The song “Whiplash” symbolizes the tortuous, mind-bending roller coasters that Andrew endures under Fletcher’s tutelage - vacillating between the abyss of self-destruction and the unadulterated high that is achieved through a spectacular performance.
During an in-class band session, conductor Terence Fletcher secretly auditions the students, including Andrew, to find a new drum alternate. Andrew succeeds in winning Fletcher’s attention. Although Fletcher initially seems courteous and friendly, Fletcher’s true colors eventually reveal him to be a master manipulator who abuses and harrasses his students. While practicing the Hank Levy song “Whiplash,” Fletcher angrily targets Andrew, throwing a chair at him for failing to follow tempo. Fletcher mercilessly abuses Andrew while the rest of the class observes in silence. Driven by Fletcher’s psychological mind games and tortuous demands for perfection, Andrew becomes even more determined to prove himself. Andrew’s emotions and position as a musician rise and fall with the similar rapid acceleration-deceleration force of a metaphorical whiplash.
The song “Whiplash” is actually a complicated 1973 jazz piece from composer Hank Levy. The film’s director Chazelle recalls “Whiplash” as “the first song the band was playing my first day of practice, and I remembered seeing the chart and not being able to make heads or tails of it.” Levy’s song has a tricky time signature that makes the song sound as if it’s 4/4 time, but it’s in 7/8 and then 14/8. “It’s just a weird kind of piece and I remember that feeling of being scared of that song, so it seemed apropos,” Chazelle said.