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Film / Whiplash

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Don't slow down.

"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'."
Terence Fletcher

A 2014 psychological drama directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman, 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 (J. K. 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 received mass acclaim 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.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Andrew’s father Jim is not pleased when he learns not only of the abuse his son endured under Fletcher, but also how another parent's son committed suicide after studying under said same teacher who went on to cover up said incident.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: A very low-key example. Neiman's single-minded attitude and comprehensive knowledge of his narrow area of expertise (as well as his reclusive shyness and disinclination to make eye contact until Fletcher compels him to) makes it a relatively common fan interpretation of him having high-functioning autism.
    • Fletcher also doesn't seem quite there himself, given his explosive anger, extreme arrogance, dishonesty, and abusive tendencies.
  • Anti-Hero: Andrew is shown to be smug about his own talents and dismissive of others even before Fletcher begins to become a major presence in his life, and only continues to get worse as the film goes on. While his determination to improve himself as a drummer is admirable to a point, the movie shows that this quality does more harm than good to him and the people around him in the long run.
  • 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?
    • Doubles as 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.
  • Artistic License – Music: While the film is very popular among non-musicians, jazz musicians tend to agree that while it gets some details right, 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.
    • 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 a good 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.
    • 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 not impressed with Charlie Parker's playing, and so, according to Fletcher, he threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker, nearly decapitating him, which inspired Parker to go home, practice, and become one of the greats. This story, as told by Fletcher, is embellished. In reality, Jo Jones just dropped the cymbal like a gong as a way of telling Charlie Parker "Sorry, you're not good enough for this session, come back later when you've had time to practice."
  • 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. And while Andrew gets the last laugh on him, Fletcher still finds his "perfect" student.
  • Bait the Dog: Fletcher seems genuinely upset when he refers to Sean Casey's death. This could be Pet the Dog, but the revelation that Fletcher gets sued by Sean's parents for verbally abusing him might suggest that Fletcher is genuinely feeling guilty, or he's trying to cover his ass.
  • Bald of Evil: Fletcher, which only makes him look more terrifying.
  • Berserk Button: Pretty much anything can set Fletcher off to the point that being in the same room with him is hazardous but he really seems to hate it when people are off in Their timing.
  • 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. Moreover, the viewer is left to wonder whether the final performance ultimately justifies Fletcher's abuse throughout the film and if 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.
    • According to interviews, Chazelle has a very bleak epilogue in mind for his characters. 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. Dark enough on its own, but then you remember something Andrew said in the film...
      "I'd rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was."
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Despite his idealistic goals, Fletcher’s more repugnant actions note  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.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Fletcher's approach to jazz music. In his mind, anyone who isn't capable of being great as he determines it is absolutely worthless to him and he shows no issue in breaking them completely and tossing them aside. One can only imagine how many potentially talented, if not exactly remarkable, musicians gave up because of him.
  • 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... Then 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.
  • Break the Cutie: Andrew is very sweet, loves music, and is very close to his father. Being constantly mocked and abused by Fletcher breaks him...except that it turns him into the "haughty" variant, which Fletcher also breaks. Probably.
  • Break the Haughty: Andrew becomes gradually more snobbish and unlikable to those around him as he absorbs Fletcher's teachings, especially noticeable when he agrees with Nicole that she, not being as talented as him, doesn't understand his career. However, he suffers for this greatly by the ending, being tormented by Fletcher several more times, getting into a brutal car accident, and losing Nicole. Although it's a matter of great debate how "broken" he is by the end. Word of God is of the opinion that this is actually what the ending suggests.
  • Brutal Honesty: Andrew dumping Nicole. From the second he sits her down, he tells her point-blank that their relationship won't go anywhere and it's better to break ties now without as much as an ounce of hesitation. When she asks if he's made that decision because he's too self-absorbed and invested in his ambition to care about, let alone invest in a relationship with, a girl with an inferior level of drive, he instantly agrees, which is what convinces Nicole that he's truly gone off the deep end.
  • The Bully: Fletcher, the main character's music teacher, teaches his students by cursing at them, flinging racial and homophobic 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 by Andrew. His character arc is subtly symbolized through the color of his shirt. 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.
  • Control Freak: Fletcher will push his band to the point of exhaustion or tears. He won't tolerate minor things such as misplaced sheet music or not bringing your own drumsticks. A former student of his hanged himself (though whether or not this is Fletcher's fault is left to the audience discretion).
