Was Whiplash Realistic? That Depends On Who You Ask

Damien Chazelle's second feature film, "Whiplash" is an intense and sometimes horrifying look at what it takes to strive for utter perfection. The film, which premiered at Sundance in 2014, was praised for its sharp direction and performances, specifically from J.K. Simmons, who would go on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn as Terence Fletcher, the twisted instructor to Miles Teller's Andrew Neiman. The film explores the darker side of fueling your passions, showing a detailed look at Andrew's relationship with his abusive instructor.

The cutthroat world of "Whiplash" introduced viewers to may seem far-fetched, as some of the depictions of higher music education and practice could be seen as over the top. The film's ending, in particular, stands out as one of the more disturbing parts of the film, coming off as a tragic ending showing complacency with abuse and the cost of perfectionism. However, when Damien Chazelle was making the film, the director received interesting feedback from people who were both familiar and unfamiliar with the musical world on which "Whiplash" was based. Although some of "Whiplash" was based on Chazelle's experiences as a young drummer vying for a spot in an orchestral band, the film's accuracy depends on who you ask.

Divergent reactions

In a 2014 interview with Interview Magazine, Damien Chazelle talked about how his real-life experiences helped to shape "Whiplash." The director was part of a competitive band in high school, giving him something to help ground the themes of perfectionism in reality. When making the movie, Chazelle recalled two different kinds of reactions he would get from those who read the script; those who weren't familiar with the life of a musician and those who were:

"When we were initially putting the movie together, there were divergent reactions. We would send the script to someone who wasn't a musician, and they would be horrified by the behavior. Then we sent it to one of the jazz drummers at Lincoln Center, and his reaction was, 'Well, yeah. That's what it takes.'"

How realistic "Whiplash" is could still be considered up for debate. Scenes such as Andrew crashing his car and still attempting to show up to a performance to play the drums despite being seriously injured can seem too frightening to be accurate. Still, it all depends on the personal experience of those involved. In the case of Damien Chazelle, the director's personal experiences with drumming would help him understand the obsession that comes with trying to be the best.

Using personal experience to tell a story

In the same interview, Chazelle elaborated on his experiences with being a drummer and how what started as something as a pastime turned into a severe endeavor for perfection:

"I actually grew up wanting to be a filmmaker. I wanted to make movies, and music was a detour, almost. I was in this public high school in Princeton with this top-notch jazz program — if you were a musician of any caliber, your holy grail was to be in that orchestra ... It was the top program of its kind in the country at the time. So I practiced and drumming, which initially had just been a whatever hobby, quickly became a total lifestyle, a total obsession, total terror."

At the end of the day, "Whiplash" and its accuracy in portraying obsessive behavior and toxic relationships depend on the viewer's experiences. To Chazelle and others who have been a musician, the horror that perfection can turn into feels all too real, and it's Chazelle's experiences that fueled him to tell the story of "Whiplash." The movie's accuracy is all about who you ask. Even to those not involved in music, other professions can dangerously lead to obsession. If anything, "Whiplash" can serve as a cautionary tale to anyone passionate about something and the potentially dark paths that passion can lead you onto.