Andrew Neiman (Teller) is a young jazz drummer with aspirations of becoming one of the great musicians. Attending the country's greatest music school, New York City's Shaffer Conservatory, Neiman finds himself on the radar of music conductor Terence Fletcher (Simmons), head of the top-tier band. Seeking to train under Fletcher and become a jazz legend, Neiman manages to impress him and enter the ranks. However, he soon learns that Fletcher's methods of teaching prove vicious in their perfectionism, willing to stop at nothing to push students past the limits expected of them to earn his approval.
A now-famous sequence from the original script was converted into an 18-minute short film starring Johnny Simmons as Andrew and J. K. Simmons as Fletcher to secure the film's production. Upon debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, it was strongly received and won the short film Jury Award for fiction, convincing investors (including Jason Reitman) to produce the whole film. Miles Teller replaced Johnny Simmons while the other Simmons remained as Fletcher.
The next year, Chazelle returned to Sundance with the feature version, which played to rapturous reception, winning the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Features. It later opened up in theaters in October of the same year, earning mass acclaim on a wider scale, alongside 3 Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (J. K. Simmons), Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Also, it's a film that really loves music.
"If you want the fucking tropes, earn them!"
- Actor Allusion: Miles Teller has several scars on his face and neck from a car accident in 2007, where he was a passenger in a car going 80mph that lost control and flipped eight times. While likely not a purposeful allusion (and definitely not as serious as the real-life event), Teller's character winds up in a crash himself later in the film.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
- Subverted. Nicole tries to do this when she and Andrew are breaking up, but unfortunately for Andrew's physical and mental health, it doesn't strike deep enough to make a meaningful difference.Nicole: What the fuck is wrong with you?
- Fletcher gives one immediately followed by a Wham Line when Andrew finally seems to be gaining what he wants and in a less abusive environment.Fletcher: Do you think I'm fucking stupid? I know it was you.
- Subverted. Nicole tries to do this when she and Andrew are breaking up, but unfortunately for Andrew's physical and mental health, it doesn't strike deep enough to make a meaningful difference.
- Artistic License – History: Fletcher likes to tell of an incident that happened at the Reno Club in Kansas City when Charlie Parker sat in on a jam session and played quite poorly. House drummer Jo Jones was so disgusted with Parker's playing that (according to Fletcher) he threw a cymbal at Parker's head and nearly decapitated him, which inspired Parker to go home, practice, and become one of the greats. In fact, according to everyone who was actually there, Jones merely took the cymbal off its stand and dropped it on the floor, to indicate, "Sorry, you're not good enough for this session; come back later when you've had time to practice." However, this modification of the story could very easily be deliberate on Fletcher's end as a psychological tactic and to further give credibility to his "humiliation breeds greatness" agenda.
- Artistic License – Music: While the film is very popular among non-musicians, jazz musicians tend to agree that while it gets some details right, it mainly treats jazz as a vehicle to tell its story, and there are an awful lot of things it gets wrong:
- Fletcher's treatment of Andrew is not something that a jazz teacher in a real school would inflict on a student, because the teacher would know perfectly well that he could get fired for it. This comes to bite him in the ass later on.
- The "jazz" that Fletcher plays in the Greenwich Village jazz club doesn't even remotely resemble jazz you'd hear in an actual New York City jazz club, and comes off more like a parody of the "Starbucks jazz" that Fletcher supposedly dislikes. This is because composer Justin Hurwitz, on his own admission, had a background more in classical music, and had never listened to much jazz before Damien Chazelle played him some.
- The scene where Fletcher calls a tempo and insists that Andrew get it exactly right is not something jazz students get taught, because they don't need to have memorized tempos. What they are trained to do is keep a consistent tempo. Then again, this may be to highlight Fletcher's draconian teaching methods.
- It's next to impossible to punch through a snare drum head. They are designed to withstand being struck repeatedly.
- Andrew tries to increase his speed by 30 BPM all in one go. This is meant to be played as a result of Fletcher's psychopathic teachings, but even with that in mind, he'd never succeed like he does in the movie; trying to up the practice speed like he does (essentially just flailing his wrists at a ridiculously higher speed than he is comfortable with) would do nothing but hurt your wrists.
- To represent how hard he's playing, Andrew frequently starts bleeding ludicrous amounts. As real drummers noted, the only explanation for the amount of blood that comes out is that he has hemophilia; while it's possible for someone to start bleeding if they chock the cymbal or hit a rim shot wrong, there's nowhere near as much blood involved even in the worst case scenario.
- Substitute drummers don't sit on stage behind the core drummer, as Andrew does, waiting for a chance to play something.
