I Don’t Want the Raisinets: A Pursuit of Perfection
By Oliver Eisenbeis
To director Damien Chazelle, the opening sequence is the most critical moment of a movie and he uses it immediately to set the thesis statement of what’s to come. His electrifying 2014 music drama Whiplash begins with the sound of a single-stroke drum roll and a slow push in on our protagonist, Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller), seated at drum set. Chazelle describes this opener as equating the sound of the snare drum with warfare, speaking to the challenges of musicianship while establishing a tone of dread and menace that continues throughout the film (Scott). What follows is a fast, rhythmic montage of green-tinted establishing shots that convey the tone of New York City before dropping the audience off at a quiet, two-screen movie theater. Here we’re introduced to Andrew’s father, described in the screenplay as “mild-mannered, soft spoken, average in every respect,” with “the eyes of a former dreamer” (Chazelle). The brief interaction between Andrew and his father over popcorn introduces an equally important film theme: a son’s ambition to achieve what his father failed to achieve. By centering familial interactions around the sharing of food, Chazelle takes advantage of the notion that food brings people together and stresses the disconnect in his characters’ relationships and aspirations.
As Andrew Neimann sits down in the warmly lit movie theater, his father Jim (Paul Reiser) holds out the bucket of popcorn, into which Andrew shakes a box of Raisinets, a routine that both characters seem to perform often. While little is said between the two, it’s clear that Andrew is disappointed in his recent interaction with his band conductor, a man he both respects and fears. Throughout the conversational medium shot-reverse-shots, Jim tells his son that he has “plenty of options still” and that “when you get to be my age, you get perspective” (0:06:01). It’s clear that he doesn’t fully understand Andrew’s commitment to his art. As the lights dim and the movie starts, Andrew responds by saying “I don’t want perspective.” The light bouncing off the screen now lights up their faces in a cool blue light, emphasizing the tension. Andrew picks out a few pieces of popcorn, but ignores his father’s gesture to eat the chocolate-covered raisins. “I don’t want the Raisinets,” he murmurs. Offended by his son’s comment, Jim shakes his head and mutters, “I don’t understand you.” In a discreet exchange, the disconnect between father and son is initiated, visualized through the refusal of a simple father-son bonding tradition. As an audience, we understand that Andrew has no intention of pursuing an average, unexceptional life full of “perspective” like his father. At the same time, we also recognize the father’s struggle to remain active in his son’s interests.
A broader view of Andrew’s detached relationships is once more visualized over the consumption of shared food, this time at a family dinner. As his family eats meatloaf and drinks wine, we hear Andrew’s uncle criticize the food Jim Neimann has prepared. Aligned with Andrew’s perspective, we watch his father laugh off the insults, reinforcing his mild-mannered behavior. Quick cuts combined with sharp, aggressive dialogue turn the conversation into a verbal battle over who’s more impressive. Though Andrew stands up for himself and his role as the drummer for a world-class studio band, it’s clear that his family values his cousins’ concrete achievements in football and model UN, as well as his father’s unremarkable job as a high school teacher more than Andrew’s position as an aspiring musician. In fact, his family (including his father) knows practically nothing about his experiences at the conservatory, but show little interest in asking. This scene highlights a significant shift in Andrew’s view of personal relationships as he pushes away from his loved ones and focuses completely on his aspiration to become “the greatest musician of the twentieth century” (0:46:03). He intentionally isolates himself through dialogue and physically removes himself from the dinner table, signaling a departure from unnecessary familial relationships that only act to hold him back from his goals.
After being pushed to the brink of insanity in his passionate pursuit of greatness, Andrew gets expelled from the music conservatory. He’s emotionally and physically drained. In a somber pan from a stack of college applications to a small couch, we see Andrew once again watching a movie with his father while sharing popcorn. While there’s nothing said between father and son, the moment feels vastly different from the first. There are no Raisinets, no smiles, no affection. Andrew is visibly betrayed by his father and their relationship is beyond repair; the initial tone of dread and menace has turned to pain.
In a film centered on the pursuit of perfection, our protagonist isn’t shown taking a lot of breaks from his music to eat. When intimate moments of eating are shown, however, they’re always with a loved one, be it Andrew’s father or his girlfriend Nicole. Relying on the audience’s expectation of food sharing as a means to bring people together, Whiplash focuses on the characters’ differences when sharing food and uses those moments to distance the protagonist from everybody else.
Chazelle, Damien. Whiplash. Film Script, 2013. Sony Classics. 6 March, 2018. http://www.sonyclassics.com/awards-information/whiplash_screenplay.pdf
Scott, A. O. “Drill Sergeant in the Music Room.” The New York Times. 9 Oct, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/10/movies/in-whiplash-a-young-jazz-drummer-vs-his-teacher.html
Whiplash. Dir. Damien Chazelle. Perf. Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist. Sony Classics, 2014. DVD.