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Whiplash Ending Explained: Posing A Moral Question

Whiplash Ending Explained Andrew Neiman

The ending of the 2014 movie Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle, offers an interesting moral question over the idea of success. 

While the film’s final scene suggests that the protagonist, Andrew Neiman, has achieved greatness through his relentless pursuit of perfection, there is also a question raised about the morality and actions of his mentor, Terence Fletcher.

In this article, I take a look a the nuances of the Whiplash ending and consider that movie’s famous final scene presents questions rather than answers.

The Third Act: Andrew’s Last Chance

The final act of Whiplash sees Andrew regressing to menial work before stumbling upon Fletcher playing at a jazz bar, who has recently been fired from teaching because of his abusive behaviour.

In this scene, Chazelle does an excellent job of portraying Fletcher as more vulnerable. 

He plays at a modest bar, his clothes and body language are different, and his demeanour is more reserved.

Fletcher seems unaware that Andrew testified against him and explains his motivations for pushing his students with extreme measures; “because without it, you’re depriving the world of the next Charlie Parker.” 

This line is powerful in its function to humanise Fletcher beyond his psychopathic tendencies. The subtext alludes to an interesting moral question that is ultimately: what does it take to achieve greatness?

Whiplash Ending explained drums corridor

The Moral Question: What is Acceptable in the Pursuit of Reaching Greatness?

Fletcher’s moral statement suggests that his obsession with pushing his students is a necessary process to bring greatness into the world, which presents an interesting moral dilemma for the audience to consider.

What brings even more substance to this question is Chazelle’s use of juxtaposition with the portrayal of Andrew’s mediocre father, Jim, who incidentally is the target of Fletcher’s verbal abuse again Andrew earlier in the script.

The undercurrent of resentment that Andrew holds towards his father and his tedious all-American family is the force that drives Andrew’s sense of internal conflict over the moral question about what is acceptable in the pursuit of greatness. 

The Ambiguity in Fletcher’s Motivations

Fletcher catches up with Andrew and invites him to play a final performance.

On the night of the performance, Fletcher’s line “those cats never forget” establishes the stakes, as he refers to the prestigious nature of the audience. 

Suddenly, Andrew realises Fletcher has tricked him and that he’s on stage without knowing any of the tunes they’re due to play. 

Fletcher subtly approaches Andrew’s drum set and communicates that he’s aware Andrew testified against him.

In one devastating moment, Fletcher’s position is subverted, and Andrew’s aspirations as a career jazz drummer come crashing down around him.

Whiplash Ending Explained Fletcher screaming

Andrew’s Moment of Glory: Fletcher’s Intention or Irony?

At the end of the tune, Andrew carries on with an incredibly skilled solo, which Fletcher quickly grows to encourage.

As the musical number reaches its peak, the screenplay reads: “Fletcher almost smiles. Was this his plan all along?” This is a really interesting line in the screenplay, as it opens ambiguity around Fletcher’s motivation. 

Whether or not Andrew’s moment of glory was Fletcher’s intention, the irony of the screenplay’s moral question is highlighted.

In other words, Fletcher’s obsession with perfection and his questionable means of cultivating it has pushed Andrew along his own path of obsession, which results in him achieving his essence as the next Charlie Parker.

Whiplash ending explained Andrew Neiman

Whiplash Ending Explained: A Moral Question

In conclusion, the Whiplash ending is not simply a conclusion to the story, but a question about the morality of pursuing greatness. 

Certainly, both characters’ obsessions have driven them to this moment, but Chazelle’s choice to leave the final sequence of the film to interpretation is confidently written and is the biggest question about the plot that the audience is encouraged to discuss once the story finishes.

For a deeper dive into the Whiplash ending and how this is all contextualised by the movie’s relationship between character and theme, click the button below to watch my video essay on the screenplay. 

single line drawing projector
Nick Fore Script Doctor / Script Consultant

Nick Fore is an experienced script consultant who reads screenplays for the British Film Institute.

He has written comprehensive coverage on over 1,000 scripts and has helped screenwriters get their work into development with production companies such as Imagine Entertainment and Screen Ireland. 

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