- Fletcher talks about someone in a band being "promoted" from third trumpet to first trumpet. The trumpet desks in a big band aren't arranged in a hierarchy like that. They have different roles, all of them equally important. So, for instance, the first trumpet player will specialize in high notes, fourth trumpet might specialize in playing the flugelhorn, and second trumpet specializes in solos.
- Veteran drummer Peter Erskine is not the only jazz musician to note that hardly anybody in the film seems to actually enjoy music: they treat it more like a brutal competitive sport. The student characters aren't constantly discussing great music they've checked out recently the way actual jazz students do.
- You can easily tell who's an actual professional musician and who's not based on who's doing the best at miming playing their instruments. The ones with speaking roles generally don't do as good a job as the others, a somewhat unavoidable case since to get a speaking role in a Hollywood production, you must be a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and most career musicians aren't going to go through the trouble of getting a union card.
- Author Appeal: Though one might not think it considering the portrayal of the subject matter, Damien Chazelle really does love jazz music. On a side note, while Chazelle has stated he believes in pushing oneself to achieve one's dreams, the film takes it to an extreme he doesn't condone.
- Ax-Crazy: When Fletcher gets mad, he gets mad. He's prone to kicking and throwing instruments around as if they had zero value when things don't go his way.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Fletcher humiliates Andrew on stage, exacting his revenge on him for getting him fired. While Andrew gets the last laugh on him, Fletcher still finds his "perfect" student.
- Bait-and-Switch: Despite being the primary song that Andrew spends the majority of the movie mastering, Whiplash doesn't figure into the finale in the way that you'd expect. Fletcher tells Andrew that it will be the song the band Fletcher hires him into will be opening with, but this is a lie used to humiliate Andrew in front of a bunch of recruiters. The actual song that forms the climax of the film is called Caravan.
- Bittersweet Ending: Andrew finishes his stunning performance and finally wins over Fletcher, with the latter finally convinced he'll be one of the greats. However, Andrew endures losing his girlfriend and almost everything else in his personal life in order to get there, and his transformation into "the next Charlie Parker" is exactly what Fletcher wanted all along, seemingly implying that he "won" the psychological duel the two engage in over the film. Moreover, the viewer is left to wonder whether the final performance ultimately justifies Fletcher's abuse throughout the film and whether Andrew's effort was really worth it.
- Furthermore, Fletcher stated that the audience has a few critics and talent scouts, and Andrew's performance, while impressive, was arrogant and disruptive of the rest of the band and the concert at large, meaning his reputation and career as a drummer is still at risk.
- While it's not an official part of the film, Chazelle has shared in interviews that the way he personally believes his two leads will end up down the road is bleak. Andrew will live as a sad, empty shell of a man, he'll fatally overdose in his 30s, and Fletcher will always think he won. Chazelle even joked that Fletcher would be the type to turn up to Andrew's funeral just to insult him more in his eulogy.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Despite his idealistic goals, Fletcher's more repugnant actionsnote reveal him as a selfish psychopath who will stoop to any low to succeed. Though Andrew is still self-serving, he never engages in the horrid actions his mentor commits.
- Blofeld Ploy: Fletcher provides an inversion of this. He determines that someone in the band is out of tune, finally coming to and terrifying a student into confessing. This results in the student getting thrown out...before Fletcher addresses the student who actually was out of tune. The other one couldn't tell if he was, which was just as bad.
- Body Motifs: There's a focus on hands in this movie, especially during the drumming scenes.
- Book Ends:
- The "snare liftoff", as credited on the soundtrack, is both the first and one of the last things we hear Andrew play.
- The film's opening and closing shots both capture the same thing: a push in on Andrew drumming.
- The Bully: Fletcher, the main character's music teacher, teaches his students by cursing at them, flinging racial, homophobic, and ableist slurs at them, demeaning them for their mistakes, and physically abusing them.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- Ryan Connolly is introduced as the lower-level band's core drummer, who loses to Andrew in the auditions for Fletcher's band. Fletcher later recruits him as the core drummer over Andrew and Tanner as an incentive for Andrew to improve.
- A variant with Sean Casey. Fletcher refers to him quickly in passing as having died. His parents then bring a case against Fletcher for driving him to suicide.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The film's R rating comes almost exclusively from the characters' foul mouths.
- Terence Fletcher mixes insults, curses and slurs into a puree of hate for any student offering anything less than his standard.
- When Andrew is dragged off stage after tackling Fletcher, the former screams "Fuck you!" at him over and over.
- Color Motif: Exhibited subtly by Andrew. His character arc is symbolized through the color of his shirt in several key scenes. He starts the film hopeful with a pure white tee that contrasts Fletcher's black outfit, but ends the film as a hardened machine in the same black as Fletcher, symbolizing his submission to Fletcher's will and his own ambition.
