Tár Crescendos to the Top of the Year

“The narcissism of small differences leads to the most boring kind of conformity.”

Filmmaker Todd Field’s previous masterpieces in In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006) invite the viewer behind the closed doors of a darker American suburbia where secrets fester and unethical decisions are made. On the surface, we may be quick to judge his characters so swaddled in fear and resentment, but deep down, we come to realize they are really just little children, hiding in the bedroom.

Now, Field takes us on a fictional character journey so complex and monumental to scale, it is impossible to think none of it is real.

World renowned composer-conductor and first-ever female director of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Lydia Tár, does not exist, but her story embodies the classical music industry to a believable tee—virtuosic and cutthroat. Bureaucratic favoritism unfairly influences solo audition outcomes, director rotations are manipulated, and tenured positions are constantly threatened by up and coming young talent. Plucking the strings of the entire orchestral system is Lydia, who trailblazed her role among the canons of old white males and 150 years of dusty legacy.

From a distance, Lydia Tár is a celebrated woman of power, but in the palm of our hands, she is a product of a social media-saturated world where it is far easier to envy than celebrate. Todd Field’s magnum opus analyzes the vulnerability that accompanies one’s power and the power of the bystanders who can cancel a life by tapping a screen. The tempo is adagio, but the crescendo to the apex at the 2-hour point is epic and transformative—the first moment in this year’s repertoire in which a movie has moved so much.

Rehearsing Gustav Mahler’s 5th and its various interpretations of tempo, context, and emotional impact.

“Tour de force” is too frequent a descriptor for a cinematic performance of this magnitude. Cate Blanchett’s Lydia Tár is more a seismic phoenix that doesn’t just attack when cornered but bursts into flame, incinerating every pupil, career, and ash of self-respect along with her.

A study of cancel culture has also been too frequent a descriptor of this movie. Tár is about hubris, one of the many temptations offered by the wonders of music. Those who succumb end up on the podium with a baton while the humble remain second chair. One cannot blame Lydia Tár for her audacity and willpower, and one can only empathize if seasoned with a similar life path. For those who cannot relate, the choice is to forgive, forget, or shun. Regardless, the music will live on and far outlast the flawed human. And, oh how beautiful that music can be…

As a high school music teacher, I am very picky and biased when it comes to postmodern music culture movies like this one, and I have to say that Tár knows how to speak scholarly music. Alongside acting and directing, Todd Field is an experienced musician who understands the allure of such an historic, pretentious, and miraculous art form.

Cate Blanchett’s guaranteed Oscar nod performance is a reason to see this movie. Todd Field’s ability to flip the perspective of the composer’s music to the music’s composer is another.

***** out of *****

15 thoughts on “Tár Crescendos to the Top of the Year

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  1. Your header image is truly spectacular. 😀 … really looking forward to this one. 🙂 … the first time I saw Cate was in Paradise Road. I thin I’ve managed to see everything she’s been in since then. 🙂

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    1. Isn’t Cate amazing? CAROL is still my favorite of hers, but I still recall BLUE JASMINE the most. Wait until you see her with a baton in her right hand and a fist in the other! She’s spectacular! Happy Halloween 😉

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    1. Even if you’re not a classical music fan or buff, this movie sends you deep inside its secrets, deceptions, and achievements. It’s an art form, so it doesn’t get any more personal!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just looked for where they are showing it here. And I couldn’t find its distribution any where. I’m a huge fan of Cate and as you mentioned Classical music so I will be on the look-out. I hope it’s released shortly. The impact of the movie on you also impacted me in my desire to see it, since you know your stuff! Thanks again.

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    1. I was the only one in the theatre, and although it’s a remarkable indie with some AMC distribution, I don’t think it will do well in the mainstream. It has pretentious written all over it, but, ironically, that’s exactly the point with this one. My fave of the year so far. I still think about it constantly…

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  2. Beautifully written review of a great movie. Cate Blanchett’s performance, captured by the camera work of genius, will live forever in my head as you describe it, “seismic phoenix that doesn’t just attack when cornered but bursts into flame, incinerating every pupil, career, and ash of self-respect along with her.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Patricia, and I’m glad you liked it too. I can’t stop thinking about it, and although it’s long, I never felt it drag. Blanchett’s Lydia is too real and empathetic and repelling at the same time…

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