Writer and Director Todd Field’s Tar stars the mesmerizing Cate Blanchett as Berlin Symphony Orchestra Conductor Lydia Tar, who spirals in the sad karmic trainwreck that unfolds before us. Honestly, that couldn’t happen to a more deserving individual than Tar. Tar is by far one of the best movies of the year. That being said, Tar is not one of my favorite movies of the year. Just saying.
Cate Blanchett is powerful and authentically human as the grotesquely inauthentic human being who is Lydia Tar. Lydia is the renowned musical genius so steeped in the abyss of her own narcissism, you almost feel sorry for her. Almost. Cate is uncompromisingly bold in her performance as Lydia Tar. Lydia is the Conductor of the prestigious Berlin Symphony Orchestra. She is called Maestra, as opposed to Maestro, because she’s a woman. Although Lydia acknowledges that distinction in a TV interview at the beginning of Tar, that tragically wounds her.
Lydia achieved fame and power in the profession engulfed in sexism and misogyny, particularly manifested in the lives of its composers like Brahms, her favorite. Lydia came out as lesbian, married to her partner and musical director Nina, played by quietly strong Sharon Goodman. Together they raise their daughter Petra, played by sincere Mila Bogoivic. Yet, given all her accolades and achievements, Lydia still has something to prove. That she belongs. That she deserves to be loved. Just saying.
At lunch with her longtime friend Elliot, played by steady Mark Strong, she dismisses him. She says, “Don’t be a robot.” Lydia despises those who can’t make up their own minds. She constantly wants to control the narrative. She diminishes the Julliard student for his social awareness, saying the same thing. Lydia says, “You have to sublimate yourself.” Lydia isn’t a robot. She’s not very human. She’s a jerk.
As Lydia prepares to perform Mahler’s 5th Symphony with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the past comes back to haunt her. Her young protégé Krista Taylor, played by Sylvia Flote, died from suicide. Lydia had instructed her assistant Francesca, played by smart vulnerable Noe’mie Merlant, to destroy all email correspondence from Krista. Legal authorities suspect that Lydia had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the troubled Krista and order for her disposition. In synchronicity, Lydia is attracted to her new cellist, innocent and beautiful Olga, played by Sophie Kauer. Thomas Hardy said, “Character is fate.” Lydia’s character or lack of seals her fate.
Cate Blanchett is authentically human as the inauthentic inhumane narcissist Lydia. In the movie’s signature scene, Cate’s Lydia confronts her daughter Petra’s bully at her school. Lydia kneels down and talks to the 7-year-old girl. She stares into her eyes. She says, “I will get you.” There’s nothing good or human about Lydia.
Cate powerfully embodies sad inhumanity in Lydia, someone who possesses no redeeming quality, whatsoever. Classically beautiful Cate reflects Lydia strength as inflexible, as fragile. She looks so vibrantly strong in her boxing and running scenes that nuance her character.
Underneath Lydia’s diva posture, she can break and can fall. Can she get back up? Therein lies the sad, poetic tragedy of Tar. Don’t be a robot. Really, don’t be a jerk. That’s the human eloquence of Tar. Just saying.
Support The Good Men Project on Patreon to help us build a better, more inclusive world for all.
Photo credit: Shutterstock, modified