The Phenomenal and Phenomenological Whiplash

It’s not often I walk into a movie theatre not knowing anything about the film I’m about to see. Operating on the sound endorsement of a stranger that it was very good, two friends and I decided at 12:56 to make a mad dash to the 12:50 session rather than wait around for another six hours. Yes we missed the first few minutes but that didn’t stop it from being the best film I have seen in this year.


The phenomenological approach to film theory looks at how a person physically experiences a film. Watching Whiplash I couldn’t help but wish it was around during the last year of my undergrad degree when I wrote on phenomenology for my final essay. Every second of this film is felt, from the pain of a burst blood blister being continually abused by the repeated use of a drumstick, to the desperate need to keep pace with the rising drum riffs or to hold your entire body rigid until the final release of that building tension. I won’t lie, the last drum solo, was kind of hot. It’s not hard to equate good music, with its rises and falls and eventual climax, with good sex, but I digress.

Whiplash is about a talented young drummer, Andrew, enrolling in a leading music conservatory and coming into conflict with his intense conductor and mentor. For a film that is predominantly made up of music practice, rehearsal and performance, it effortlessly maintains your attention. While viewing you are likely to be either holding your breath, rapidly tapping your foot, wincing or, occasionally, laughing.

The performances and directing are, of course, stellar but this film’s success is marked by its truly collaborative nature. With a solid foundation in the script every element, sound, cinematography, lighting, etc., etc. builds seamlessly together to make Whiplash an unforgettable and experience.

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