It has been days since I left the theater after watching “Tár,” and I have since written 10 different reviews in my head in hopes to gather my thoughts and make some sense of the experience. It has quite literally kept me up at night and woken me up before the sun in the morning. For the sake of getting it out of me (and my own sanity) into the ether, I am attempting to actually get those thoughts out into words. So, if this “Tár” review feels more like a stream of conscious than actual critical analysis, you at least know why. It is a film that is sure to stick with you regardless of its impression upon you. Even if you absolutely hated it and found it dull and inaccessible, you will feel compelled beyond reason to tell someone why. And not in a “it sucked bro, nothing happens” kind of way. This film demands discussion, and its unrelenting examination of themes and ideas resonate so deeply with its viewers it feels near impossible to not have some expression about the experience afterwards.
It is powered by Todd Field’s astounding immersion and world building, and another career best from Cate Blanchett, who somehow manages to reach a god tier performance level in a career already overflowing with award winning outings. What she does here is nothing short of awesome, and I mean that in the truest meaning of the word and not the watered down, overused, slap dashed adjective it’s become. Combined with Field’s near exhaustingly patient script that manages to move at the speed of light without ever feeling rushed or encumbered by limits, “Tár” is a familiar story executed in a wholly unique way. Field is purposefully ambiguous too, never committing to any one side or one belief but also being extremely clear about what he wants his audience to leave with. It is a very tricky thing to pull off; to be completely straight forward and direct while also remaining rather neutral and forcing your audience to decide for themselves, as each side of every story is given full weight and measure. From the very first scene, you immediately understand why it took Field 16 years to make this.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and I won’t keep you trapped in my own mind for the days that I have been. So let’s just start with “Tár” as it does itself, because Field is incredibly purposeful and gives you everything you need to know about what is going to happen. It is a blink and you miss it despite everything being elongated and unconcerned with the time it takes to express, but his misdirection of immersion and mesmerizing opening delivery from Blanchett serve as a distraction from Field, showing his whole hand within the first 30 minutes. It begins with the credits rolling backwards, with near inaudible rehearsal chatter heard in the background. It is enough to make you think the projectionist made a mistake, until it cuts to its first real scene with Blanchett standing in a hallway, anxiously awaiting something. A New Yorker interview opens things, in which Lydia Tár (Blanchett) is being honored and interviewed for her laundry list of achievements in music, being one of the world’s most renowned and accomplished conductors of her generation.
Her accolades are a Wikipedia page unto themselves, and once again Field proves very quickly that he has done his research. Immediately, we are drawn to Blanchett’s effortless magnetism. Every tick, gesture, shifting of the legs, and look are calculated and performative, with Tár instantly becoming the embodiment of every single high profiled celebrity or master of their craft. The interview is so visceral and real that you’re forced to remind yourself that Lydia Tár is NOT a real person. She is a fictional recreation of the powerful, artistic elite, and it sets the tone for the kind of world we will inhabit but also tells us everything we need to know about our main character. This interview also clues us in to the film itself, because not only is Blanchett dazzling and mesmerizing with her delivery, but the script is also delivering vital information about what Tár thinks of herself and how she enacts that self perception onto others.
This revelation is easily missed, but it is, in essence, what “Tár” is actually about. We see a musical prodigy who has conquered just about every single mountain and achievement one can as the world’s greatest conductor. As she prepares for the release of her new memoir “Tár on Tár,” as well as her upcoming engagement of recording a cherished symphony that will once again elevate her career, her patterns of toxic behavior and destructive wake comes back to haunt her, and threatens to destroy everything she’s built for herself. “Tár” in its most basic form is an Icarus story, an amalgamation of cancel culture and powerful people operating with impunity until it all falls down (pun intended, Kanye). Tár herself is instantly recognizable despite being a work of fiction, and Field has clearly watched countless, untouchable figures crumble under the weight of their own narcissism and their actions laid bare to deliver reckoning.
