Cate Blanchett thrills in ‘Tár’

A character driven drama that doesn’t feel one-dimensional

Photo+courtesy+of+the+official+T%C3%A1r+Facebook+page.

Photo courtesy of the official Tár Facebook page.

By Jackson Walker, Collegian Staff

Todd Field’s first feature in over 15 years was well worth the wait. This thrilling drama has Cate Blanchett playing the title character, Lydia Tár. She is widely renowned as the world’s greatest living composer, and the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.

“Tárfollow the extreme downfall of Lydia as her cutthroat approach to the music world begins to catch up to her. With her performance, Blanchett has made Oscar voters job easier than ever this year.

Movies that peddle in anxiety have been on the rise lately. Films like the Safdie brothers’ “Goodtime” and “Uncut Gems” are some of the most prominent in this thriller subgenre. Unlike traditional thrillers driven by action or violence, these films thrive on their ability to simply make us feel anxious for the outcomes of these characters.

“Tár” feels like a house of cards by an open window. We watch the slow degradation of Lydia Tár transform into a freefall. The delicate precision with which she has established herself is wiped away.

Field utilizes sound design to portray the increased paranoia Lydia feels as the scandals she once swept under the rug begin to bubble over. Her betrayal of past employees, like her assistant Francesca, lead to her being exposed for driving a protégé to suicide for refusing her advances.

This scandal happens off-screen, but early on we get a glimpse of Lydia’s narcissism and abusive behavior. After a rather comforting talk at the New Yorker festival, Lydia leads a fellowship class at Juilliard.

Lydia berates a student for their “identity politics” after saying they dislike Bach and other classical composers for their racist attitudes. Lydia begins a long rambling speech belittling the student’s manhood and making sexual innuendo to the rest of the class.

Inserting this scene early on is extremely effective. Lydia initially comes off as intelligent, but is not pedantic or condescending with her contrasting New York slang. She speaks about her genuine want for more people to appreciate music and her hope to be a resource. She is very warm when meeting with attendees and doesn’t seem to revel in her fame.

Lydia’s freefall peaks when the tirade leaks onto social media.  We often are surprised when these sorts of abusive behaviors come out for beloved figures. The charisma that creates these cults of personality are personified in Lydia. However, Francesca turns against her when Lydia passes her over for promotion after a perceived slight. Overnight, she begins the leak of information about Lydia’s true nature.

You can see that Lydia justifies much of her behavior out of love. Be it love for her daughter, exhibited by threatening physical violence to her classmate, a seven-year-old girl. Be it love for her craft, tackling her replacement at the Philharmonic in a fit of rage.

In the end she loses both. She is ostensibly exiled to Thailand to conduct an orchestra doing covers of video game scores.

At the film’s conclusion, it is unclear what kind of legal repercussions Lydia faces. Certainly, her estrangement from her immediate family and obsession with her work has isolated her, imprisoned in her own mind.

Jackson Walker can be reached at [email protected]