- Commended for Pushback: After a disastrous performance, Andrew walks offstage humiliated but returns and cuts off Fletcher's introduction to the next piece by playing the intro to "Caravan", cueing the band himself. Initially angered, Fletcher resumes conducting. As the piece finishes, Andrew continues into an extended, unexpected solo. Impressed, Fletcher nods in approval before cueing the finale.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Fletcher and Andrew have their moments.
- During his angry rant against Fletcher, Andrew insults Connolly by calling him Johnny Utah. When Fletcher responds back to Andrew, he refers to Connolly as Johnny Utah as well.
- During the scene of Andrew's family dinner, he gets quite acidic with his cousins when it becomes apparent that they value his musical passions less than their own achievements (Model UN, MVP of a Division III football team, etc.), which he finds to be arbitrary.Jim: Travis and Dustin, they have plenty of friends and plenty of purpose.
Andrew: They'll make great school board presidents.
Dustin: You think you're better than us?
Andrew: Catch on quick. Are you in Model UN?
Travis: I got a reply for you. You think Carlton football is a joke? Come play with us.
Andrew: Four words you will never hear from the NFL.
Jim: And from Lincoln Center?
- Deconstruction: Of the Determinator trope. Andrew becomes so obsessed with becoming a great jazz drummer, he ends up hurting and alienating people close to him. Moreover, the "mentor" he looks up to for much of the film is a manipulative monster who destroys musicians who play in the studio band. By the climax of the film, jazz music literally becomes the only thing Andrew has left in his life and opinions vary on whether Andrew's long, extravagant drum solo was really worth it. Nicole calls Andrew out on this during their breakup.Nicole: And when I do see you, you'll treat me like shit because I'm just some girl who doesn't know what she wants and you have a path and you're going to be great and I'm going to be forgotten. And therefore you won't give me the time of day because you have bigger things to pursue...
Andrew: That's exactly my point.
Nicole: What the fuck is wrong with you?
- Determinator: Deconstructed as Andrew and Fletcher each fulfill this to some extent. Andrew, in his attempts to fully access his potential as a drummer (to the point that he regularly bloodies his hands from wearing on them so often during practice); Fletcher, in how driven he is to find a great musician, even keeping Andrew and 2 fellow students isolated from the rest of the band for hours so that they can match his tempo in a harsh bit of practice.
- Deus ex Machina: The folder's disappearance. It is never explained how it could disappear right next to Neiman, but it leads to Andrew proving that he can play "Whiplash" by heart.
- Double-Meaning Title: The title of the film refers to more than one thing:
- The first complex jazz piece Andrew learned and performed with Fletcher's band.
- The beating of a drum similar to the cracking or lashing of a whip.
- The abuse Andrew suffers under Fletcher.
- For that matter, the physical injury to the neck most commonly acquired in car crashes.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- In his first scene, Fletcher establishes himself as a self-important bully who seems impossible to please. He throws each of Andrew's reasonable inferences back at him, as if anything he does would be deemed the incorrect choice:Fletcher: So, you know that I'm looking for players?
Andrew: Yes, sir.
Fletcher: Then why did you stop playing?
(Andrew resumes playing)
Fletcher: Did I ask you to start playing again?
(Andrew stops playing again)
Andrew: Uh... sorry, I...
Fletcher: I asked why you stopped playing, and your version of an answer was to turn into a wind-up monkey.
- Andrew himself is introduced in a montage of furious drumming and sweat, which effectively sets his personality as a Determinator. There's even a hint of smugness when Fletcher asks him why he stopped playing.
- Andrew's father Jim is introduced asking his son if he's doing alright after the aforementioned interaction with Fletcher, and reassures him that there will be other options if things don't work out as he had hoped. When Andrew responds by irritatedly asking what he means by "other options", he gives the vague answer of "life" and claims that he'll have a better perspective on it when he gets older. This establishes him as a foil to Fletcher, a mentor figure who is willing to unconditionally accept Andrew but unable to understand his drive to improve himself. Immediately after this, a person accidentally bumps into him from behind and he apologizes despite having had no part in why the collision occurred, establishing him as an Extreme Doormat that lacks the resolve needed to stand up for himself.
- In his first scene, Fletcher establishes himself as a self-important bully who seems impossible to please. He throws each of Andrew's reasonable inferences back at him, as if anything he does would be deemed the incorrect choice:
- Even Evil Has Standards: Highly debatable considering his character, but Fletcher seems hesitant to start the band in the second act after he notices Neiman injured and covered in blood from the car accident he was just in, almost as if he realized he might have pushed him too far. He still uses it as an opportunity to insult Neiman and ultimately kick him off the stage.
- Evil Is Petty: Fletcher is willing to sabotage an entire concert just to get back at the person who got him fired.