  • Deadpan Snarker: During his angry rant against Fletcher, Andrew insults Connolly by calling him Johnny Utah, then when Fletcher responds back to Andrew, he refers to Connolly as Johnny Utah as well.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Andrew tries to make amends with Nicole after breaking up with her, only for her to tell him that she's found herself another boyfriend.
  • Dirty Coward: A minor one but Fletcher seems genuinely scared when Andrew tackles him to the ground and it's unknown what he would have done had the students he terrified and mistreated hadn't been there to pull him off. In general, Fletcher is more than happy to unleash his fury upon frightened students who can't or won't respond but it's unlikely he'd adopt the same attitude with other adults.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lose your sheet music or a part of your instrument or commit any one of a hundred perfectly normal mistakes? Fletcher will chew you out with a flurry of insults and cruelty so devastating you may be physically unable to move afterwards.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Andrew reaches his breaking point with Fletcher and attacks him near the end of the second act, though other students and some security guards save the latter before Andrew can do significant harm.
  • 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.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: The school coach variant - Fletcher runs his jazz band with the exact same tyrannical attitude as any movie drill sergeant. Unlike many examples, he is shown to be a vicious bully and the main villain of the film.
  • Enraged by Idiocy: Fletcher, if you couldn't tell.
  • 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 stops 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
  • Evil Is Petty: Fletcher is willing to sabotage an entire concert just to get back at the person who got him fired.
  • 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Zig-Zagged with Fletcher. Fletcher can turn on the charm when he wants to. In one of his early scenes, he's seen chatting politely with a little girl. He will affably tell his musicians to "just have fun out there" before berating them mercilessly for the slightest imperfections. On the other hand, Fletcher is seen being incredibly polite and professional at times, such as when he speaks to the pro musicians late in the film and to Neiman in the bar. From the looks of it, he truly can be sincere and nice to people as long as they don't "sabotage" his creativity. In the third act, after being fired, he has a nice chat with Andrew at a bar and talks about his philosophy about being harsh in order to motivate his students. Then he dips back into the faux side as it's all just a ploy to build Neiman's trust up to then humiliate him in front of the jazz community. And even THEN, he genuinely respects Andrew when the latter turns out to make his best performance ever that even makes Fletcher impressed.
  • Fired Teacher: Fletcher ultimately loses his job at the the end of the second act, after Sean Casey’s parents and Andrew testify against him for the damage his abuse inflicted.
  • First-Name Basis: After calling Andrew by his last name for the whole film, it's quite momentous when Fletcher finally addresses him by his first name in the ending — although it's quick, it implies Andrew finally becomes Fletcher's equal in that moment.
  • 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 does this to Andrew 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 a similar scenario again 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, at which point 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 rentals 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).
  • 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 ego-centrism and loss of tactfulness, which alienates Nicole for good. He does end up reaching new heights at his drumming, but on the way, he alienates everyone 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.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Terence Fletcher. He will pretty much blow up anytime he hears anyone playing even slightly off-tempo, to the point that the people playing slightly off don't even notice it themselves, and punishes them with profanity-laced tirades and sometimes, even physical abuse.
  • Hate Sink: Invoked by Damien Chazelle as he not only instructed J.K. Simmons to portray Fletcher as uncompromisingly mean-spirited, but wrote the character as devoid of redeeming qualities so as to challenge the audience to accept his perspective. Simply, he intends that you dislike him.
  • Honor Thy Abuser: Andrew does this to Fletcher, but the effects of this trope are discussed multiple times. Fletcher mistreats every single one of his students, verbally berates and bullies them, picks on their insecurities, and hits them (including throwing things at them). He also drove one of his past students to suicide. However, Andrew actually agrees with Fletcher's perspective and ends up giving in to Fletcher's abuse, supporting Fletcher's belief that he needs to push his most dedicated students, and ends up producing an amazing performance. Depending on your perspective, this is a straight example of this trope (as Fletcher and Andrew are both finally happy), or an Esoteric Happy Ending (given the potentially horrific consequences of his treatment).
  • 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.
  • Hypocrite: Throughout the movie, Fletcher repeatedly warns the jazz band not to "sabotage" the band with bad performances. At the end of the movie, Fletcher deliberately sabotages a professional band in front of talent agents by intentionally giving Andrew the wrong music to play in petty revenge for getting him fired from the academy.
  • 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; one can't help but wonder if the part was originally intended for someone shorter.
