How much happiness does it cost to be great? Or, put another way, how much greatness does it cost to be happy?
In the middle of “Whiplash,” there’s a dinner table scene where the main character, Andrew (Miles Teller) feels like he isn’t getting the credit and accolades he deserves. He’s the first chair drummer in the country’s best jazz ensemble, which means he’s one of the best drummers in the country. But his family would rather talk about his cousin’s football achievements, which are, in all frankness, pretty minor. So he decides to put his cousin in his place. “It’s a Division III school,” he says. ”It’s not even Division II.” His cousins responds, “you think it’s no big deal? Come play with us.” ”Four words you will never hear from the NFL,” Andrew shoots back. His uncle chimes in. “Andrew, do you have any friends?” ”No,” Andrew says, “I never had much use for them.”
You get the picture – our hero isn’t a very nice guy. He’s conceited and self-absorbed. He’s also a very, very good drummer. ”Whiplash” goes to great lengths to make sure that we understand that those two things are connected. He’s a good drummer because he’s self-absorbed; he drums, for hours and hours a day, in his quixotic quest to be the next Buddy Rich. And because he basically doesn’t do anything but drum, he’s self-absorbed and has no friends. His drive to be great is so strong that he doesn’t care about being happy. It’s no coincidence that he idolizes people like Charlie Parker, who were great at what they did, but died young and miserable.