- Exact Words: When Fletcher states that he has an out-of-tune player, he singles out the trombonists, approaches one of them (Metz), and makes two very deliberately worded statements — "Tell me it's not you." and "Do you think you're out of tune?" After Metz sheepishly says yes to the latter, to which Fletcher explodes and throws him out of the band, he casually reveals that he wasn't actually out of tune at all, but him thinking that he was out of tune was bad enough. This indicates that the whole thing was a means by Fletcher to test Metz's self-confidence more than what he was playing, although one can hardly blame Metz for folding under Fletcher's intimidation tactics.
- The Extremist Was Right: Deconstructed. Fletcher ultimately succeeds in fostering the "great musician" he aspired to see in his lifetime, albeit at the cost of his teaching career and his own student's mental health.
- False Dichotomy: Fletcher's general view amounts to this as he says how praising people for the standard prevents them from going further, as evidenced in his "good job" monologue, but he goes the other extreme, offering up nothing but horrific verbal abuse. The idea that a teacher can praise a student for doing well and also push them to be better is something Fletcher doesn't seem to have ever considered, and is a sign that that he just likes being awful to people because he's a bully.
- Foil: Fletcher and Andrew's own father are contrasted in this manner. Whereas Andrew's father is caring but unambitious, Fletcher is utterly abusive but ultimately pushes Andrew much more.
- Footsie Under the Table: Nicole gives Andrew's foot the slightest nudge under the table during their first date at the pizza place.
- Foreshadowing: Early on in the film, Andrew is late to his first class, rushes due to Fletcher's strictness, and gets himself hurt in the process. Near the end of the second act, another similar scenario occurs, but this time with a car involved.
- For Want Of A Nail: Lampshaded — when Neiman asserts that the core role is his as he earned it, Fletcher points out that he's only where he is because he lost Tanner's music folder and then stood in when Tanner couldn't play "Whiplash" from memory.
- Freudian Slip: Two examples are justified by the implication of literal-mindedness invoked by Fletcher during Neiman's initial session with his core players. The first slip is when Andrew loses the music sheet for "Whiplash", and the second slip is when he misplaces his drum sticks in the administration room of the car rental outlet. During Fletcher's pep talk with Andrew prior to his debut with his core players, Fletcher coaxes Andrew to acknowledge verbally that everything happens for a reason; then, during Fletcher's first constructive critique of Andrew's performance, he demands that he acknowledge verbally his state of being — that he's "upset". These two key points of dialogue partially construct a setting that fuses actions as statements: Andrew loses the sheet music because he doesn't want to be a second-call drummer, and he misplaces his drum sticks because he doesn't want to be Fletcher's core player (the regression of desire stems from Andrew's perception of Fletcher mistreating him rather than constructively criticizing him).
- Genius Bonus: Andrew idolizes Buddy Rich. In jazz circles, Buddy Rich was known as an abusive jerk.
- Get Out!: Subverted. When Andrew first asks Nicole out at her theater job, she sternly tells him to leave. When he's about to do so, genuinely shocked and remorseful, she begins laughing and says she was only joking.
- Gone Horribly Right: Andrew warns Nicole that he will hurt her the longer they stay together; at the moment he says it and by the way he expresses it, he is already showing signs of egocentrism and loss of tactfulness, which alienates Nicole for good. He does end up reaching new heights at his drumming, but in doing so he pushes everyone away and loses his own self-respect.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Fletcher wants his students to be more than perfect, but goes to extreme lengths more at home with the military than a jazz band. But Andrew — who considers Buddy Rich, a drummer with a known temper and a perfectionist streak, his hero — is callous towards anything that doesn't allow him to "be great," and cares nothing for things like "friends" or "love".
- Gross-Up Close-Up:
- Whenever Andrew bloodies his hands, the camera zooms in for unnerving effect.
- At one point, a trombone player empties the spit valve in his trombone. We're treated to a loving fountain of the stuff hitting the deck. For some reason, Andrew grimaces as if he's never seen such a thing before.
- Hope Spot: Fletcher tortures his musicians with these, offering a bit of praise or encouragement, only to immediately shift into his usual abusive method of teaching. Andrew discovers this on his first day with the Studio Band.
- Informed Flaw:
- In-Universe — Nicole says her mother used to insult her for having a "big chin."
- It's a key component of Fletcher's "teaching" method — finding minute performance flaws only the most discerning of musical experts would notice, then going ballistic on those who committed them.
- Fletcher compares Connolly to a leprechaun and Andrew later refers to him as "that little redhead". Despite these taunts, Connolly is in fact very tall and strapping.
