This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Whiplash (2014). Was Fletcher right? Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, the 2014 drama stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman and J. K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher.
Whiplash (2014) – Plot Summary
Andrew Neiman is a drum player and he’s currently studying at the renowned Shaffer Conservatory in New York City.
During one of his practice sessions, Neiman meets Terence Fletcher, one of the school’s top teachers. After hearing Neiman play, Fletcher invites him to attend one of his classes. This gives Neiman an enormous confidence boost. Shortly after, the young man invites his crush (Nicole) on a date and she accepts.
Neiman arrives to Fletcher’s class three hours earlier because the teacher gave him the wrong hour. When Fletcher arrives, he introduces Neiman as the alternate for the core drummer Carl Tanner. However, very soon Neiman realizes that Fletcher is very abusive to his students. During break time, Fletcher gives Neiman a little pep talk. Then, the teacher proceeds to humiliate the young man in front of the whole class.
During a jazz competition, Tanner leaves his music sheet with Neiman, but he loses it. Since Tanner couldn’t play “Whiplash” from memory, Neiman steps in and replaces Tanner. After the performance, Fletcher tells Neiman that he’s now the core drummer of his band. During their next meeting, Fletcher changes his mind again and decides to bring another potential core drummer to the band — Ryan Connolly. The two young men compete for role and Connolly wins. Enraged with Fletcher’s choice, Neiman practices harder than before and breaks up with Nicole to solely focus on drum playing.
Fletcher gets emotional during one his classes. A former student of his (Sean Casey) just passed away (car accident). In order to find the next core drummer for the band, Fletcher puts Tanner, Connolly and Neiman in a competition against each other. After playing for endless hours, Neiman finally earns the core drummer spot. On his way to perform, Neiman’s bus breaks down. As a result, the young man rents a car and drives to the concert hall.
A few minutes before the performance, Neiman realizes that he left his drumsticks at the car rental office. Meanwhile, Fletcher decides to replace Neiman, but he refuses. Desperate, Neiman drives back to car rental office. Although, the young man gets his drumsticks back, on his way to the concert hall, a truck hits Neiman’s car. After crawling his way out of the car, Neiman continues running towards the concert hall. Despite of having serious injuries, the young man refuses to get any kind of medical assistance.
Neiman arrives at the concert hall just right before the band started to play. However, the young man’s injuries stopped him from properly playing the drums. Fletcher stops the performance and replaces Neiman. Enraged, the young man launches himself on top of Fletcher and tries to physically assault the teacher. After the incident, Fletcher dismisses Neiman from the band.
Shortly after, Neiman meets up with a lawyer. The Neiman’s father wants to take action against Fletcher. The lawyer is currently working on Sean Casey’s case. Apparently, Fletcher’s former student hung himself because he was suffering from depression and anxiety. At the moment, Sean’s parents are trying to file a suit against Fletcher. They believe that Fletcher’s abusive teaching methods drove their son to edge, leading ultimately to his death. Therefore, Sean’s parents are trying to stop Fletcher from ever teaching again. After some reluctance, Neiman agrees to testify against Fletcher.
The lawsuit leads the school to fire Fletcher. Meanwhile, Neiman stopped playing drums and started working in a restaurant. During a walk through the city, Neiman spots Fletcher playing at a local jazz club. The former teacher invites Neiman for a drink. During their conversation, Fletcher brings up Charlie Parker as an example to justify his tough teaching style. The former teacher is very adamant about his own beliefs. Fletcher believes that “the next Charlie Parker” is someone who rises above adversity.
After their brief talk, Fletcher invites Neiman to perform at the JVC Jazz Festival. The former teacher tells Neiman that they will be playing songs that he’s already familiar with. The young man accepts the invitation and decides to call Nicole to invite her to the festival. However, his former girlfriend is in a new relationship and she is hesitant about seeing Andrew.
Before going on stage, Fletcher informs Neiman that he knows who testified against him. Then, Neiman realizes that Fletcher gave him the wrong musical sheet to sabotage him. Unable to follow the current song, Neiman exits the stage. After an emotional moment with his father, Neiman returns to the stage. He starts playing “Caravan”, cueing in the band himself. Despite of feeling irritated and annoyed with the situation, Fletcher continues his conducting duties.
In the end, Neiman takes his performance to another level and does not stop when Fletcher cues to the last beat of the piece. The young man continues and plays an extended solo. Fletcher cues the young man until he finishes his solo.
Whiplash (2014) – Ending Explained
The ending of Whiplash is very interesting because it raises at lot of questions about the film’s main antagonist: Fletcher. So, was he right? In order to answer that question, it’s important to take a closer look at the following: Terence Fletcher, Andrew Neiman and their relationship.
Terence Fletcher – Character Analysis
Who is Terence Fletcher? A teacher who wants to bring the best out of his students? Or a sadist who enjoys playing with people’s feelings?