Yes, at its core, “Tár” is about cancel culture, the #MeToo movement, grooming, and sexual misconduct with dire consequences all committed or said to be committed by a cherished artist who looms like a god over the prestigious world of classical music. Were it executed with less precision or more decisive about where you should land on the issues, this film would feel regressive and cliche. But Field is as smart as his script and as complex as Blanchett’s performance, and the closest he ever comes to making a definitive statement is in the films second scene, in which we see Tár giving a guest lecture to students at Juilliard. Like the interview before it, Field uses the distraction of immersion and Blanchett’s mesmerizing delivery to hide what is actually happening here. He almost gives the game away, with Lydia (appalled that a student doesn’t like Bach because he was a misogynist) tells the class, “The narcissism of small differences leads to conformity.”
This one line is Fields’ temperature check of his audience. Where you fall with this statement and who you side with the most after it is uttered will determine how you view “Tár” and everyone in it from that point on. There’s no right or wrong answer, either. Field comes right up to the line of making a statement and then doubles down on ambiguity for the rest of the film. Everything that begins to contribute to Tár’s downfall happens off screen or through the lens of Tár herself, purposefully mudding the waters of the merits of accusations while also giving us glimpses of truth as we watch the way Lydia both conducts and conducts herself. “Tár” is about the unraveling of an artist at the height of their power, and begs us to ask ourselves can we, should we, separate the art from the artist? And if we do, what becomes of that art? What becomes of the artist, disgraced by their own ambition and relegated to their own personal hell after their misdeeds become too vast to explain away with PR spins? And you’re damn right, they most certainly try that. More than once, too.
There is so much that goes in to creating a character like Lydia Tár, ever more so to make her feel real and avoid the pitfalls of being a trope or solely fictionalized version of whoever comes to mind when you dwell about the themes and actions that surround them. “Tár” needs someone like Todd Field to inject his brilliance in filmmaking and storytelling to work, but more than what is happening behind the camera, it NEEDS someone like Cate Blanchett to really set itself into the masterpiece level of cinema. I said it before but it bares repeating: Blanchett is simply marvelous and enthralling, turning in a career best in a highlight reel of career bests. “Tár” is very much a slow burn, and remains steadfast in focusing on Tár herself for most if not all of the film. We almost never leave her perspective, even when other people’s actions around her have profound effects on her life. Blanchett commands the screen with imposing intrigue, and chews through monologue after monologue with precision and awe.
“Tár” is Blanchett’s world, and we are simply voyeurs watching a master of her craft channel a master of her craft with perfection. There will be no award list that she will be kept off of this year, and while there are still a few films set to enter the race to be released that will offer some contenders, don’t be shocked if Blanchett runs away with her third Oscar this year. This is a Blanchett showcase, and only she seems skilled enough to be up to the task, delivering a powerhouse performance that will be talked about for years to come. She is a revelation, a true tour de force, and comes as close to perfection as a performer can get. The rest of the cast is terrific as well, with each supporting cast member up to the task of fueling the Blanchett inferno and making themselves meaningful in their own right. It’s difficult to really highlight any one individual outside of Blanchett because the film is primarily concerned with its lead and interprets all of the surrounding characters through her lens. But as close to an ensemble as you can get in a largely solo film, every performance is terrific.
It *is* long and slow, with Field exacting patience and restraint with a seeming disregard for time itself (a theme that runs through the film itself too, so yes it’s long on purpose). There are a few scenes that probably could be left on the cutting room floor, some subplots that don’t always feel as impactful as others. Yes, this film also requires your full attention, you can’t scroll through Twitter while checking in from time to time to catch up. So seeing it in a theater is probably your best option of being able to get the full experience. As a final note, “Tár” is surprisingly funny, with Field injecting some biting wit in-between his rapid fire examination of the classical music world.
This is a lot of film, and is elevated by Field’s incredible script and direction as well as Blanchett’s commanding performance. Its length and density may make the film not accessible to everyone, but “Tár” is one of the best films of the year that should not be missed. There is enough real world art vs artist discussions to be had right now, and “Tár” asks to go deeper into how we wrestle with ambition, power, and how we want to define the creative works by the troubling creators we cherish. There’s no easy answer, and “Tár” is far more concerned with asking the questions than providing clarity of what we should do with the questions being asked.
“Tár” has as much ambition as its lead, but above everything it accomplishes it achieves its primary goal, which is simply: let’s give ’em something to talk about.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
“Tár” is playing in select theaters and in wide release Oct 28th. You can watch the trailer below.