I have to admit I have struggled to figure out what to say about Tár, Todd Field’s 2022 hit, « Best Film of the year » according to the New York film Critics Circle and others, and of course one of the nominees for the upcoming oscars. It stars Cate Blanchett, who performs brillliantly as star conductor Lydia Tár, whose imperious (and, by some accounts, abusive) behavior dominates the movie and precipitates her eventual dramatic downfall. The film is susceptible of multiple interpretations. It can be seen as a reasoned attack on « cancel culture. » It can also be seen as a justified defense thereof. It can be seen as a critique of how contemporary identity politics and « cancel culture » can corrupt the arts, education, and human relationships. It can also be seen as illustrating how widespread abuses of power (to which contemporary identity politics and « cancel culture » are in part a reaction) can corrupt the arts, education, and human relationships. The fact that the film is simultaneously susceptible of such contradictory interpretations highlights both the film’s complexity and the real-world complexity of those issues and perhaps provides a vehicle for reflecting upon them further. Meanwhile, while some see Lydia Tár’s triumphant career careening to a deserved (or, at least, predictable) collapse, others see a confusing mix of real and imaginary sequences, which leave her final fate uncertain.
Without wading into the « cancel culture » quagmire, I think it fair to say that the film portrays the Berlin Philharmonic’s star conductor Lydia Tár (born plain Linda Tarr from Staten Island) as a human disaster – not, perhaps, unlike many others who hold positions of comparable power. She is married to Sharon, who is also the orchestra’s First Violin, and she depends upon and tyrannizes her personal assistant, Francesca. It is implied that she has groomed other young aspiring musicians in the past, a pattern apparently being repeated in real time with a new, young cellist, Olga. Unsurprisingly, her behavior seems to be recognized as such by those around her – and apparently tolerated by them all, at least as long as they have to. Meanwhile, one of her previous targets, Krista, has been blacklisted by her after their relationship went wrong, and Krista’s suicide seems to become the event that triggers a professional reckoning, accompanied by all sorts of strange sensitivities to sound, nightmares, and bouts of pain.
A lot is left implied that in reality would need to be cleared up. What exactly happened between Tár and Krista is hardly established beyond doubt. As is often the case, we are in the realm of suspicion and allegation, although there is certainly evidence of Tár’s susceptibility to particularly poor judgment in such matters (poor judgment presumably exacerbated by her apparent power to get away with it). On the other hand, Tár’s ultimate response to all this seems somewhat out of character (at least as her character has been portrayed thus far in the film). Indeed, her behavior becomes bizarre beyond belief – assuming, of course, that we are still in the realm of real behavior and not fantasy. What exactly are we supposed to think about this remains itself mysterious.