Tár: Todd Field’s Dense, Immaculately Cold Masterwork

Brendan Collins ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In a film already defined by its choice of aesthetics and visual storytelling, one of Tár’s boldest statements comes less than five minutes in. After a single prolonged shot, audiences are treated to a full opening credits sequence– in reverse. PAs, set and technical crew all populate the slow, several minute sequence that leads up to Todd Field’s director credit. Soon after, as the past exploits of the title character are summarized, we see the lengthy process it took for craftsmen and organizers to prepare the venue, tailor her suit, and perfect her image. This juxtaposition briefly indicates one of the first underlying themes the film has in tow – the maddening work put in by a swarm of individuals only to lose credibility under a figurehead. It’s no coincidence, then, that the opening sequence was framed as it was.

Tár, among other things, is defined by its themes of power and control. Renowned conductor and composer Lydia Tár (played by Cate Blanchett in mesmerizing brilliance) finds herself constantly in a state of control over her audience; a one-on-one interview for The New Yorker, instructing a class at Juilliard, and the very orchestra she finds herself directing in several rehearsals. One can only assume that Lydia, who fawns over the works and meanings of her influences– Bernstein, Mahler, and others– is a luminary not only in her accomplishments but also in her social standing and passion for other artists. Eventually, you notice a break– a quick cutoff of her interviewer, an unknowingly insensitive quip– and before long these almost innocuous transgressions begin to add up. Before long, the past catches up.

At over 150 minutes, the film is not an easy watch, to be fair. The film takes its time to marinate with the character, leading to scenes that may not seem fully relevant even after completion. Several scenes of purposefully pretentious  dialogue between Lydia and one of her many colleagues hinge on references to other composers, works, and niche themes audiences may not fully understand. Even without these flaws, it’s hard not to get enveloped in the sheer grandeur of the film’s scope. As the film jumps between the many shades of Lydia’s life – her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, the process of her latest symphony recording– the veil between personal and public personas begin to slowly drip away.

Without Blanchette much of this wouldn’t be as achievable and certainly not as effective. Blanchett commits to every moment, both explosive outbursts and somber reflections, and only seems to show the deep sense of trust between the actress and Field as a director. It defines the film, so much so that many may come away convinced that it is merely another musician biopic, rather than its true form as parable.

This isn’t to say that Blanchett remains the only highlight. Nina Hoss, portraying Lydia’s wife Sharon, constantly finds herself as an acute foil to her counterpart, bringing the larger than life personality back down to earth to focus on their true priorities (most importantly, of course, their daughter). Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant, as assistant Francesca, seems dedicated and amenable towards Lydia’s whims until opportunities present themselves. As the two closest people in her life, they both find themselves at the forefront of Tár’s internal divide. 

If anything, the only true remaining character is Todd Field’s direction itself. Each shot feels deeply premeditated in its execution, slowly unfurling a cool sense of dread over its audience while rooms, cities, entire countries change. The bleakness of apartment interiors and offices is matched by the lavish and sensory moments in the performance hall. Take in the immaculate use of sound, both music and natural. Feel the richly detailed locations that seem to not only breathe character and claustrophobia, but scream it with full force. Even after a decade and a half away from the camera, Field is able to portray a haunting and deeply mature look at this life as our character finds themselves slowly falling out of both the public eye, and as their own identity seems to crumble before them with each passing minute.

It’s easy to dismiss Tár as nothing more than a film about “cancel culture;” worse yet, to some, that it strictly sympathizes with those affected as victims of some inevitable force. I frankly find conclusions regarding the film’s intentions misguided. While the film strings along these moments of Lydia’s circumstances at work, at home, at her study, rarely does any scene go by without a moment of flawed morality. Engulfed within her own hubris, Lydia repeatedly fails to conceptualize the modern need to combine both one’s public persona and private life. These two sides continue to create rigid friction across the runtime, plunging herself deeper into fate as her feelings begin to invade her professional life. Even as Lydia falls, we see her colleagues, no more just in their actions than herself, play coy to her grievances as they continue to perpetuate a culture no better than she acted upon. Their sympathies, then, are simply a means to an end. It’s certainly more nuanced than most would anticipate, but the wide variety of visual details and quick asides seem made for post-viewing discussion on the way out of the theater and back home.

Despite its minor pacing flaws and seemingly niche subtext,  Tár remains undeterred by what could have been massive obstacles and proves triumphant as it slowly blossoms into a dark, unforgiving, and insurmountable trial for its title character. Even after a year full of memorable and daring films, it stands alone as a coldness that slowly metastasizes as it continues, only further burrowing under the skin of its audience until they are left with questions even days later, and cementing Lydia as the pinnacle of Blanchette’s already established and celebrated career.

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