woman stuffed into a refrigerator
Whiplashturns the classic inspiring mentor trope on its head, or rather, on Simmons's bald, furrowed brow. For Fletcher isn't the wise older figure speaking in platitudes that Hollywood has conditioned us to expect. He doesn't congratulate Neyman on his progresses, nor does he guide him with mildly confusing suggestions. Instead, he throws a chair at his head when he fails to play in tempo, and slaps him across the face when he can't tell by how much he was off-beat. All of this is done with a cold, calculating menace. Fletcher isn't reacting out of anger. No, he simply believes that this is the only way to inspire "greatness."
On the other hand, as Teller shows magnificently, Fletcher does indeed instill in him a serious drive. His bloody practices pay off. In the film's culminating scene, Neyman finally manages to get one over Fletcher's maniacal practices with an epic, unending, empowered drum solo. And at the last moment, Fletcher possibly smiles. Do his tactics work? And even if they do, are they worth the pain they exact? These are the questionsWhiplashleaves up in the air.
Whiplashis, in a word, intense. It's painful, difficult to watch, and at times even shocking in the lengths to which it shows Fletcher pushing his potential protégé—and the lengths to which Neyman goes to try and please him. And its existence in the gray area between right and wrong forces us to examine the grain of truth in Fletcher's dismissal of praise when he says "There are no two words more harmful in the English language than 'good job.'" Because, to be more accurate, the film asks us not is it right, but is it justified, in the name of true art, to bring out the genius lurking within?