  • Informed Judaism: Fletcher calls Andrew a "hymie fuck". This is the only indication that Neiman is Jewish, besides his surname. (His actor is 1/4 Jewish, while Paul Reiser, who plays his father, is of Romanian Jewish origin.)
  • 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 becoming 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.
  • Jerkass:
    • 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 is inclined to agree with Fletcher's "good job" speech, but Damien Chazelle believes that 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 when "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 by Fletcher's cousins. While they're both stereotypical dude bros 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Fletcher will occasionally seem like he's revealing a human side, only for it to turn out to be just more jerk.
    • Right before Andrew plays with the studio band for the first time, Fletcher strikes up a friendly conversation with him, asking about his life, family, and childhood. While this scene seems to be there to show that Fletcher might be a nice guy after all, in reality, Fletcher only wants this information to abuse and humiliate Andrew with it later.
    • During the first session with the band, Fletcher at first shows the utmost patience with Andrew's attempts to play on tempo. He keeps gently correcting the tempo, assuring him there's no pressure... and then suddenly throws a chair at him and screams insults in his face.
    • Fletcher offers an emotional tribute to a dedicated former student who had just died in a car crash, showing that maybe Fletcher really does care for his students. Then it's revealed that not only did Fletcher lie about the student's fate, but he was probably a primary cause of the student's suicide.
    • After Andrew is expelled from the university and causes Fletcher to be fired for what he did, Andrew happens upon a show Fletcher was doing at a bar. Fletcher sees him and they have a drink together, while Fletcher defends his style of teaching as just trying to create a truly great performer. He then offers Andrew the drumming role in a professional band that is going to give a performance for scouts. Turns out he knew Andrew was the one who got him fired and was simply doing it for petty revenge by telling Andrew the wrong music to be played so Andrew would make a fool of himself in front of all the talent agents.
  • Jitter Cam: Present when the music becomes really frantic.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Subverted. Fletcher seems to have hit this after the Sean Casey tribunal, which gets him fired from the school. However, he nevertheless continues to be a very respected conductors, and ends the movie in full Karma Houdini mode as he finds his perfect student in Andrew.
  • Kick the Dog: Fletcher keeps finding new dogs to sink lower and lower.
    • Fletcher uses racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs to insult musicians, apparently drawing on the most vile things he can think of to degrade each person even if they might not reflect his actual convictions.
    • Fletcher gets deeply personal when he makes fun of Andrew for how his mother walked out on his father Jim.
    • Likewise, the reveal that Fletcher's supposed former ace student did not die in a car crash but hung himself, likely due to Fletcher's effects on his psyche.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Signs that Andrew is being absorbed into Fletcher's cruel attitude, too:
    • He agrees with Nicole when she "tells" him (obviously hoping for a contradiction) that he always thinks of himself as more important while he thinks she'll be forgotten.
    • Andrew's single father clearly adores him, but Andrew gradually pulls away from him over the course of the film and is extremely condescending about his choice to raise his family alone and 'settle' as a high school teacher.
  • 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.
  • Knight Templar: Fletcher is absolutely devoted to keeping jazz alive and he will do anything to achieve that goal, even if the culture that created jazz (the African American community) has moved on to newer expressions of art. Psychologically broken students are seen as more than an acceptable price to pay for finding the next Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, or Buddy Rich.
  • Kubrick Stare: Andrew pulls a few off from time to time.
  • Lack of Empathy: Fletcher takes this to destructive levels; showing no remorse to what damage his abusive tutelage inflicted, even admitting at the end of his “Good Job” speech how he will never apologize for his actions,note  seeing as it was for the greater good.
    • Rather than show any kind of concern or worry when Andrew shows up to a competition dazed and bleeding with a broken hand (after getting into a bad car crash in his rush to get there on time) Fletcher makes him play until he can't even hold his drumsticks, then coldly throws him out of the band for messing up the performance.
  • Large Ham: Fletcher is a colossal one and it serves to highlight how terrifying he is.
  • 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.
  • Last-Name Basis: Terrence Fletcher is almost always only referred to by his last name. Conversely, Fletcher usually refers to his students by their last names, with the exception of Eugene.
  • Lovable Jock: All signs point to Ryan Connolly being this, despite Andrew thinking of him as something of a Jerk Jock. He's a big strapping guy who in any other film would be a total bro, but his rivalry with Neiman seems to be chiefly fabricated by Fletcher. (In the screenplay this is even more in play; his friendly overtures and reassurances toward Andrew are rebuffed due to the mistrust fostered among the alternates.)
