“You must, in fact, stand in front of the public and God, and obliterate yourself,” Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) exclaims at one point. For Tár, she has built her entire persona around erasing her identity, and pursuing her musical craft at no costs. And she has found much success in doing so. But what happens when the little cracks in her self-crafted, orderly world start to open, and her past starts to creep in at the seams — all at the expense of those around her?
Despite how authentic, realistic and well-researched the film feels, many viewers may be surprised to find out that Lydia Tár is not actually a real person: a testament to the staying power of the film as a whole. In depicting the undoing of one of the most distinguished and celebrated composers of all-time, Todd Field has returned to the director’s chair in masterful fashion. It’s been 16 years since 2006’s Little Children, and even longer since 2001’s In the Bedroom. A long, but welcome wait, for Field’s most complete vision — and best film — yet.
To talk about Tár is to talk about two-time Oscar winner Blanchett, who absolutely stuns, reminding us why she is truly one of the best actors of all-time. She is commanding and ferocious, demanding our attention at all times as a composer who sees herself as just short of, if not a god herself. Blanchett is also tender and quiet in the right moments, helping to make Tár feel like a real, complete person. Many consider her the front-runner to win Best Actress at the next Oscars, and this would not be a surprise in any way if she were to get her third trophy. However, it’s important to note that the supporting cast also does terrific work here. Particularly, Tár’s wife, Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), is brought to life beautifully by Hoss’s stunning performance, especially as she struggles with the betrayal of learning about Tár’s past. The relationships in Tár’s life complicate the narrative in all of the best ways.
One thing that people may struggle with in watching Tár is its long runtime of 158 minutes, and the cold, at times isolating nature of the pacing. Many scenes in the film, particularly in the first act, go on for a long time. While many films of its kind end up feeling pretentious, Field’s choices here are deliberate and effective, allowing us to see the full wrath of Tár’s highest successes and deepest downfalls. These choices also allow Field to fully explore Tár as a character, as well as situating the film firmly in the conversation about separating the artist and their art. We see Tár obsess over her fame (even editing her Wikipedia page in one scene), trying to cover up her mistakes by deleting emails, and the ways in which she manipulates the people around her in calculated, often subtle ways.
In one of the film’s most pivotal scenes, Tár is giving a guest lecture at Julliard. One of the students speaks out against always supporting the typical cis, white male composers that are held up in high-esteem. The very thought of an artist considering their own identity as a crucial part of their art challenges Tár’s privileged and elitist world view. Ironically enough, when the world finds out about Tár’s past and the person she really is, she expects that to not affect the way people view her art. And so Field’s brilliant commentary lands, brought perfectly to life by the sharp, at times darkly funny script.
By its shocking and unpredictable end, Tár’s legacy has been reduced to a mere punchline, the fate that she has been destined for all along. And as much as we can’t help it, we laugh at her. Maybe she’s in on the joke now, too.
Matt Minton is a Sophomore Writing for Film, TV and Emerging Media who was surprised to learn that this movie wasn’t in fact about re-paving roads with tar. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.