I’m sure the writers who have found an opportunity in the wayward world of “cancel culture” are a dime a dozen. There’s already a story, something going on about the propensity of people to dogpile on social media on public figures that is enticing for storytellers who wish on their main character’s downfall. What if, says our director Todd Field, the person being canceled is legitimately a bad person? Are we to take our artists at their merits, or do we let their personal failings be the reason they resign themselves from public life? I’d be remiss not to bring up what is going on with some particular artists — if you know, you know — and how much light this film sheds on topics such as these.
Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) has everything she could possibly ask for. She’s the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, she’s just written a book on her perspectives on music and life, and she’s just about to finish her first Mahler cycle, in the vein of her old mentor Leonard Bernstein. She’s giving masterclasses at Julliard, she’s got talks with the New York Times, and The New Yorker is scribbling up puff pieces about her artistic mastery. What could possibly go wrong? As I’ve alluded to in the beginning, I will just say that when it rains in this movie, it absolutely pours.
I would say that watching this film is like pulling teeth, but seeing as the “Saw” franchise is as successful as it is, I hardly see that as a problem. I feel as though I have the tendency to throw around “greek tragedy” whenever something bad happens to a particular character for a long time, but I do think this is appropriate here. Everything that does go wrong is essentially Tár’s own doing, and I would posit that’s what makes a tragedy what it is. Cate Blanchett will be on many lists during this awards tour, and if she misses out on any statuettes I will start throwing things. That isn’t even to mention Todd Field’s impeccable direction, making us feel Tár’s cold shoulder when other characters do, making the audience complicit in Tár’s infidelity, and watching Tár basically tie the rope that kills her illustrious career. When we see artists of this magnitude fall from grace in the manner that Tár does in this film, it’s just as easy to be enraged by her as it is to feel pity on her poor soul. Does she deserve everything she gets in this film? If the accusations are true, then the world she inhabits is much too kind. Still, seeing as her kingdom crumbles from her perspective is almost as if we’re a part of that kingdom. Seeing what she sold her world for eventually falling out along with that very world is the very definition of classical tragedy if I do say so myself. We see it coming far before Tár does, and even so, seeing it all fall to the wayside still leaves me feeling ambivalent, but not for lack of opinion of her character.
This is not a film you want to watch to have a good time. Then again, as long as there have been people performing on stage, we’ve come out in droves to watch Nero play his fiddle. The catharsis that we pull from great works such as these can be just as beneficial to the soul as something just as enjoyable. If you can, see this film.