- Innocently Insensitive:
- Andrew's extended family come across as being dismissive of his achievements in becoming the core drummer in Fletcher's band, though more out of a lack of knowledge or understanding on the subject than pure disinterest. To their credit, they make a genuine effort to talk to him about it and it is ultimately Andrew who comes off worse in the scene for openly calling his cousins' accomplishments as athletes lesser than his own as a musician.
- Andrew attempts to inquire Nicole about her major during their first date, and acts somewhat condescending when she reveals that she has yet to figure out what she wants to study. While this is one of the earliest indicators that Andrew is something of a Jerkass by nature, he is also someone who lives his life passionately pursuing a single interest and clearly did not intend to offend her with his questions.
- It's All About Me: In spite of what Fletcher says about his actions done for the sake of artistic integrity, seeing that he looks down on his students, will lie to cover up his misdeeds, and sabotages his own band to take revenge on a pupil, Fletcher's end goal seems less about keeping a genre’s embers lit and producing greatness and more akin to attaining recognition for himself and securing a legacy in music history.
- Andrew develops this mindset, starting from his snide remarks with his relatives, and it becomes the catalyst to his breakup with Nicole.
- Jaded Washout:
- Andrew certainly thinks of his father as this, a once-promising author now teaching high school, clearly regarding his family as more important than career success.
- Fletcher could also be considered this. He probably wanted to be a great jazz musician in his youth but never made it, settling for being a teacher, and is now determined to secure his place in history by finding and mentoring someone whom he feels is destined for greatness.
- Fletcher conducts a band that plays jazz: a genre built on improvisation, experimentation, and flexibility, but he behaves like a hardcore drill instructor in and out of class who goes out of his way to personally destroy anyone trying anything different. One of our first introductions to him is holding Andrew's first class in contempt. He's a vain tyrant who, in the end of the film, sabotages his own performance in an effort to take petty vengeance on a former student.
- Andrew becomes one — openly mocking his uncle and cousins to their face over them asking if he's got friends, callously dumping his girlfriend to focus on his work (after growing incredibly distant and condescending towards her), calling a (now former) friend's drumming "shitty" when said friend's accepted into Fletcher's class and threatens Andrew's position, and becoming extremely arrogant.
- The rest of Fletcher's class, so strung out by his constant abuse, becomes a bunch of tightly wound jerks who will viciously turn on anyone who threatens them falling from their positions in the class.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- Deconstructed. Though the film acknowledges Fletcher's perspective of denying rewards in favor of mediocrity, reserving praise for the exceptionally talented, and persevering through hardship to succeed, the lengths to which he is willing to push his students to excel and the damage his students accumulate throughout his tutelage is depicted as so unflatteringly abhorrent, the audience to is left decide whether or not the suffering and sacrifice his students endured to reach "greatness" was worth it. J.K. Simmons was inclined to agree with Fletcher's "good job" speech, but Damien Chazelle stated that he believes this attitude will lead Andrew into an early grave.
- There are a few moments where Fletcher's hostility is valid, like when he gets upset at someone for leaving sheet music out ("If I ever find another one of these lying around again, I swear to fucking God...I will stop being so polite") since sheet music is expensive to replace.
- Similarly, Andrew's cousins may be jerk jocks, but one of them makes a surprisingly pertinent point in wondering how bands win competitions, asking, "Isn't it all subjective?" Andrew wants "greatness," but that is a fluid, totally subjective concept. What he really wants is Fletcher's approval, which he has at the end, at the cost of everything else.
- Equally, Andrew is a total jerk about how he goes about this (and it's no excuse for his terrible treatment of Nicole), but he's also got a point when he tells everyone — especially his cousins at Thanksgiving — that he doesn't care how much jazz is derided by everyone, he will stick with it, and they at least partially don't understand his commitment to it.
- Jerk Jock: Played with when it comes to Andrew's cousins. While they're both stereotypical dudebros and one is playing college football, they don't start antagonizing Andrew until after he goes out of his way to insult them. They do come across as more aloof than either his aunt or uncle even before this, however.
- Jitter Cam: Present when the music becomes really frantic.
- Klingon Scientists Get No Respect: During dinner, Andrew's musical accomplishments are overlooked in favor of his cousins Travis and Dustin's Division III football careers, much to Andrew's annoyance.
- Laser-Guided Karma: While Andrew is guiding the orchestra in the final act to play "Caravan", Fletcher is taken aback by the interruption of his speech and threatens to gouge out Andrew's eyes, only for Andrew to strategically strike a cymbal and make it hit him in the chin, which forces him to step back and resume conducting. It's fitting how the sharp edge of the cymbal comes alarmingly close to Fletcher's neck, as he's immensely fond of the urban myth that Charlie Parker nearly got decapitated by an airborne cymbal.
- Of course, this also serves as payback for Fletcher sending a chair flying directly at Andrew's head.
