This post includes a character analysis of Terence Fletcher, the main antagonist of Whiplash (2014).
Directed by Damien Chazelle, the 2014 drama stars J.K. Simons as Terence Fletcher, one of the top teachers at the fictional New York Shaffer Conservatory. Spoilers ahead.
Terence Fletcher – Character Analysis
Whiplash presents Terence Fletcher as a ruthless teacher who enjoys pushing his students to the limit.
In terms of personality, Fletcher can be incredibly charismatic and charming when he wants to. However, once the teacher gains his students’ confidence, he’ll not hesitate to show his darker side. While teaching, Fletcher can be incredibly cruel towards his students. He’ll resort to brutal methods such as humiliation and intimidation to keep his students under his control.
Despite all the bad things said about this man, Terence Fletcher is kind of an ambiguous character. On one hand, it’s very easy to put Fletcher in 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 Neiman did become a better musician after meeting Fletcher.
That said, it’s really hard to pinpoint the real motivation behind the teacher’s teaching methods. Sometimes, Fletcher seems like just a regular teacher trying to bring the best out of his students. And other times, the man seems to be a complete sadist who enjoys toying with people’s feelings and testing their limits.
Terence Fletcher’s Teaching Method
The way 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 of those teachers who holds 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 achieve higher heights and also weeds 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. Now, does this make Fletcher a martyr? Not really. You see, the way he justifies his actions is all from his point of view. Therefore, narcissist would be a better word to describe someone like Fletcher.
Terence Fletcher’s Relationship With His Students
Whenever his students do well outside of school, that’s like an ego boost for Fletcher. 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 heartless monster.
When Fletcher learned about Sean Casey’s death, he got emotional about it. Ironically, the admission of guilt was 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?
Terence Fletcher Sabotaged Andrew Neiman
Fletcher’s teaching methods are certainly questionable, but the number that he pulled on Andrew 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 do to a musician: give Andrew the wrong musical sheet.
In that particular moment, Fletcher wasn’t trying to test Andrew to see whether he was the next Charlie Parker. No. The man was trying to embarrass Andrew in front of an important crowd.
Ironically, Andrew did reach new heights after Fletcher tried to sabotage him. For those who are looking for a more in-depth discussion about the ending of the film, here is an article including my personal thoughts on what happened at the end of Whiplash.