Structure: 5/5 | Entertainment: 5/5
If story is king, then Whiplash is royalty.
Doubling down with fantastic performances from J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller, writer/director Damien Chazelle crafts a tight and tense narrative that never relents and never strays from its central argument.
Main Character Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) practices, practices and practices some more (Main Character Approach: Do-er) as he pursues the goal of being one of the greats (Protagonist, Overall Story Goal: Being). Conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) stands in Andrew’s way, both logistically and emotionally (Antagonist and Influence Character respectively), hurling cymbals and slapping faces (Relationship Story Domain: Activities, Relationship Story Concern: Doing), all in an effort to break his students down (Overall Story Requirements: Becoming) on their way to being the very best at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York (Overall Story Concern: Being).
Natural talent rules the stage (Overall Story Issue: Ability), with Terrence terrorizing students for playing in the wrong key (Overall Story Domain: Psychology, Overall Story Symptom: Accurate) and sabotaging their performances by removing much-needed sheet music (Overall Story Response: Non-Accurate). Driven to create the next Buddy Rich (Influence Character Problem: Cause), Terrence stops at nothing to demean those under his tutelage (Influence Character Issue: Value). Explosive and unwavering in his righteous approach, Terrence relentlessly breaks Andrew down with everything he can’t do (Influence Character Concern: Impulsive Responses, Influence Character Domain: Fixed Attitude, Influence Character Response: Unproven).
At the heart of their relationship lies their true problem—Andrew’s determination to be one of the greats vs. Terrence’s determination to send mother-less Andrew home crying (Relationship Story Problem: Determination, Main Character Domain: Situation).
Andrew only slows down when he feels he has proven himself worthy of Fletcher’s admiration (Main Character Solution: Proven), an indulgence that only serves to demotivate and ultimately, defeat him. The moment he finds himself up against a new drummer, Andrew kicks in and redoubles his efforts (Main Character Problem: Unproven)—an approach that eventually pays off (Main Character Resolve: Steadfast).
Terrence sets Andrew up, preferring to focus on the one responsible for his termination rather than the potential in that one for greatness (Overall Story Problem: Cause) setting the stage for Andrew’s failure. But the future great-one leaves his doting father in the wings, returns to his kit and faces Terrence as the menace he always was (Main Character Signpost 4: Future, Main Character Unique Ability: Threat).
Andrew’s performance changes Terrence, to the point where the immovable conductor cares less about being the agent for change and more about improving the effectiveness of Andrew’s set (Influence Character Resolve: Change, Influence Character Solution: Effect). Resetting the cymbal cements this growth of character and insures a fruitful performance (Overall Story Solution: Effect), fulfilling Andrew with the peace of mind that the suffering was worth it (Story Judgment: Good) and guaranteeing his place among the greats (Story Outcome: Success).
With a narrative as tight and effective as this, Whiplash too guarantees its place among the great films of all time.
Final Storyform Settings
The image above is taken from the Story Engine window of Dramatica Story Expert. Story points in BLUE represent choices made by the user. Story points in RED reflect implied story elements provided by Dramatica.