- Misery Builds Character: The thesis of Fletcher's "Good Job" speech can be summed up as: "Humiliation and self-loathing drive self-improvement, while undeserved praise breeds complacency and mediocrity." This becomes deconstructed as Fletcher's regimen does improve his students' proficiency as musicians, but turns them into cutthroat jerks at best, and renders them psychologically broken at worst.
- Mood Whiplash: Appropriately for a film of this title. During Andrew's first practice session with the Studio Band, Fletcher stops him a couple of times to gently but firmly correct his tempo. It seems like Andrew's finally gotten it right... only for Fletcher to throw a chair at his head and start brutally berating him for getting it wrong, turning the previously relatively relaxed attitude of the scene into pure, tense terror.
- Motivational Lie:
- Fletcher is extremely fond of the popular myth that Jo Jones hurled a cymbal at Charlie Parker's head during a terrible performance, and uses it to intimidate/inspire his students into performing harder. The actual story, which is possibly apocryphal, is that he actually just dropped the cymbal at Parker's feet with a gong-like crash. And, while it is definitely true that Parker left the stage in humiliation, he didn't become a recluse who obsessively worked on making his hands move faster starting the next day like Andrew. In fact, he didn't touch another saxophone for about three months, and when he started playing again, he began studying jazz as an art, not as a form of aggressive competition to see who can be the best player, which is how Fletcher wants his students to treat it.
- At one point, Fletcher has Ryan replace Andrew as the core drummer as if to suggest that Ryan is a superior drummer to Andrew. Later, Fletcher admits that he used Ryan to stimulate Andrew into developing his skills and implies that Ryan was nowhere near Andrew's level.
- A more morbid example, culminating with Fletcher fabricating the circumstances behind the death of a pupil to motivate his students and divert any suspicion from his detractors.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: The dinner scene sets up such a dynamic with Andrew very clearly being the black sheep of his family, his achievements completely buried under those of his cousins and father.Aunt Emma: Did you hear, Jimmy?
Uncle Frank: They named Trav the season's MVP.
Jim: That's incredible, Tra—
Aunt Emma: And Dustin heading up Model UN, soon-to-be-Rhodes-Scholar or who knows what, Jim "Teacher of the Year"... I mean, the talent at this table — it's stunning. (Beat.) And Andy. With your drumming.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: This happens twice with Fletcher.
- Fletcher's No Sympathy attitude seems to come to a head when he gets mad at Andrew for messing up a concert, even though Andrew was arriving to play straight from the scene of a massive car crash that he barely survived. He cuts him, driving Andrew to assault him, leading to Andrew's expulsion. The parents of a former student of Fletcher's who died by suicide find out, and they meet with Andrew, using their lawyers, to convince him to testify anonymously. This leads to Fletcher getting fired.
- The movie sets up an ending with Andrew expelled and his drums packed away. He's walking around in a funk while his dad is encouraging him to take a break from music. Then he and Fletcher meet, and Fletcher invites him to perform with his new band, with the ultimate scheme being to humiliate Andrew during a concert. Instead, Andrew rises to the task, takes over the concert performance, and earns Fletcher's respect.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Subverted; Andrew tackles Fletcher at the end of the second act when he kicks him off the stage mid-performance, but is dragged away before the actual beating can take place.
- No-Respect Guy: Deconstructed and Played for Drama — Fletcher berates and humiliates his students for slight errors, and sees his students as disposable, expunging any who dissatisfy him. Worse yet, none of his students oppose him, as his tutelage ingrained them with the belief that their self-worth is irrelevant to Fletcher's high standards, enabling his unethical practices to run unimpeded.
- One-Steve Limit: Kind of averted. Fletcher is set on to find his next Charlie Parker and references Eugene O'Neill in his first verbal abuse of Andrew, and he also has two players named Parker and Eugene in his band.
- Only Sane Man:
- Nicole seems to be a female equivalent. She's a fairly normal college student who, like millions of other students, is indecisive about her future but willing to explore her options. This contrasts against the single-minded Andrew, the manipulative Fletcher, and Andrew's unambitious father Jim.
- Andrew's Uncle Frank may be one as well. He's a standard nuclear family man who's happily married with two sons and doesn't suffer from either too much ambition or lack thereof.
- Papa Wolf: Downplayed with Andrew's father Jim. Although he is angered greatly when he realizes the extent to which Fletcher pushes his students, and persuades Andrew to testify against his instructor, he never confronts Fletcher directly. This is made even more jarring when he attends a concert in the third act where Andrew is playing in Fletcher's new band.
- Plot-Driven Breakdown: How the folder got lost by the vending machine. Some theorize this was invoked by Fletcher.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Played with — even though many of Fletcher's insults comprise of sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs, this is probably done from a psychoanalytical approach to figure out how he can break his students rather than a reflection of actual prejudice.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Fletcher gives a bunch of these to his students in an attempt to push them to reach greatness.
