I did not want to watch this movie. I was not planning on watching this movie. Until my wife recommended I watch this movie.
It was as difficult as I imagined.
I can handle violence. I can skip sex scenes. But intense interpersonal conflict? Gotta hit pause on that. Take a deep breath. Recollect myself. “Remember, it’s not real.”
No doubt I saw some of myself on the screen. Growing up, I wanted to be a great drummer. I practiced long hours. I competed with my peers. And I had difficult instructors, although none of them approached the abusiveness portrayed by J.K. Simmons’ character.
As far as movies go, I think Whiplash deserves its awards. But as a moral tale, something to learn from or be inspired by? No way.
I hated how it ended. Since when does one small right make up for so many wrongs? As hard as Whiplash tries, there is no happy ending. Only more backwards success.
You see, the thing the world doesn’t get – can’t get – is that we’re not supposed to work for success; we’re supposed to work from it. And you can only do that when your higher power is bigger and better than a Fletcher or a jazz festival or a Buddy Rich.
Jesus got the divine seal of approval before entering his public ministry. He went on to pick his elite team before they were qualified. The Apostle Paul wrote,
“Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” 1 Corinthians 3:5
I’m not saying that knowledge, practice, and skill are unimportant. They matter. They’re just a dead end if you think they’ll lead you to significance.
We enter and maintain our walk with God by his grace, not our merit. We start on top of the ladder, not at the bottom. If there’s any striving on our part, it’s in response to God’s love, not as an effort to earn something.
Just the other day I heard someone say that if you want to be successful you’ve gotta be driven by anger. If you don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder and something to prove (like Jobs, Jordan, Trump, etc.) you’ll inevitably settle for mediocrity.
Listen, it’s the same story over and over again. When someone finally reaches the top of their profession and they get the money, the houses, the cars, the fame, etc. they inevitably realize how empty it is. As Augustine wrote,
“You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.”
Still, I’m glad I watched this movie. Its twisted portrayal of success helped me remember that my worth does not come from my work but from my God.