“Tár”: Deconstruction of Genius


Source: Focus Features

Will Teare

Director: Todd Field

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant

Release Date: Oct. 28, 2022

Rating: 4.5/5 

I’ve seen a lot of movies, but nothing beats the feeling I get from movies like “Tár”. It’s not a feeling that comes from my mind or my heart. It lives in the soul. It’s one of those places only art can reach. When that feeling gets going, I just know. I know that for the next two hours, I’m in the hands of a master of the form. After a 15 long year hiatus from filmmaking, Todd Field is back with what’s easily one of the best films of the year. Its name is “Tár”.

“Tár” follows the fictional EGOT-winning composer Lydia Tár, as she navigates the complex world of classical music as the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her. 

This film is superbly made and exquisitely crafted from start to finish, but I was particularly enamored by its interpretation of time. In the staged interview that opens the film, Lydia talks about how conducting a piece and the required interpretation is all about how time flows. To Lydia, when the orchestra is playing, all time is under her control. Whether it flows, stops, or starts again is all tied to a wave of her hand. Not only are we unpacking how Lydia Tár views her art and how knowledgeable she is, but it’s also a statement on Todd Field’s direction. It’s his statement to the audience that he’s conscious of our perception of time as an audience.

Source: Focus Features

This movie is unafraid to show you a conversation for as long as Field wants. Field constantly plays with the momentum of your viewing experience with his placement of music and sounds. He’ll lull you into a trance of highbrow dialogue but hit you with striking visuals or auditory cues to puzzle, dazzle, and give you clues. I do mean clues because Todd Field is unyielding in his efforts to show you…nothing.

“Tár” isn’t just a drama, it’s also a bit of a mystery. The first half or so is dedicated to showing you the Lydia Tár, an auditory wizard with a most unprecedented career and a human being with boundless complexities. Cate Blanchett, like Todd Field, seems to be holding back in a calculated nature the true purpose of what’s at play. But then, it switches, and the full breadth of what the film is capable of arrives. The real film presents itself as we delve into cancel culture, the definition of genius, the worthiness of people on pedestals, and who was stepped over or trampled upon to get there. It’s about the true nature of the exceptional people at their craft and how they’re handled in the modern era. 

This was alluded to in my favorite scene of the year in the Julliard class scene near the beginning of the film. This scene is done entirely in one take as we watch Lydia teach a composing class at Juilliard with a student orchestra and a few prospective composers. Max, a student, conducts a piece he brought in to show the class. Lydia stops him midway to ask why he chose poorly in quality. At some point, he presents himself as a “BIPOC pangender” and labels that as part of the reason why he doesn’t like Bach which Lydia, for reasons you must decipher for yourself, begins to interrogate his value at Julliard and his worthiness as a future musician. She does this by playing Bach on the piano in multiple styles while simultaneously humiliating and monologuing with Max which causes him to leave the room. Lydia even mocks him on the way out. But the way Lydia calculates everything about him and uses it inappropriately to wage war against anyone in her way in a brute force intellectual style is constantly horrifying, jaw-dropping, and dangerous. You can’t take your eyes off Cate for a second of the film. As music is Lydia Tár’s domain, this film is Cate Blanchett’s. 

Source: Focus Features

Don’t ever mistake that for Cate being the only good part of the movie. Everything, from the camera work, sound design, and even the entire supporting cast seems to tip-toe and skirt around Lydia. Whether it be fear, intrigue, attraction, or something I still can’t figure out. Everyone and everything revolves around Lydia Tár…until it doesn’t.

So rarely do I feel in the palm of an actor’s hand for an entire runtime. Cate Blanchett is so immaculate in every expression that I felt constantly drawn to her every second. I was constantly digging for a piece of the puzzle that is Todd Field’s “Tár.” A puzzle that I’m dying to return to again and again for a very long time.