Stories about artists struggling to reach success are often sympathetic to the artist. They’re usually focused completely on the false pretense that harsh challenges met on the road to being successful are acutely unfair and that they are comparable to simply standing up for oneself by telling the supposed enemy to back down. That’s the usual vision of triumph: over the enemy. The importance of the obstacle and the enemy itself is coded as simply bad. It exists one-dimensionally as that which the worthy artist greatly leaps his way over, but often has no other purpose.
That said, the brilliant brutality of ‘Whiplash’, staring Miles
Teller as Andrew, an aspiring jazz musician and J.K. Simmons as his hard-ass music coach, Fletcher, is what the outcome implies for artists: that success is your spilt blood, on your hands, against the odds set by fate on your journey. The bad guy is part of a decision made by the artist- he is complicit in his own possible demise When he succeeds, he does it not only against an abusive bastard of a character, but for fate in a raw, battered way- this is the artist living up to his vision alone, it just so happens that someone who looks like the enemy and treats him like the enemy shares the vision. It is a brave meditation on the image of artistic blossoming. It is violent, painful, discouraging, and ultimately ebbs closer to catharsis than any other original film of this kind.
So, is success about being recognized by people with grand reputations? Is being driven about vying for the attention of people who don’t seem to care about art but actually seem to sacrifice artists to the fires of their cruel expectations worth the true artist’s effort? It’s a big gulp moment when our protagonist fails in his quest to impress and we (or am I alone in this?) feel his despondence.
Perhaps the question this film asks is: what is success? And the answer is the journey. The journey isn’t some peaceful, thoughtful place for the artist, not in this vision. This story of question and answer is one of blood, sweat, tears, and the fire of the artist’s soul.