- Andrew is also fond of this at times, although his tend to be a lot shorter. His snark to his cousins at the family dinner and his "Johnny Utah" outburst at Connolly qualify, although neither are really "speeches".
- Riddle for the Ages: The movie never says what happened to the sheet music Andrew lost at the vending machine. It's not totally unlikely that Fletcher himself had something to do with it, as a way to test both Tanner and eventually Andrew, given that by the ending, it's very clear that Fletcher will gladly risk the reputation of a whole orchestra, including his own, if that serves his motives.
- The Rival: Carl Tanner, the original core drummer in Fletcher's jazz band, and Ryan Connolly, a drummer Andrew served as the alternate for in a lower level class, are in a constant competition with Andrew to maintain the position as core drummer. Enforced by Fletcher, who actively cultivates paranoia between them as a motivational tactic (Connolly is brought into the band seemingly for the sole purpose of intimidating Andrew, and it's all but stated that Andrew himself was recruited to do the same to Tanner).
- Sadist Teacher: Terence Fletcher is a disgustingly callous psychopath who hurls bile at his students to push them past their limits. His methods work, but the mental scars they leave make it questionable if the skill is worth it. He's also more than happy to deliver retribution to anyone who does fuck him over.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man:
- Played with in the dynamic between Andrew and his cousins. While Andrew is a jazz musician, a field associated with artistry and emotion, and his cousins athletes, a field associated with aggression and competition, Andrew pursues his craft with a single-minded conviction to "be great" and is willing to step on others to achieve it whereas his cousins are suggested to live balanced lives outside of their sports and are explicitly stated to have many friends. This contrast is emphasized when one of the cousins questions how it is possible for a band to be declared the best if music is subjective, only for Andrew to bluntly call such an opinion wrong; the athlete can appreciate music simply for being what it is better than the musician can.
- Played straighter by the dynamic between Fletcher and Andrew's dad. Fletcher is a Sadist Teacher who motivates his students to push themselves beyond their limits through abuse whereas Andrew's dad is loving but lacking ambition and perhaps a bit too accepting of mediocrity.
- Serious Business: Jazz music. Fletcher admits that it's a dying genre and no other characters except jazz musicians themselves admit to appreciating it at all, but it's life itself for those musicians.
- At one point during Andrew's solo at the end, he starts gradually getting slower and quieter on the snare, to the point where he practically stops playing, and then builds back up again to a thrilling speed and volume. It's something that Andrew's idol, Buddy Rich, was known to do in his solos.
- At one point, a short stage-hand has the misfortune to walk in during Fletcher yelling at his students. Fletcher calls him Mini-Me.
- "Fuck off, Johnny Utah! Turn my pages, bitch!"
- The movie takes clear inspiration and cues from Full Metal Jacket, with Fletcher being a civil version of the Drill Sergeant Nasty.
- Single Tear: One of these trickles down Andrew's nose during Fletcher's first time reproaching him. Fletcher makes sure to milk out several more, admonishing him along the way for being "one of those single-tear people".
- Skewed Priorities: Played for Drama. After being T-boned by a truck, Andrew is more concerned with retrieving his drumsticks and making it back to the stage than he is with seeking medical attention.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The film can be seen as a cynical deconstruction of an ideal: those who aspire to greatness should push themselves beyond their limits to reap the rewards that come with such achievements. The cynicism shines in the form of the characters that strive for greatness being assholes at best and psychopathic at worst. Andrew, and to a lesser extent the other students, sacrifice their self-respect, sanity, and social kinship to become better artists from an instructor who sees even his ace students as beneath him. By the end of the film, the audience is left to conclude whether or not Andrew's achievements were worth the sacrifice. Word of God says they won't be because, in an interview with Damien Chazelle, the director stated that, if he had included a post-credits scene, he would have Andrew die of a drug overdose in his early 30s à la Charlie Parker, with Fletcher always thinking that he won.
- The Sociopath: Fletcher. He uses physical and psychological abuse to break down his students and condition their skill to his standard. He sees his method as a necessary evil, but is indifferent to what becomes of them beyond improving his student's proficiency.
- Spell My Name With An S: There seems to be some question as to whether Andrew's last name is spelled "Neiman" (the more common spelling) or "Neyman" (more similar to its pronunciation) — even on this wiki. (It's spelled "Neiman" in the screenplay, but Fletcher makes sure to deliberately mispronounce it in front of the band.)
- Suddenly Shouting: Fletcher exploding at Metz, the first time we get a glimpse of his true character.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
- Sorry, Andrew — no amount of blind determination is going to get you through a performance after just having been T-boned by a truck.