Terence Fletcher is a very ambiguous character. On one hand, it’s very easy to put Fletcher into the bad guy’s box due to his aggressive demeanour. On the other hand, there might be a method behind his madness. After all, Andrew did become a better musician after meeting Fletcher.
The way how Fletcher explains his teaching method is very simple: no pain, no gain. In other words, Fletcher doesn’t believe in nurturing talent, he prefers to beat the talent out of people. Needless to say, this man is not one those teachers that hold your hand when you’re struggling, he’s the type that beats you even more when you’re already down.
When Fletcher saw Andrew, he saw a young musician with potential. On the surface, it might seem that Fletcher enjoys taunting Andrew, but it’s deeper than that. First and foremost, Fletcher is very passionate about music and what he does. According to the man himself, a tough teaching style helps students to achieve higher heights and also weed out those who don’t have the talent or the drive to make a career out of music. This is how Fletcher excuses his abusive behaviour towards his students.
So it seems like Fletcher is ready to sacrifice his likeability / popularity in order to push his students to be better. Does this make Fletcher a martyr? Not really. You see, the way how he justifies his actions is all from his point of view. Therefore, narcissist would be better word to describe someone like Fletcher. Whenever his students do well out of school, that’s like a ego boost for Fletcher. In order words, the man wants the best out of his students because that makes him look good. Having said that, Fletcher is not a martyr. The man uses the pursuit of excellence as an excuse to hide his own personal agenda.
Now, is it fair to say that it was all business for Fletcher and that he never cared for his students? Fletcher does not think too much about his students feelings. Normally, those who can’t handle him will eventually quit and those who stay will sooner or later get over it. Nonetheless, the man is not a cold-blooded monster. When Fletcher learned about Sean Casey’s death, he got emotional about it. The admission of guilt was ironically the blatant lie that Fletcher told his students about Sean’s death: the young man did not die in a car accident, he killed himself. Now, why did Fletcher lie? A narcissist like him, would never admit that he was partially responsible for his former student’s death. How could Fletcher ever find the next “Charlie Parker” if he can’t “beat it out” of that student?
Fletcher’s teaching methods are certainly questionable but the number that he pulled on Andrew it was definitely sabotage. The man knew that big names from the industry were going to be present at the concert. Having said that, it was going to be a defining moment for everyone in the band, not just for Andrew. However, Fletcher couldn’t get over the fact that Andrew testified against him, which led him to lose his job. As a result, Fletcher did one of the pettiest things that one could to a musician: give Andrew the wrong musical sheet. In that moment, Fletcher wasn’t trying to test Andrew to see whether he was next Charlie Parker. No. The man was trying to embarrass Andrew in front of a important crowd.
Despite of what Fletcher did to Andrew, the young man was still hesitant about testifying against him. What was the reasoning behind it?
Andrew and Fletcher are in a toxic relationship. So, Andrew knows that Fletcher is abusive, yet he insists in taking his classes. In addition, when the lawyer asked Andrew whether he was willing to testify against Fletcher, he acted like nothing happened. At this point, Andrew is behaving like a “battered wife”: he’s making excuses to justify Fletcher’s actions. Why? That’s how his mind is protecting him from the pain. Andrew is trying to make sense of his own situation. If Fletcher is just a bully, then every sacrifice that Andrew has made so far, would be in vain. That’s why Andrew refuses to see himself as a victim.
Andrew Neiman – Character Analysis
Who is Andrew Neiman? A victim? Or someone who is just as “passionate” about music as Fletcher?
Throughout the film, it’s very easy to label Andrew as a victim. However, is he though? From the way how Andrew speaks to his father or Nicole, one can tell that he’s a very self-centred person and kind of insecure.
Deep inside, Andrew looks down on his father. The young man doesn’t see his father as a role model or a successful person, because he’s not someone who has made a career out his passions. Andrew’s father used to be a writer, but he couldn’t make a living out of it. The man is currently working as a high school teacher.
Andrew’s insecure side really shows when he’s socializing with other people. The young man has this weird habit of making everyone his “enemy”, which led him to have very few friends. As a matter of fact, Andrew has no friends or a social life. That’s why he’s so awkward during family dinners and around Nicole. However, not being socially smart is not Andrew’s biggest problem, but his strong sense of entitlement is.
When Andrew was having a casual dinner with some close relatives, he couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t receiving the same amount of compliments as his cousins were. That alone, already shows how entitled Andrew is. Basically, the young man thinks that his life aspirations are harder / better than others, and therefore, people should be acknowledging him for his “valiant” efforts. This also very evident when Andrew is on his first date with Nicole. He couldn’t grasp the fact of why Nicole is not in her “dream school”, since Andrew is where he wants to be (Shaffer). Again, the young man wants the person in front of him to know that he’s pursuing big things.
