whiplash_13SideNote: The first scene of “Whiplash”

There are so many things to admire about the film “Whiplash.” The first thing that can come to mind is the career-making performance from J.K. Simmons. The second thing may be the writing. Damien Chazelle’s direction in “Whiplash” is spot on, not just in guiding its pacing, but also in pulling strong performances from his cast.

Even more so than the direction, much admiration can be found in the writing and structure of the film. For the most part “Whiplash” follows the three-act structure closely. Without spoiling any of the film (except for the first five minutes), let’s talk about that first scene.

Exposition is a huge part of the first act in the three-act structure. We are introduced to our characters, primarily our protagonist. In this situation Andrew’s (Miles Teller) an ambitious young drummer, trying to achieve his goal of being “one of the greats.”  We immediately know this about Andrew without dialogue, witnessing him working hard practicing on a drumset.

As the camera pushes down the hallway, and the shots edit around Andrew, we can easily learn that this is not just a hobby for him. And then our villain is introduced. Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) response to Andrew’s drumming seems less than enthused. The scene ends with him vanishing into the hallway, Andrew looking upset, then him returning just to grab his jacket.

Spoilers for the rest of the film follow.

What was “Whiplash” about? Well, my guess is ambition. It could also be about teaching. One-word morals aside, it was about the relationship between these two characters. That first scene clearly tells us that.

Did Fletcher know from the moment he walked in there that Andrew had potential? Maybe. The first scene plays out kind of like the rest of the movie – Fletcher listens to Andrew, doesn’t like what he hears, Andrew is torn up about it. Then Fletcher comes back giving Andrew a brief moment of false hope, and leaves again, similar to when Fletcher tricked Andrew to coming on stage at the end to play a song he never learned – a moment of false hope.

Where would that leave the conclusion though? Again, it’s up to interpretation whether or not Fletcher liked what he heard in the first scene. The last shot of the film of him and Andrew smiling leaves little to interpretation. Regardless, the first scene set up the mood, and tempo of the entire story. An uncommon alteration of the first act in the three-act structure.

What did you think of the first scene of “Whiplash”?