- Andrew hitting his Rage Breaking Point should be awesome when he attacks Fletcher for cutting him and showing No Sympathy about the fact that he ran from the scene of a bad car accident to perform. Instead, the other students pull him off because while they may dislike Fletcher, they don't want him or Andrew seriously injured, or for Andrew to stoop to Fletcher's level. The conservatory also expels Andrew for assaulting a teacher and he refuses to explain why he did so; his father has to convince him to testify anonymously in the Sean Casey case.
- Fletcher's abuse was bound to backfire either in the form of one of his students getting fed up with his abuse and attacking him or people seeking legal action, such as Sean Casey's parents wanting him fired. Fletcher even lampshades it at the beginning of the third act when he remarks that his actions may have made him "a few enemies".
- Fletcher admits that his cruel teaching style never actually managed to either mentor or lead to him finding a a great student.
- Andrew seems to have found a big break and made peace with Fletcher after reporting Fletcher and getting him fired. It even seems like a huge Idiot Ball moment for Fletcher, who apparently couldn't figure out that the kid who attacked him on-stage at a show was the one who turned him in. Except, as it turns out, Fletcher knew from the first moment that Andrew was the one who reported him, and he's setting up Andrew for humiliation. Fletcher is many, many things, but he's not "fucking stupid."
- Technician vs. Performer: Fletcher, who will explode at a single missed note, in contrast to Andrew's hero, Buddy Rich, who couldn't read sheet music, and played entirely on instinct.
- Tempting Fate: Carl hissing at Andrew "Do not touch this kit" after the latter lost his folder in the previous scene. Then Fletcher orders Andrew to play Carl's drums.
- Title Drop:
- Early on Fletcher's rehearsals, he introduces the namesake song with "Alright, gang...'Whiplash'."
- It's also the title of the song on the music sheet that is handed to Andrew in the final performance.
- Title In: Early on, text on-screen informs us that we are at "Shaffer Conservatory of Music, Fall Semester".
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Andrew starts to grow a bigger backbone the more time he spends with Fletcher, though he grows more elitist, competitive, and extremely arrogant as a result.
- Training from Hell: Fletcher's modus operandi for making students great musicians is essentially this. Most notably, in one scene, Andrew, Carl, and Ryan are put through an exhausting practice session that goes on for hours into the night.
- Tranquil Fury: In spite of all his tirades, Fletcher's most livid moment dawns when Andrew costs him the competition in the second act, with Fletcher looming over him, solemnly telling him, "You're done."
- Uncommon Time: The song from which the film takes its title is in 7/8. It's not the only example, either; one of the other songs is in 5/4.
- Understatement: Fletcher states that his unorthodox methods "have made him a few enemies."
- Ungrateful Bastard: Fletcher sees Andrew as this for turning on him and getting him fired, catalyzing his motive for trying to humiliate the latter in the third act.
- The Unreveal: When Fletcher smiles to Andrew at the end, seemingly finally indicating his approval, the shot is framed such that it cuts off below his nose, keeping the smile just out of frame such that we sense it more than we see it.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Fletcher, his co-players and the judges at the competition all under-react to Andrew coming in covered in blood. It is one of the few times we see Fletcher off-balance, though.
- Was It Really Worth It?: The audience is left to question whether Andrew's accomplishments are worth the tradeoff of alienating his friends and family, the deterioration of his mental state, forsaking his self-respect and self-worth to somebody who never respects him, and becoming as callous and abrasive as the mentor training him.
- We ARE Struggling Together: The Studio Band. Rather than working together out of a love of music, desire to succeed, their shared hardship or even basic courtesy, Fletcher creates such an intense environment of competition, blame, and isolation among bandmates that they will turn on each other for the slightest mistake, just like Fletcher himself. This is best shown in the relationship Andrew has with the other two alternate drummers.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: By the end, Andrew. Not for his own father, mind you — for Fletcher, who will probably never approve of him for more than two seconds at a time.
- Wham Line:
- The exact line early on where Fletcher's insults and abuse escalate from severe to outright grotesque:Fletcher: If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will FUCK you like a pig!
- Near the climax of the movie, Fletcher and Andrew reconvene, and Fletcher reveals that he was fired from Shaffer after Sean Casey's parents got a student to testify against him as an anonymous witness. He then invites Andrew to play for his new band like an old friend; just as they take the stage, he drops a bomb on him:Fletcher: You think I'm fucking stupid? I know it was you.
- The exact line early on where Fletcher's insults and abuse escalate from severe to outright grotesque:
- Wham Shot: Fletcher hurling a chair at Andrew's head out of nowhere after making him think he'd finally fixed his mistake, giving the audience their first indicator as to who he truly is, and how much of a hellhole Andrew's officially in.