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Focus Features, 2022


Todd Field

Reading Time:

5 minutes

TarPath of Purpose (VYUSTXBC8OSI6KES)
00:00 / 05:54

📷 : Used with permission, Edgar Ascensão



Image of movie's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog


Image of movie's tea brew

Nonfamily dramas with strong adult and/or socioeconomic themes

Chris Chaisson


Tár takes us on a two-and-a-half-hour trek through the life and routines of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine), an uber-accomplished classical music conductor leading the Berlin Orchestra. Ahead of her crown jewel, a live recording of Mahler V, her transgressions regarding inappropriate relationships come under a microscope. Once feeling invincible, Lydia now feels the walls closing in on her, leading her to engage in desperate and unhinged behavior.

The subjects Tár broaches constitute the most pervasive questions surrounding pop culture figures today. A common debate on social media and amongst news outlets is whether or not fans can separate art from the artist in light of misbehavior. Furthermore, should any support for said artist be erased? Tár breaks the mold by choosing a female conductor in the male-dominated industry of classical music as its figurehead. This representation differs from the pop artists, A-list actors and politicians that we are used to seeing at the forefront of this discourse. Lydia has defied the odds in reaching the heights she has reached, which, in theory, makes her easy to root for. In reality, she abuses her power and harms others in the process. Indeed, the film puts the audience in conflict early by showcasing her character flaw in the first act.

A noteworthy scene occurs when Lydia teaches a conducting class at Julliard, a performing arts conservatory in New York City. A student identifying as BIPOC pangender (Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color) voices his disapproval of J.S. Bach’s work on the basis of his sordid personal life. Lydia rolls her eyes at the notion, then entertains the student’s moral code and teases it out over a series of monologues. She brings up examples of Bach’s contemporaries having equal or even more egregious misdeeds. While many college professors employ this tactic to facilitate healthy debate, Lydia’s aim is to delegitimize the student’s stance and bully him. He feels humiliated to such a degree that he gathers his things and storms out, which Lydia finds amusing rather than disappointing. The scene reveals her cruelty, as well as her point of view that accomplished artists should not be subject to moral scrutiny. Ultimately, in addition to presenting a hot-button issue, the debate occurring so early in the film serves as foreshadowing for the rest of the movie.

The opinions Lydia expresses in the scene go hand-in-hand with the behavior she exhibits moving forward. She feels above reproach, and when her livelihood begins to slip away from her, she refuses to accept accountability. Rather, she lashes out and abuses her power in other ways. In the end, her attitude leaves her with no support system and no one coming to her defense. 

Lydia does not reserve her dismissive attitude for strangers or students. Francesca (Noémie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Lydia’s assistant, feels the sting of being overlooked as well. Despite being in an apprenticeship role, Lydia passes her over for someone else when the opportunity for a new role presents itself. Rather than nurture her relationships with Francesca and her girlfriend Sharon (Nina Hoss, Phoenix), she views every encounter as transactional or a favor on her behalf to others. 

Critics and podcasters refer to Tár as a character study. I would propose that it is just as much an audience study. While some of Lydia’s behavior is unconscionable, the background characters in the film participate in the same invasion of privacy and misrepresentation that we witness in our everyday lives. The film opens with a phone aimed at a sleeping Lydia while the holder, out of frame, texts someone to poke fun at her. Though the owner of the phone clearly knows Lydia, she is nonetheless broadcasting her in her sleep. This violation of someone’s privacy has become so normalized that most viewers probably will not think twice about it. Later in the film, her confrontation with the Julliard student is edited out of context and published online to make her look as bad as possible. It serves as another moment of her existence being filmed without her knowledge, leading you to wonder how regularly this is happening not only to her, but real-life celebrities, and maybe even ourselves. As we see with modern celebrities, the video serves as a piling-on moment during which no one questions the morality of obtaining such footage. Instead people partake in the criticism.

Despite the film’s fixation on Lydia, putting her in every scene, Tár provides the audience with plenty of perspectives from which to view the story. Between the background characters, the significant others in her social circle, and the governing bodies that seek to hold her to account, anyone watching the film can pay attention to and empathize with different viewpoints. 

Tár is similar to TheWolf of Wall Street, even though the two movies have entirely different styles of storytelling. Like Lydia, Jordan Belfort (the lead character played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is highly skilled, ambitious and successful. Nonetheless, he feels insulated from consequences and emotionally distant, until the people he has mistreated partake in his downfall. While one is far more vulgar and bombastic than the other, The Wolf of Wall Street and Tár tackle the same questions about mythologizing public figures.

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