This is what it's like watching the movie Whiplash.
There's this energy; this sort of rush that comes with knowing someone is putting everything they have into creating something people remember. Into creating someone they talk about at the dinner table. This is who Miles Teller is in Whiplash -- this wizard, this wannabee legend. This kid who longs to become one of the greats even if he doesn't understand what it actually takes to be great.
This is what it sounds like.
So he goes to school. He goes to one of the best music schools in the country, and he plays hard. He plays as if his life depends on it. And his stuff is good enough to earn the attention of the school's most respected instructor, played by a J.K. Simmons who's like the Full Metal Jacket of music teachers. He screams, he curses and he breaks these kids into pieces. He humiliates them, and shames them in front of large groups of people. He makes them play until they bleed. In other words (or, actually, his words), he makes them earn it.
This is what it looks like.
And as we watch these two -- the teacher and the student; the mentor and the dreamer -- go at each other in scene after scene, it's exhausting knowing there's no end to their obsession. No one is throwing in the towel in this movie, that's for sure. One screams while the other plays. Both jockeying mentally and physically for an upper hand that comes and goes, sometimes during the same scene. The film is electric and soulful, and heartbreaking when you realize that what it takes to be truly great is your life. Your everything.
It takes it all.
It takes your relationships, your family and everything else that makes you, you. Teller's drummer is so infatuated with becoming what he's grown up idolizing that he's willing to sacrifice all of himself. And his teacher knows it. He feeds off it. Simmons' instructor is like a beast stalking the line between what's good and evil, and if you piss him off, it's the end. It's over.
But as he roars, so do the drums. And as the drums take the form of this other character -- this gatekeeper of success; this angel of failure -- we question who and what to root for. Is a dream really worth chasing if it may end up killing you? Is the music worth it? Is the pain and suffering just part of being an artist?
This is what it feels like.
In one of the fastest turnarounds the Sundance Film Festival has ever seen, director Damien Chazelle premiered his short Whiplash at the 2013 festival and somehow managed to fund, cast and finish the feature-length version in time to premiere it at the 2014 festival. That freneticness of pulling the pieces of a project together in the right way at the right time is something that's felt all over the movie.
This. Just this. This visceral and vicious stream of beats. One on top of the next on top of the other. And you wonder what it must feel like for these drummers. What it must feel like to give the entirety of yourself over to the music. That sort of sacrifice. That hunger. That zone.
It's up, it's down. It's hard, it's soft. It's unpredictable. Whiplash delivers an energy you're lucky to feel once or twice on the big screen each year, and while there are parts that can be tightened and snipped and massaged (particularly a chunk in the middle that deals with alleged abuse on the part of the teacher), the entirety of this film is like a shot of heck yeah.
Sorta like this.
Whiplash was picked up by Sony Pictures shortly after its premiere, and will most likely arrive in theaters later this year.
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