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Cate Blanchett presents fascinating portrait of tainted subject in ‘Tár’

Film delivers compelling realism in tale of composer’s downfall

<p>The film does an excellent job at keeping the optimal distance between the viewer and character – close enough to provide viewers with a complex sense of her psychology, but not too close as to cloud their perceptions of her.</p><p>Courtesy of Universal Pictures UK</p>

The film does an excellent job at keeping the optimal distance between the viewer and character – close enough to provide viewers with a complex sense of her psychology, but not too close as to cloud their perceptions of her.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures UK

“Tár,” nominated for six Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards, is, on paper, not the easiest film to like. Its titular character is far from a likable protagonist, and the arc of the film basks in her detestability. Yet despite all of this, “Tár” is a movie that deserves all of the praise it has received. Underneath a dark and sinister theme is a masterfully crafted narrative with strange moments of levity that propel the film forward. It’s a three-hour look into a twisted world of power and desire that lets you witness its discomfort firsthand. 

Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a giant in the contemporary classical music scene. She is the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and an EGOT recipient — she has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. We first meet her in front of a packed audience as she is interviewed by The New Yorker to discuss two upcoming projects in her life: a live album version of Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 5” and a book entitled “Tár on Tár.” 

This first scene takes its time and isn’t eager to get the film going at a peppy pace. The audience is granted this interview essentially in its entirety with very few cuts, and from it, you get everything you need to know about this character and the gravity of her eventual decline. She’s shown as a clear genius, and the writing of this scene, combined with the performance of Blanchett, feels so real that you’ll have to remind yourself that Lydia Tár does not exist in the real world. 

Following this interview, Tár’s world opens up to the audience. She is soon giving a guest lecture at Juilliard where a student says that, on principle, he doesn’t listen to white male composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. This statement offends Tár to her very core and she lays into the student as a result, introducing one key element of Tár’s character: She has her way of the world, and she will hear no challenges to it.


This attitude comes to the forefront when the movie switches to follow Tár’s home life in Berlin. Her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), concertmaster of the symphony, is ostensibly the maintainer of order in Tár’s life, but undertones of Tár’s manipulation extends into their relationship. Tár also holds the same authoritative thumb over her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), whom she drags along everywhere but never seems to respect much. Tár’s most sinister intentions are revealed upon the arrival of Olga (Sophi Kauer), a young and beautiful prospective cellist who becomes a new object of Tár’s infatuation. A vicious cycle within Tár’s professional life, while not fully revealed, is heavily implied in these interactions with Olga — until it ultimately reaches a boiling point. 

Tár’s past actions and behaviors begin to catch up with her on her book tour, and the more she tries to bury her past, the more it comes to light. Having her back against the wall reveals Tár’s truest colors, and the more you hate her, the more engrossed you become in her story. The film does an excellent job at keeping the optimal distance between the viewer and the character: You’re close enough to get a complex sense of Tár’s entire psychology, but not so close that it clouds your judgment when forming your perception of her. 

And the movie finds the perfect tone to handle these complex psychological aspects of the character. “Tár” is both making fun of Tár herself — as the film carefully deconstructs her self-righteousness and toxic history without trivializing it — and the audience for eating up her “genius” without giving it much critical thought. The film’s self-awareness makes moments work as  subtle dark comedy without taking away from the drama “Tár” carefully creates.

“Tár” works because it presents a character who is such a compelling lead — not because you like her, but because you want to study the reasons you hate her so thoroughly. The film sets up Tár as a character who commands respect, and its path to make the audience lose all of that respect is nothing short of masterful. Writer and director Todd Field crafts a character with such complexity in a world that feels so real that, despite the film’s characteristic discomfort, it enthralls the viewer completely nonetheless.


Finn Kirkpatrick

Finn Kirkpatrick is the senior editor of multimedia of the Brown Daily Herald's 134th editorial board. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies. He was previously an Arts & Culture editor and has a passion for Tetris and Mario Kart.


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