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Cate Blanchett's Cancel-Culture Drama TÁR Conducts Itself with Moody Depth

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Cate Blanchett's Cancel-Culture Drama <I>TÁR</i> Conducts Itself with Moody Depth

Lydia Tár’s fabled career can be summed up in one four-letter word: EGOT. The all-consuming subject of writer-producer-director Todd Field’s TÁR joins rank with Tracy Jordan as one of the only fictional forces of gravity to pull it off. A career composer, Tár (Cate Blanchett) climbed the ranks from prestigious orchestra to more prestigious orchestra until she mounted the top of the totem. A titan of the medium, a la Leonard Bernstein (her mentor), she’s managed to usurp critique through sheer contribution, an untouchable virtuoso. But power is fleeting.

Once a symbol of modernity, a harbinger of artistic progress breaking ground for women conductors, now she breathes smoke. She doesn’t see it, but everyone else can—uncritical, exploitative, out of touch, legendary debris from an imploding generation hellbent on teaching a lesson. She’s come full circle in her philosophies by the time we meet her in her 50s.

Tár is so assured in her existential and artistic convictions that she comes across more like a stubborn—if not well-worded and professionally exhausted—child, embodying the egotistical with a cult-like attention to self. Ironically, she sees herself as a purveyor of ego death, unaware of the ways in which she stiffarms new thought and forces a particular philosophical tradition down her students’ and players’ throats.

Tár finds solace in the great philosophers of art and theoreticians of music she so often quotes. What she preaches isn’t bad or wrong, but the way she wields it is bastardized, dismissive and ultimately dehumanizing. She sublimates ego and identity so fully in her work that it’s bled into her everyday life, where she can’t see the humanity in the people around her. The only ones she can stand to talk to are the few that exceed her merit through age alone, from whom she seeks wisdom despite most being just as, if not more, detached than she is.

There’s a history of despicable behavior behind the master’s curtains, something she’s fully aware of and actively hiding from behind her work. Field teases out the stark reality of Tár’s tendency to groom young women composers and leave them in the dust with a measured approach—through reserved interactions with her wife and first chair violin, Sharon (Nina Hoss), veiled conversations with her assistant and aspiring composer, Francesca Lentini (Noémie Merlant) and a silhouette of one of Tár’s victims haunting her from a distance, a literal looming threat—a ticking time bomb.

On a scale from The Assistant to TMZ, TÁR is as much the former as a Hollywood-made cancel-culture narrative can be. Most of the film snails along with a still yet compelling subtlety, hovering in the consequential despair of actions past, the spaces in between. The dry, tense tone is interrupted every so often by the discordant tuning of an orchestra, or an explosive performance at the conductor’s podium in Berlin, or a rare crumb of confession, until the mood suddenly shifts from slow spiral to imminent plane crash and the drama sets in.

The “what” of Lydia Tár’s story isn’t important, but the “why” and the “how.” Why does power breed apathy and ignorance? How has the ever-changing nature of influence taken root in the modern world? How do we hold complex situations in balance? Plot is abstracted to focus on Tár’s mental and emotional logic. We’re made to see from her perspective, that of someone ignoring and rejecting their accusations with a shameless sense of moral ambiguity. In doing so, Field creates a creeping sense of cancellation from the inside, an indictment of the damned that won’t budge an inch (and not without some scorn for the whims of cancel culture baked in). For as tyrannical, ruthless and selfish as its subject can be, TÁR isn’t so shallow as to suggest simple solutions outside of the obvious.

Field’s first film in 16 years lands with a thud. Not a crack, or a bang, or a boom, but a lead-heavy thud—the kind that shakes the earth after the toppling of a giant, slow-falling tree, one that takes two hours and 38 minutes to hit the ground. If we measured the maestro’s intelligence the way Schopenhauer did, by one’s “sensitivity to noise,” she’s all but illiterate at this point, incapable of sitting down at the piano without looking over her shoulder or going for a run in fear of her own footsteps. We witness it in slow motion with rapt attention, always out of the loop, Tár’s every move taking on more severity, more self-assurance, more insecurity, until it can’t.

Director: Todd Field
Writer: Todd Field
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong
Release Date: October 7, 2022


Luke Hicks is a New York City film journalist and arts enthusiast by way of Austin, TX. He got his master’s studying film philosophy and ethics at Duke and thinks every occasion should include one of the following: whiskey, coffee, gin, tea, beer, or olives. Love or lambast him on Twitter @lou_kicks.

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