Why Cruelty is Not The Winner

“I don’t want the Raisinettes, I just eat around them” … that’s what Andrew Neiman, in Whiplash, does with the hurts in his life. That’s what he tries to do with jazz teacher Terrance Fletcher’s demeaning and crude sadism in this psychologically riveting film. Fletcher’s cruelty has its hook and he finds it in Andrew’s mother’s abandonment. But, in the end, the complexly selfish motives driving Fletcher’s cruelty do not win out. Or do they?

That’s the question Whiplash leaves us with. Yet, there’s another even more important question: how is someone like Terrence Fletcher able to bait Andrew and get him coming back for more. Would it work with just anyone?  No.  But, it does for some, when there’s a hook.

Abandonment Is The Hook for “Taking” Cruelty

Andrew’s mother’s abandonment is no simple thing. Mostly, it’s how he interpreted his mother’s leaving that’s at issue. And, Fletcher is crafty enough to get right under Andrew’s skin, stirring up the fantasies a child has about why a mother leaves. They’re all too similar to Fletcher’s cruel attacks. Mommy leaves because he isn’t good enough. That’s what a child unconsciously believes: “That’s as fast as you can play? No wonder your mommy ran out on you.” That’s the cruelty of childhood and Whiplash.

Andrew has been fighting off these feelings of not being good enough for years. He runs into them head-on when he meets Nichole. She wears on her sleeve everything he doesn’t want to feel in himself.  He has no choice but to get rid of her, to keep the “you’ll never be good enough” feelings at bay. Fletcher makes that impossible. Yet he keeps holding out the bait: maybe this time.

Why Fletcher & Andrew Both Need Each Other

They both need each other – Andrew and Fletcher. Fletcher wants to discover the next Charlie Parker, his only chance at a claim to fame. Andrew tries harder and harder, plays faster and faster trying to be the next Charlie Parker. Mistakenly thinking that being the greatest musician that ever lived is the only way to get the love he lost. That’s Andrew in Whiplash.

And, Fletcher: he holds onto his brand of sadistic pleasure for his own perverse reasons. The power in screaming over and over: “that’s not quite my tempo.” Underneath, Fletcher feels like a little man. He’s never made it. Nor is he Eugene O’Neill, Buddy Rich, or Charlie Parker. Not even close. So he’s the big man wielding the baton at Schaffer Conservatory of Music, right? But, really, he deals with his own sense of inadequacy by raking other people through the coals.

How Anger Saves Andrew In Whiplash

Andrew’s need to get Fletcher’s approval literally almost kills him. But, in the end, his anger saves him. When Andrew gets back on the stage after Fletcher tricks and humiliates him – it’s not for Fletcher. Not this time. Andrew takes Fletcher’s control away. He calls the shots. He gives the cues. He sets his own tempo. He not only shows Fletcher up – more importantly, but he also shows down his own self-doubt. He no longer has to be perfect.

Does Fletcher have his Charlie Parker? He might for a moment think so in the heat of the audience’s roaring applause. But, the answer is, decidedly, a “No”.  The success is not his. It’s Andrew’s show. Fletcher’s cruelty is outdone when Andrew takes back the reigns of his own confidence. He no longer has to eat around the Raisinettes. And, cruelty is not the winner.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at sandracohenphd@gmail.com to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.