s severe inner critic, especially for those who are highly self-critical or extremely meticulous (a filmmaker like David Fincher, who is notorious for shooting as many as 200 takes of a single scene, is obvious example).
This is where spoilers come in handy so that I can go into further detail. Here is your final tally for those appearing in sequences 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Mastery Through Monstrosity
In the third and final act of “Whiplash,” Andrew finally snapped after being dismissed from music school, getting into a vehicle accident, and getting into a physical altercation with Fletcher onstage. Then, he reaches out to his ex-girlfriend Nicole after agreeing to testify in Fletcher’s removal from the Schaffer Conservatory (Melissa Benoist).
Since he was so focused on making it big, he let their relationship die, but she moved on with her life and found a new boyfriend. After Fletcher’s performance as a jazz pianist in a nightclub, Andrew decides to sit down with him and discuss their (in Fletcher’s opinion, misunderstood) teaching method.
According to Fletcher, “I don’t think people appreciated what I was doing at Schaffer.” In his own words, he “wasn’t there to conduct” but rather to “push them beyond what’s expected of them.”
Fletcher thinks highly of himself and doesn’t think it’s right to “deprive the world” of the next great artist because of his standards. In his mind, his harsh treatment of Andrew and other pupils was warranted because it prevented them from settling for less than their finest work.
According to Fletcher, “there are no two words in the English language more destructive than ‘good job,'” which is a common expression of approval. Andrew wonders aloud if Fletcher has gone too far in intentionally discouraging his students rather than encouraging them to do their best.
It’s easy to envision him re-engaging in the same abusive dynamic with Fletcher, but in this awful mentor, perhaps he also recognizes a facet of himself.
Fletcher, his head shaved and his T-shirt plain black at the beginning of “Whiplash,” commands the Schaffer Conservatory Studio Band like an army. The pupils have adopted Fletcher’s aggressive attitude against each other and, in Andrew’s case, his own family, proving the military adage that “s*** falls downhill.”
Fletcher is always spying on Andrew, even when he seems friendly so he might use his family history against him. Students line up like soldiers, waiting for the drill sergeant’s signal to break into song.
Actual preparations for psychological warfare. Since we can’t fully understand what’s going on in their head the way we would if this were a book with first-person narration, filmmakers often resort to the tried-and-true method of dramatizing the protagonist’s inner life and psyche.
Fletcher might be considered a foil to the protagonist, just like many other supporting characters in the story. From a psychological point of view, “Whiplash” presents him as the embodiment of perfectionism. Fletcher’s interactions with Andrew seem more meaningful when viewed through this lens.
You can tell it’s exactly nine o’clock because Fletcher walks in as the second hand on the classroom clock starts to move. The perfectionist’s catchphrase, “Not quite my tempo,” and fixation on the tiniest details of Andrew’s drumming (such as whether the boy is hurrying or “dragging just a hair”) are well known.
When it comes to music, Fletcher has zero tolerance for mistakes. He reminds me of the sniper in “Grand Piano,” the film that was Chazelle’s last completed screenplay before “Whiplash” and starred Elijah Wood as a pianist with a fixed gun on him who is prepared to shoot him if he makes a mistake onstage.
‘I’ll Cue You
Fletcher works his students to exhaustion and expects them to have thick skins, but the camera also frames him in a two-shot as the voice in Andrew’s ear, using Andrew’s tears or any hint of weakness to browbeat him even more.
The portion of Andrew that wants to prove his uncle, aunt, and MVP and Rhodes Scholar cousins incorrect about his unrecognized, possibly undeveloped brilliance is roused by the man’s insistence that he is not good enough and never will be.
Andrew claims that Schaffer is the top music school in the United States. He’s in a class with some of the best musicians in the world at university, and he wants to “be one of the greats.” Oversleeping has caused him to misplace an essential music score.
The son of failing writer Jim (Paul Reiser), who is “more of a teacher,” is determined to avoid a similar fate. Even when Fletcher isn’t there, Andrew will practice drumming until his hands are bloody in pursuit of greatness.
Even the most conscientious perfectionist encounters obstacles beyond their control, as we see when Andrew’s bus breaks down on the way to a performance. Andrew is warned by Fletcher not to “deliberately undermine” his band, but Fletcher ends up sabotaging Andrew’s career at the end of “Whiplash.”
Fletcher surprises Andrew onstage with an unfamiliar tune, but Andrew can regain control of the band by saying, “I’ll cue you,” and reclaiming the stage. An amicable ceasefire is declared as he improvises a monumental drum solo, and they both smile. Although fluid artistry has triumphed over rigid precision, Andrew may end up in flames.
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For almost 4 years, Jason Martin has been a freelance writer for newspapers, journals, blogs, books, and online material. He covers the most recent news as well as many other topics.