  • Malicious Misnaming: Downplayed. As he pronounces it at the start of the film, Andrew's last name Neiman is meant to sound like "NAY-man". However, Fletcher introduces him to his band as the significantly weaker-sounding "NEE-man" and refers to him as such throughout most of the film. With the sheer amount of psychological warfare he inflicts on Andrew, it's quite likely this was intentional.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Fletcher uses his students' fear of public embarrassment and desire for praise to bring them to the end of themselves and validate his belief in his own purpose.
  • Minor with Fake I.D.: While he isn't explicitly shown using one, Andrew, a first-year college student, discusses Fletcher's firing over drinks at a nightclub.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Andrew's mom left early in his life and he grew up alone with his dad. Fletcher uses this piece of information to mock Andrew.
  • Morality Pet: Nicole and Andrew's father are both this to him, at first. See Kick the Morality Pet for more details.
  • Moral Myopia: Fletcher sees his harsh training as justifiable in his pursuit of fostering greatness, unfettered by the damage he leaves in his wake, yet he considers the slightest errors from his students an attempt at sabotaging his life’s work to find the next jazz prodigy.
  • 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.
  • Muse Abuse: Fletcher sees enough of something in Andrew to allow him to play, but repeatedly berates, brutally mocks, has him perform to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, puts his physical being in danger (the cymbal crash), lies often, and belittles him throughout the story.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: The dinner scene sets up such a dynamic with Andrew very clearly being the Zoidberg of his family, with his musical achievements being 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 Andrew. With his drumming.
  • 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.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: While Fletcher's abuse is ostensibly to push his students and bring out their potential, it's only so he can take credit for their success.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Fletcher pretends not to know which of his performers is playing his trumpet out of tune so he has a chance to single out the people who don't know if they're in tune or not, which he sees as even worse. Fletcher feigns ignorance again in the third act, when he knows perfectly well that Andrew got him fired, and later even says, "You think I'm fucking stupid? I know it was you."
  • 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 the Only Sane Woman. 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 single-minded Andrew, the manipulative Fletcher, and Andrew's unambitious father Jim.
    • Andrew's Uncle Frank may be an Only Sane Man 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.
  • Parental Substitute: Fletcher is a particularly twisted example. Despite (or perhaps because of) his abusive behavior towards Andrew and its effects on the young man, he is perhaps Andrew's biggest motivator to succeed throughout the film.
  • The Perfectionist: Fletcher. Dear God, Fletcher! Any mistake, no matter how minor, is punished with an absolutely brutal dressing down, and he is focused only on students whom he thinks could be legends, regardless of how many others he has to destroy in the process.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Fletcher is seen being supportive of a little girl who wants to become a musician. Somewhat undercut by asking her if she'll be in his band when she grows up.
    • Subverted by Fletcher's emotional tribute to a late student, when it's revealed that the student actually killed himself in part due to the psychological damage Fletcher's teaching put on him.
  • 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.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: Andrew physically attacks Fletcher after finally being pushed too far.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Sorry Andrew, no amount of blind determination is going to get you through a performance after just getting out of a car accident.
    • 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 parent’s 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”.
    • 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. Because Fletcher is many, many things, but he's not "fucking stupid."
  • "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. "Four words you'll never hear from the NFL" and "FUCK YOU, JOHNNY UTAH, TURN MY PAGES, BITCH" qualify, although neither are really "speeches".
  • Revenge Before Reason: Fletcher's plan to humiliate Andrew into playing the wrong music at the concert. He doesn't seem to realize (or perhaps is simply beyond caring) that he would be destroying his own reputation in front of the jazz community by having a sub-par performance from a drummer.
  • Revenge Myopia: Despite all of the damage his tutelage left on Andrew, Fletcher still makes an attempt to humiliate and discredit the former during a concert as revenge for defying him.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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!"
  • 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.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: A realistic example. Although there is a Training from Hell involved with Fletcher, he is so relentlessly cruel, brutal, and dismissive that he is almost unappeasable and anything less than what he deems "perfection" will result in a person being thrown out of his class or being so viciously tormented that they quit, have a breakdown, and/or commit suicide, as Sean Casey did.
  • 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, then have Fletcher deliver a short, insulting eulogy at his funeral.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Terence Fletcher starts throwing around "fucks" the deeper and deeper he gets into criticizing his students.