Despite of being an entitled young man, Andrew’s passion for drum playing is consistent throughout the film. He wants to become the best drummer that he can be and also one of the best in the world. Despite of dedicating his entire time to music, Andrew secretly longs for a sense of normalcy in his life. This is very evident when he watches Ryan Connolly with his girlfriend.
Nicole is probably Andrew’s first girlfriend, but he didn’t handle things very well when he decided to break up with her. When life wasn’t going his way, Andrew blamed it on Nicole for potentially hindering his dreams. It’s important to highlight the word “potentially”, because Nicole never did or said anything to stop Andrew from pursuing what he wants. This just goes to show that Andrew might be just as self-centred as Fletcher, as he’s willing to hurt other people to get where he wants to be.
Andrew’s life changed the day he met Fletcher. Having said that, did Fletcher actually teach something to Andrew? Meeting someone as ruthless as Fletcher definitely made Andrew more disciplined and humble about his own skills and limitations. Before meeting Fletcher, Andrew thought that he was a good / talented drummer. But, the young man was wrong. Andrew was good, but with Fletcher’s push, Andrew was able to reach new heights. Having said that, is there a method behind Fletcher’s tough teaching style?
Was Fletcher right?
This is definitely one of the most sensitive questions in Whiplash. Fletcher is trying to sell the idea that talent is also hard work. In other words, in life, no one is going to hand things to Andrew just because he has some talent. If Andrew wants to make it, he needs to earn his part. There is nothing wrong behind this mindset, but the means that Fletcher uses to find / shape the next Charlie Parker are questionable.
So, on the surface, it looks like Fletcher’s methods worked on Andrew. However, is Andrew really okay? The young man was able play his solo beautifully, but what’s going to happen next? Career wise, Andrew might have a shot, since important people in the industry saw him playing. Now, let’s not forget that Sean Casey was also able to make a living out his passion but his past demons continued to plague him until he decided to end his life. Will Andrew suffer the same fate?
Andrew will be okay as long as he stops putting his self-worth on Fletcher’s hands or on other people that are similar to him. Despite of hating Fletcher’s personality, Andrew also admires the man. In his eyes, Fletcher is nothing like his father. The man has made a career out of his passions and it’s totally unapologetic about his priorities in life.
The main difference between Andrew and Fletcher is that one cares about what the others think about him, while the other does not. Actually, Fletcher only cares about one person’s opinion: his own. Having said that, Andrew will never be totally free from Fletcher’s influence, if he continues to feed his need for other people’s appraisal.
In the end, Fletcher didn’t make a talented drummer out of Andrew, because he already had it in him. Fletcher gave Andrew the humility that the young man needed to reach his full potential. Despite of trying to sabotage Andrew’s future with that petty move, Fletcher eventually acknowledges that the young man has what it takes to make it the industry. That’s why, he cues Andrew throughout the impromptu solo and calls him by his first name for the very first time. By the end of the solo, Fletcher no longer sees Andrew as someone below him.
Whiplash is a very intriguing film because it challenges your personal biases. Fletcher was without a doubt, the most fascinating character in the film, because of his ambiguous nature. The viewer never really knows whether Fletcher is really trying to help Andrew or is he trying to play with his feelings. Although things become clearer when Fletcher tries to sabotage Andrew, it becomes confusing again more towards the end.
The ending of Whiplash was rather abrupt, which makes it very open for interpretation. However, one way or another, viewers will draw their own conclusions about who Fletcher really is. Some might view the man as a sadist who like to take advantage of his position to taunt his students. While others, might see a method behind Fletcher’s harsh teaching style.
Sacrifice is definitely one of the major themes of Whiplash. Andrew gave up a lot a things to improve his craft. First, Andrew gave up the idea of having free time, he spends almost every hour of the day playing drums. Second, Andrew let go the idea of having a girlfriend because that would “technically” take time away from him. Third, Andrew even put his life at risk when he was driving recklessly to the concert hall and a truck hit him. Having said that, Andrew’s talent alone wasn’t enough, the young man had to work very hard to be at the level that he was during his final solo.
Now, some might say that Whiplash glamorizes the idea of a tortured artist. I partially agree with that statement. Although Andrew has been through a lot, by the end of the day, the young man made a choice. Fletcher might be abusive and controlling, but Andrew could’ve walked away from his class at any given moment. Having said that, I believe Whiplash is also a great reminder that life is made of choices.
Overall, Whiplash is one those films that stays with you. In addition, the viewer will feel differently about Whiplash every time they rewatch it. Why is that? Things in Whiplash are not black and white. Some days, the viewer might even sympathize with Fletcher’s point of view, it really depends on the person’s current state of mind. Therefore, whoever has watched Whiplash before, should try to do it again and see how they feel about it.