Whiplash and the Power to Suffocate an Audience

How filmmakers use deliberate editing and frantic camera movements to create overwhelming tension

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Whiplash, 2014

Cut On Tempo

In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie, Nieman is unable to play at the correct tempo during a band recitation. One of the reasons this scene is so powerful is that makes us feel Nieman’s pain with the use of quick cuts and close up shots. When Andrew is unable to play his music properly, Fletcher suddenly throws a chair at Andrew and the camera shakes as if we were hit by the chair.

Not quite my tempo scene, Whiplash (2014)
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Director Damian Chazelle on set

Awkward In Small Spaces

Throughout “Whiplash”, Damian Chazelle creates very intimate scenes by constricting the characters to very small spaces on the screen. The camera work in such scenes makes us feel the awkwardness and tension felt by the characters in the shots and helps push the story forward. For example, in one scene Andrew asks a girl — Nicole (Melissa Benoist)— out on a date. This scene is set in a movie theater and while there is a large gap between the two characters on screen, they seem uncomfortable and constricted. This scene is incredibly awkward, as the film doesn’t cut at all during the conversation (which is full of long and nervous pauses) and our eyes can jump from character to character as they speak and embrace. Our eyes never get tired but we as an audience can sense the uncertainty unfolding in real-time.

Andrew asking Nicole out on a date, Whiplash (2014)
Andrew and Nicole on a date, Whiplash (2014)

Cutting To Chaos

One of the most obvious things you will notice about “Whiplash” is the pacing of shots and frequency of cuts. The flow of the film is constantly shifting from a tense dialogue that seemingly lasts an eternity to quick cuts of Andrew playing the drums. These shots of Andrew — seemingly isolated from the rest of the band — are some of the best, and nowhere is this more evident than in the incredible final scene of the film. The camera work is frantic during Andrew’s magnum opus when he finally takes control of the drum set and proves to Fletcher that he is indeed a good musician. Almost in reaction to the music being played, the camera moves faster and faster to different places whenever the music intensifies.

Andrew’s last stand, Whiplash (2014)
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Andrew’s drum solo, Whiplash (2014)

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