  • Skewed Priorities: Fletcher considers the declination of Music talent and quality a “tragedy”, yet he trivializes the death of a former pupil to fabricate a sob story, lying about the circumstances to motivate his students and detract skepticism of his methods.
  • Smile of Approval: Fletcher finally genuinely smiles at Andrew in the final moments of the film, after his stunning performance. It is, however, distinctly bittersweet as opposed to usual iterations of this trope, as Fletcher is such a brutal bully that it seems Andrew would genuinely be better off without his approval.
  • The Social Darwinist: Fletcher takes the mindset to the extreme. To him, hard work isn't enough—only abject suffering and humiliation can produce greatness in musicians, and he refuses to praise his students for anything less than the best.
  • 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.)
  • Spiritual Successor: To Black Swan:
    • Both movies are about a niche art-form, very little known about by the mainstream public.
    • Both movies are about a very talented person and their difficult relationship with a very demanding mentor.
    • In both movies the mentor acts very ambiguous, sometimes in a positive way but most of the time totally unimpressed by the student, causing great confusion and decline in self-confidence.
    • In both movies the mentor uses the trick to assign a slightly less talented fellow student for the same role to compete with in order to increase motivation.
    • Both movies end with the protagonist, against all odds, delivering a stellar perfomance, proving once and for all that they are the best person for he job and finally earning the respect of their mentor.
  • Stealth Mentor: Fletcher explains that his jerk attitude was only to bring out the best in his students. The success of his method is questionable at best.
  • 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: The title of the song on the music sheet that is handed to Andrew on the final performance.
  • Title In: Early on, text on-screen informs us that we are at "Shaffer Conservatory of Music, Fall Semester".
  • Token Good Teammate: Ryan is shown to be the closest person in the band practice to be a Nice Guy.
    • He is usually nice, even to Fletcher who treats him like crap, and tries telling Andrew to back off when he is fiercely arguing with the music teacher.
    • When Andrew shows up to perform bloodied and injured after his car accident, Ryan is the only band member to be shocked and concerned towards him. He even looks at Fletcher in alarm, silently questioning him if he should let Andrew perform in this condition.
    • Additionally, when Andrew knocks Fletcher to the ground preparing to attack him, Ryan is the only student to come to the music teacher’s aid. He, along with a security guard, get Andrew off and drag the enraged student to the exit so he wouldn’t harm Fletcher.
  • 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: In one scene, Andrew, Carl, and Ryan are put through an exhausting drums training by Fletcher 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."
  • Trash Talk: If some of the previous entries didn't make it obvious enough, yes, this is what Fletcher will do at some point or another towards anyone who doesn't meet his ridiculously high standards.
  • 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.
  • The Unfettered: There is no low Fletcher will avert from to succeed, as he is even willing enough to use the suicide of a former pupil to fabricate a sob story to motivate his students, knowing that his destructive behavior may have been a factor to his students demise.
  • 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. note 
  • Unknown Rival: When Fletcher finally recruits Ryan into his band, Andrew believes Ryan to be an inferior drummer and outright insults him, but Ryan is seemingly unaware of this rivalry and remains friendly to Andrew despite Andrew's rudeness.
  • 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.
  • Villainous BSoD: Fletcher appears to experience one upon learning that one of his former ace students, Sean Casey, just killed himself. Of course, the very next day he happily uses Sean's death as a sob story to motivate his students, lying through his teeth about the manner of death as he does so.
  • 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. Best shown in the relationship Andrew has with the other two alternate drummers.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: One interpretation of Andrew's relationship with Fletcher and why he persists in learning from him. Ironically, Andrew's father is a total aversion, as he shows Andrew nothing but unconditional love and actually wishes his son wasn't so fiercely determined and ambitious.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Fletcher wants to bring out the best and more from his students, and puts them through hellish training to wring out their potential, though the fact that he covered up his former pupils cause of death to detract suspicion that his method may have been a factor and taking revenge on Andrew for getting him fired indicates that his motives are far from altruistic.
  • 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 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.
  • Wham Shot: Fletcher hurling the 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.
  • Worthy Opponent: Andrew's final performance in the film finally gets a nod of approval from Fletcher. Word of God argues that Fletcher thinks he beat Andrew in the end, however...

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Video Example(s):


Neiman earns the part

Neiman powers through a long night of verbal abuse and bloody hands to land a spot in Fletcher's lineup.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

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