Tar. A film about cancel culture – Chilly, psychologically charged

Lee Heidhues 1.6.2023

It’s almost time for Academy Awards season. A film sure to be considered for a number of Oscars is Tar.

Just watching the Trailer is enough to send me to the nearest theater.

Cate Blanchett leaves it all in the orchestra pit in a marvelous, edgy performance.

Excerpted from The New York Times – A.O. Scott 10.7.2022 and Michelle Goldberg 10.21.2022

Midway through the enthralling new film “Tár,” the heroine, a brilliant and imperious classical music conductor named Lydia Tár, is talking about the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer with her elderly former mentor.

“Schopenhauer measured a man’s intelligence against his sensitivity to noise,” her mentor says.

“Didn’t he once also throw a woman down a flight of stairs?” asks Tár.

“Yes,” he responds. “It was unclear that this private and personal failing was at all relevant to his work.”

This question — how to weigh a genius’s private and personal failings against her work — is at the center of “Tár.” It’s a movie about a woman, played by Cate Blanchett, who has built herself in the image of the great, arrogant male cultural titans of the 20th century, only to be undone by the less indulgent mores of the 21st century. In other words, it’s a film about cancel culture, making it the rare piece of art that looks squarely at this social phenomenon that has roiled so many of America’s meaning-making institutions.

We don’t care about Lydia Tár because she’s an artist; we care about her because she’s art.

Cate Blanchett – Lost in the woods of creation?

Early in “Tár” there is a shot of a Wikipedia entry being edited by unseen hands. Whose hands? That question will turn out to be relevant to the plot, but for the moment it is overwhelmed by the mystique of the page’s subject, who is also the protagonist of Todd Field’s cruelly elegant, elegantly cruel new film.

Her name is Lydia Tár, and in the world Field has imagined — one that exists at an oblique angle to our own — it’s a household name. She is introduced to us by the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, humbly playing himself as he interviews Lydia, regally played by Cate Blanchett, on a Manhattan stage. Gopnik’s introductory remarks provide a Wikipedia-style summary with a bit of Talk of the Town filigree, establishing that this is a person who surely needs no introduction.

Field, whose chilly, psychologically charged style evokes Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick — he had a small, memorable role in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” — records it all with ruthless detachment and fanatical control. He moves smoothly from dry backstage comedy to something like gothic horror. We can’t be sure if Lydia is the monster, the victim, or both.

It invites you to think hard about Lydia, about the meaning of her work and the consequences of her actions, about whether she is someone you should admire or revile, about whether artists should be judged by their work or by how they live their lives. In different contexts, Lydia herself argues both sides of that question, as many of us do, and to search the movie for a consistent argument is to miss the point and fall into a category error, misconstruing the extraordinary coup that Field and Blanchett have pulled off.