- Directed by: Todd Field
- Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant
- Drama | R | 2 hr 38 min
- In Theaters
By Reed Ripley
Modern human history is dotted with the ‘Great Person;’ someone who rises on strength of will, skill, or cult of personality, for better or worse. Tár brilliantly grapples with that notion, bolstered in no small part with an iconic performance from one of our greatest living actors.
It’s impossible to start with anything other than Cate Blanchett’s performance, which is an absolute masterclass. Blanchett plays the titular Lydia Tár, a figure considered one of the greatest modern composer-conductors and the first woman to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. The film starts with a matter-of-fact rundown of Tár’s illustrious career (portrayed through a wonderfully meta–New Yorker Festival talk with Adam Gopnik), but as things move along, her carefully crafted façade is revealed to be just that.
The brilliance of Blanchett in this film is her portrayal of how entrancing, and yet how inherently flawed, “great” people can be. It’s an open question of whether Tár is truly a great conductor or simply very good, but, but undoubtedly, she’s convinced everyone around of her greatness, thanks largely to a striking presence that transcends physicality and charm. Truly, she’s convinced herself of her greatness, too, and it’s clear she views herself as untouchable, even when incredibly toxic actions from her past begin to haunt and metastasize.
Tár is so far within her own hero story that she believes her carelessly wielded power can’t affect those around her negatively, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary for those who care to look. When that evidence turns from a trickle to a tsunami, Tár unravels right alongside her public image, all on full display through Blanchett.
For those with imposter syndrome, Tár is somewhat of a comfort. If someone like Tár, a world-renowned voice on Western classical music, is revealed not necessarily as a fraud, but as someone whose “greatness” is easily replaced once the blinders fall off those around her, then there’s hope for everyone who feels like they don’t belong in a place of success. Yet there’s a deeply unsettlingly flipside to that; if greatness isn’t as meritorious and rare as it seems, then dangerous people who feign skill and charm can end up in powerful positions behind a forcefield of exceptionalism.
There’s something else at play, too, beyond a deconstruction of the ‘Great Person’ myth. One of my favorite themes in film is the pursuit, and inevitable cost, of true perfection (think Whiplash, The Prestige, Black Swan). Tár is certainly that, but it flips that theme in fascinating ways. Usually, that story is framed as a tragedy, where an unmitigated desire for perfection eventually leads an inherently likable protagonist down a dark and destructive path. Tár does the same thing, but rooting for its protagonist is a much more complicated proposition. Despite Tár’s unquestionably terrible acts and woman-behind-the-curtain routine, the film often takes a sympathetic framing. That’s hard to swallow, but it puts the audience in the same position as those around Tár who ignored obvious signs of rot for the easier narrative put before them.
Unfortunately, Tár’s unabashed weightiness and lengthy runtime will likely keep many people from seeing it in theaters, but it should eventually take its rightful place as one of the best films of this early decade. Is every Great Person a Lydia Tár, hiding rampant toxicity in plain sight through beguiling sleight of hand? No, but maybe we should ask more often.
Reed Ripley is a local attorney with a flare for reviewing movies. You can find more of his reviews at Ripleysreviews.com