Does It Matter If “Whiplash” is Wrong About Jazz?

Much of the jazz community has harshly criticized Whiplash for its representation of jazz, particularly for its inaccurate portrayal of what draws most of its practitioners to the form and what they see in the music. And for some, that misrepresentation of jazz reflects why they have a difficult time going along with the film’s ideas as well. If the movie has a thorough misunderstanding of the art form it’s chosen for its context, one can be reasonably skeptical of any insight it’s trying to give on the nature of artistic endeavor.

But in support of the film, if one forgives everything it gets wrong about jazz itself, the broader ideas arguably have plenty of truth to them. Clearly an abusive sociopath, Terence Fletcher is not meant to be a realistic figure - his actions wouldn’t last a day without a lawsuit or termination. And more than a few drummers have ridiculed the idea of practicing so hard that your fingers bleed all over your kit. Maybe this film is exaggerating everything to extremes to highlight some common problems in the music world, if not jazz in particular.

Andrew Neiman’s dedication to his music is purely technical, with little if any real intellectual component to it. His fear of failure fuels him more than any other emotion. Rarely does any of this lead to great music. At best, it’s the path to soulless mechanical performance, defined by precise technique and no musicality. This is not an unusual problem with young musicians, and on some level, the film is aware of this. By pursuing Fletcher’s warped standards, Neiman begins to lose everything. He replaces passion with terror and reduces an artistic endeavor into a profession he can’t possibly enjoy.