By Ben Thomson, Staff Writer
TÁR follows the world renowned, EGOT winning, self-proclaimed “U-Haul lesbian” genius composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) — a woman of such magnitude that the film introduces us to her twice.
First, she is introduced through the lens of social media: a livestream text chat recording her as she sleeps. It deconstructs her person, her myth.
Second, she is introduced through the lens of traditional media: a live symposium with New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik singing her praises and allowing her a chance to speak on her process and reminisce about her time mentoring under Leonard Bernstein. What defines her most, genius or hubris?
Todd Field, the film’s director and writer, drowns you in this dichotomy but has no interest in advocating for either. He often places Blanchett in front of a mirror, allowing us to literally see two Lydias in frame. Since the character is in (with one or two exceptions) every scene of the film, our picture of Lydia Tár is a complete one.
You’re in love with her highest. You detest her lowest. You struggle to define her as one thing. In fact, while speaking to the Director’s Guild of America, Field admitted that he bounced between loving and hating his creation depending on the day.
TÁR may be the brainchild of Field, but Tár is nothing without Cate Blanchett. Lydia works onscreen because she is a creation in real life and within the world of the film.
Blanchett’s attention to detail is most certainly the reason many film goers assumed this film was a biopic. Her presence is electric. Her charm is magnetic. Blanchett slides into Lydia’s sockless loafers with such grace, such ease. One can easily forget that this is a performance.
With this character, Blanchett finds herself in the lineage of the great tour de force performances in American film. Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Cate Blanchett in TÁR. And much like those characters, we’re not entirely sure how we feel about her.
Many critics have hailed TÁR as the first great film about cancel culture, though I feel that cheapens the film’s appeal. If it isn’t clear by now, the film is about the myth and truth of Lydia. Field’s fascinations lie in the concept of real time re-examination.
Make no mistake, Lydia Tár is a genius. But we watch said genius exert her power for her own gain. At one point, Lydia threatens a six-year-old girl for bullying her own child, saying, “If you tell an adult, nobody will believe you.”
In one scene, Lydia picks an intellectual fight with Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist), a BIPOC, pangendered individual who refuses to engage with “misogynist” Bach. In no uncertain terms, Lydia wins the debate. Bach’s identity, scandalous as it may be, has nothing to do with his talent or influence.
To truly engage with your art and the history behind it, one must lose themself in its process. As Lydia puts it, “You must in fact stand in front of the public and God and obliterate yourself.” The sentiment may ring true, but it’s hard to ignore the advantage Lydia holds over Max, who barely gets a word in while their hero destroys them in front of a class of their peers. She didn’t teach Max anything.
Lydia’s genius comes from her ability to subjugate herself to her art, even if it means destroying others to do so.