‘Tár’ Review: Cate Blanchett Stars in #MeToo Masterpiece

Cate Blanchett in Tar, Focus Features
Focus Features

If sanity ever returns to the American culture, writer/director Todd Field’s brilliant and hypnotizing Tár will be remembered as the only honest document of the disgraceful Woke Era.

Tár is how you intelligently explore a social issue.

Tár is how you create a character rather than a symbol.

Tár is one of the best movies of this new century.

When we meet Lydia Tár (Blanchett), she’s conquered everything she set out to conquer. She thrives at the top of her profession and has blazed a path for other women. She’s breathtakingly wealthy, has a family, and her book will soon be published with much fanfare. Above all, she’s about to cap her career with a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Lydia Tár is a walking triumph to one woman’s hard work, perseverance, nerve, talent, charisma, and intelligence. And the more we learn of her hardscrabble background, the more we respect her achievements and shake our heads at her phoniness.

For the first hour or so, I was as lost (in a good way) as I was absorbed. The world inhabited by our protagonist, the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, is as foreign to me as Venus. As Lydia goes about living her life, one reference after another flew over my head. This subculture’s jargon, priorities, and politics are foreign and fascinating. Who knew that the people who waved that stick made so much money, were so powerful and revered, and cared so much about things most of us never think of? Who knew there was so much more to conducting than keeping time?

Field is a masterful tour guide. We might not completely understand the world, but we do absorb it, and it’s never not interesting. This includes the film’s opening, which should not have worked. On the cusp of her greatest triumphs, Lydia sits down for an extended New Yorker interview, which includes a lengthy introduction listing her accomplishments. We discover that she is brilliant and successful and gives back, especially when it comes to helping other women in her profession. Thanks to Field’s skills as a writer and director, and Blanchette’s astonishing performance, nothing about this extended sequence feels like exposition. Instead, this is where Lydia forever imprints herself as a fully fleshed, imperfect, and relatable human being.

And it is here — although you sense more than see it — that the seeds of Lydia’s destruction are planted.

Lydia Tár is her own person, her own woman. When asked about women being shut out of the “male profession” of conducting, she acknowledges that once was the case, but not anymore. The time for playing the victim is over, she basically says. Later, she’ll suggest that her women-only program be opened to men. Question: Is she so besotted with her success that she’s pulling up the ladder behind her, or is she right that society has progressed enough to end these affirmative action programs? Like the rest of the movie, we’re left to ponder that question ourselves. Another question we’re asked is if her daring to stray from the Woke Plantation in this public way aided in her downfall. Did she make herself a target, an apostate who had to be taken out? Would her real sins have been forgiven or handled differently had she stuck to the woke talking points? What makes Tár so memorable, and why I’ll rewatch it repeatedly, is that Field doesn’t answer those questions.

Lydia’s undoing is sex. Her beauty, position, and ability to make someone a star make her attractive to other women. She knows this and exploits it. The movie doesn’t hide her flaws, sins, or abuses. But after witnessing her decency, independence, generosity, and astounding talent, Field asks one more question: Does the punishment fit the crime? And again, to his great credit, this is a question he wants us to answer.

By far, Field’s smartest decision was making Lydia a lesbian. If Tár were a man, we would see him only as a one-dimensional stand-in for all men. If Tár were a victim, she’d be a flat, dull symbol. What’s more, Lydia is not a…lesbian. Her sexual classification has absolutely nothing to do with who she is. Lydia is a whole person who happens to be attracted to women. Her identity has zero to do with her sex life.

Thankfully, Field isn’t interested in the politics of #MeToo. Instead, he’s interested in those whose lives are annihilated on social media. He also reminds the audience how we all pay a price for these witch hunts. When the best are blacklisted, art is taken over by second-stringers and lesser substitutes… This is not to say that Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, and Bill Cosby don’t deserve exile. But Lydia isn’t a Weinstein. She’s closer to Woody Allen: someone who behaved badly, but…does the punishment fit the crime?

With Woody Allen, I can answer with a firm “no,” and have two separate state investigations to back me up. The brilliance of Tár is that we are not given all the facts. Again, this is deliberate. Field isn’t here to preach or lecture or to tell us what to think. Instead, he demands we make up our own minds. Me? I was horrified by Lydia’s behavior and still found the witch hunt appalling and driven by self-righteousness and politics as opposed to justice. Did I like Lydia? No. But I admired and respected her, and there’s no doubt that having a uniquely talented, clear-headed, and independent thinker in charge of an art form is a good thing.

Blanchett’s performance is a miracle, beyond Oscar-worthy, one for the ages. For most of the movie, everything about Lydia Tár stays beneath a placid surface. You never see what’s going on with her. Instead, you feel it, feel everything thundering within.

The final half-hour of Tár is thoroughly mesmerizing. The highest praise I can offer those 30 minutes is that they are every bit as effective as the final half-hour of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. By normal standards, Tár should have ended at the two-hour mark. Thankfully, it marches on to demonstrate what happens to annihilated human beings after the social media mob moves along to their next target and to remind us of Lydia’s mettle and resilience.

As I said, you might not like Lydia Tár, but you will respect her.

There’s nothing wrong with a movie that answers all of its questions and fully satisfies you. But the movies that tend to stick to our ribs and draw us in for another look are those that don’t give us the answers, that don’t tell us who to cheer and who to hiss. Like Field’s previous masterpiece, 2001’s In the Bedroom; we’re left to ponder, reflect, and mull what we’ve witnessed, which in turn forces us to examine ourselves.

That’s what great art does.

‘Tár’ is great art, as good as art gets.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.


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