Film Frame Friday is a weekly series where one of our contributors will pick a film and highlight its unique cinematic style, from cinematography, to mise-en-scene, and editing. It is a great way to not only introduce someone to a new film, but to bring new conversations to the table. Click here for more entries in the series.
Last week I began my first two-parter for Film Frame Friday discussing how the frames and overall scenes in Whiplash remind me of a piece of music building up to a crescendo. The way Andrew and Fletcher play off each not only resembles a piece of music, but also an intense battle between predator (Fletcher) and prey (Andrew).
In order to appreciate the finale of any film you must have context, hence my massive introduction of Whiplash and breakdown of Fletcher and Andrew in part 1. Now I get to go straight to my true purpose: the ending scene of Whiplash. I will spend the rest of this article discussing the ending scene of Whiplash and dissecting the scenes that made it what it is: a masterpiece.
Part 2: The Coda
Warning: the rest of this article contains spoilers for Whiplash.
The most powerful part of Whiplash is the ending as it marks the final duel between Andrew and Fletcher, and makes several callbacks to prior scenes. It is one final “fuck you” from Andrew to Fletcher as he finally conquers his fears of his jazz instructor and does something not for Fletcher, but for himself. Fletcher knows Andrew testified against him for his abusive behavior and is the reason he lost just job, so when Andrew is invited to play at the jazz festival he realizes the sheet music is for a song he doesn’t know. Once again, Fletcher has humiliated Andrew in front of everyone.
“I guess maybe you don’t have it.” - Fletcher
After the performance, Fletcher says those words to Andrew, and of course, Andrew quickly exits the stage, where he is embraced by his father. Suddenly, Andrew defiantly returns back to the stage during the middle of Fletcher speech. Thus begins one of the most heart-pounding scenes to grace modern cinema.
First Call back
The first thing that many will notice is the song Andrew begins to play is, in fact, the same song he had a mental breakdown over, and the one that caused him to be kicked from the band: Caravan. Andrew powered through injuries sustained during a car wreck to make it on time to play this song earlier in the film, but when his injuries affected his drumming Fletcher ended the whole performance and apologized to the audience. Of course, Andrew lost his shit and tackled his jazz instructor in front of an entire audience. This would later lead to the investigation that would get Fletcher fired, and of course, Fletcher seeking payback.
“If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will fuck you like a pig.” - Fletcher
Of course, Andrew delivers a grand performance that even makes Fletcher go with the flow, and right when Caravan is about to end Andrew, begins his drum solo which catches everyone off guard. This is a callback to earlier in the film when Fletcher humiliated Andrew for not knowing the difference between rushing and dragging and asked if he was trying to sabotage his band. Now the tables are turned: Andrew is throwing everything off, but not to fuck over Fletcher; he’s striving to achieve greatness.
“I’ll cue you.” - Andrew
The final callback is one of my favorites. Fletcher has been calling the shots for the whole movie; even the opening scene involves Fletcher putting Andrew through numerous drills and walking away disappointed. The drum solo at the end is Andrew showing how far he has come as a drummer since the opening of Whiplash, and that he doesn’t need Fletcher’s approval to show the world he is great. Andrew has been practicing day in and out for this one chance, but without the traumatic events he experienced at the hands of Fletcher (see part 1) he would never have attempted this drum solo.
The end scene of Whiplash is more than just a series of callbacks. The pure adrenaline Andrew displays, and the ferocity of the drumming, is enough to make your hands clammy. Acting is more than just conveying words; body language is just as important and the performance between these two actors is award-worthy. The editing and camera work focusing on the physical aspects of their performances, and closeups of their sweaty faces, are perfect for this scene.
Whiplash is one hell of a film and is probably the film that motivated me the most in recent years to strive for greatness. There are so many people who go with the motions of life, and never take the risk of going for something bigger. When they fail, they don’t get back up and try again. I am not saying we all need someone like Fletcher in our life because he is psychotic, but we do need someone or something to push us the way Andrew was pushed throughout this film. I will conclude this Film Frame Friday with a quote and a series of shots showing the evolution of Andrew throughout the film, from his first drumming scene to his last.
“There are no two words more harmful than ‘good job.'” - Fletcher