Abused or Acknowledged: A Benjamin Application

I love movies, and recently, someone very close to me recommended that I watch the movie Whiplash. The film had been lingering on my mind for quite some time as it is critically acclaimed and has been mentioned by many friends and family as of late.

Upon watching, I couldn’t help but draw the similarities of the relationships of characters in the movie to the theories of Jessica Benjamin regarding power dynamics that involve a person subjecting another.

The movie follows Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller, a student of the most prestigious music university in the country, who’s obsessed with reaching a level of greatness through becoming a outstanding figure in the Shaffer Conservatory Jazz Band. Throughout the movie, Neiman endures forms of psychological and physical abuse from maestro Terence Fletcher, played by J.K Simmons in his goals to find and create the next great Jazz Musician.

Fletcher is seen practically torturing Andrew by throwing objects at him whilst playing, slapping him for missing tempo, and verbally insulting him time and time again for mistakes whilst playing. But this harm only reinforces Andrews obedience to Fletcher and motivation towards achieving his goal of greatness. Conversely, it allows Fletcher more opportunity to enforce his cruelty in hopes of achieving the goal of his own.

This relationship between the two creates an compelling power dynamic or teacher/student or conducter/musician that’s followed throughout the movie, and ends up resulting in an unforeseen conclusion to the twos relationship that begs the question on whether or not either Fletcher or Neiman achieved a level of Mutual Recognition.

In the end, Andrew plays a final time for Fletcher, disobeying his conducting and reversing the roles of the power dynamic in order to play the set on his own terms. At first, Fletcher doesn’t take kindly to this, mouthing silent threats to him in order not to provoke the audience, however, he eventually submits, and relishes in Andrews talent shining through. The conclusion seems lighthearted and displays the power dynamic fizzling into mutual recognition through Fletcher accepting Andrews rebelling, but it poses the question of the power dynamic being reinforced through Fletcher having his goal achieved of finding solace in Andrew being the next “great” so to speak and Andrew feeling as if he has achieved that status through the approval of his disobedience through Fletchers supposed smile in the final frame of the movie.

3 thoughts on “Abused or Acknowledged: A Benjamin Application

  1. Meredith M.

    I love this application of Benjamin’s theory. I have heard great things about this movie and I love that you were able to recognize potential mutual recognition in it. The teacher/student power dynamic is very interesting, because the teacher is in a position of authority, and here you explored whether or not abuse can lead to mutual recognition.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ROAN E.

    I love Whiplash. It’s a direct application of submission through an unlikely relationship. The abuse that Andrew endures is an extreme case of the power dynamic of the teacher/student roles which I thought was very interesting seeing as Andrew being an exceptional drummer almost tries to challenge the dynamic that the movie sets up. The abuse pushes him to go beyond his limits as he is physically and mentally strained from playing the drums. He gets into a car accident on the way to a concert but is so determined to play, he skips the hospital. I really liked this deconstruction.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Isaac T.

    I love this movie so much, the film inspired me to play the drums. Great job connecting Jessica Benjamin’s theory to the movie. The Teacher/Student is played out throughout most of the movie until Andrew proves to Fletcher that he is the next greatest musician by playing his drum solo at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

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