“You cannot start without me, I am the clock. However, unlike a clock, my second-hand stops, which means time stops.”
From director-writer-producer Todd Field comes Tár, starring Cate Blanchett as iconic musician, Lydia Tár. The film examines the changing nature of power, its impact and durability in our modern world. It’s hard to really believe that this piece of work isn’t a biopic when it feels like you are a fly on the wall to Lydia’s story. Most films released after the “he who shall not be named” pandemic haven’t recognised it as a fundamental part and tipping point in our lives but as we are all aware, the pandemic stripped us all of our freedom but it robbed composers of their instruments: their orchestra.
If you manage to make it through the deliberately placed opening credits, you’ll know or find out that, unlike most thrillers, Tár takes you on an exploration of the mind and a deep dive into passion and dominance together with witnessing someone carelessly abusing their power for personal gain. The script is a slow-burning symphony and requires a lot of patience, as we are drip-fed details of a complex artist and character. As an audience, we watch Tár build like an intricate house of cards, slowly being stacked before the film knocks it down with a unique twist and tragic finale. Cracking, thunderbolts, lighting, Lydia Tár is many things in front of her orchestra.
It’s hard to find common ground or any likeability towards Lydia throughout this film as we find she’s accused of sexual allegations with previous mentees, and we begin to watch the transformative role and unravelling of an admired composer. Intertwined with her genius is an outrageous, delirious, manipulative composer who experiences hallucinations as she tackles guilt, parenthood and lust at work.
An important act or the crescendo, so to speak, which sparked conversation after Tár was released, was the Julliard scene when Lydia is verbally attacking her student. Within that scene, there are two generations talking at each other and that caused a stir in modern conversation albeit initially being an internal dialogue between present-day Tár and her younger self. In this scene you start to question who this character really is, Is she the villain or the victim? Unlike most psychological dramas, this one sits on the fence of woke and cancel culture, a new and modern way of storytelling as we explore the trappings of some version of a present-day classroom but we are also so deeply embedded in Lydia Tár’s psyche that nearly everything that appears onscreen is up for debate, so what really is going on?
The script is a slow-burning symphony and requires a lot of patience, as we are drip-fed details of a complex artist and character.
In most scenes, it feels as if you are truly living in her head and mind, as we watch the painful, spiralling quickly out-of-control demise that takes Lydia from being a well-revered musician about to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, the performance that would be the capstone to her career, to a bittersweet ending where she is instead conducting video-game music for a convention full of cosplayers.
The final panning across a sea of costumes in the last scene is the real kicker and where most audiences are settling into the sickening rock bottom of Lydia Tár or where we are questioning the comic value of Todd Field’s work or better yet, whether what we have just witnessed is all happening in Lydia’s mind. The film is a myriad of themes, layers, and mysteries and new focuses arise with each watch. It’s undeniable that “women” are a huge focus of this film, with Tár being the first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, the rarity of both the conductor and the concertmaster to be women, their adopted daughter Petra who becomes an integral emotional support for her struggling mother, as well as Lydia’s questionable relationships with other females through the film.
Ultimately, Tár has split its audience into halves, quarters and thirds. We’ve all walked away from this performance with more questions than we did before seeing it, but it was intentional that any conclusions that were drawn are left with us. I’ve squared the Internet for answers to this maze (a nod to the five years Lydia spent in Peru studying the Shipibo-Conibo culture as a musicologist) like the film Enigma, “What does this mean?” and “What did that mean?” But that’s a“sort of the exercise” as Todd Field says himself. “What do you make of her based on the time that you spend with her? And whatever that is, that is kind of the point of the film”