Review: Cate Blanchett delivers an immersive performance in ‘TÁR’

“TÁR” is a psychological drama that questions the basis and implications of power. The film is playing in select theaters in New York City.

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Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Psychological thriller “TÁR” is now playing in theaters. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Paree Chopra, Staff Writer

Cate Blanchett has always been a force to be reckoned with, but “TÁR” could arguably be her best performance yet. Director Todd Field’s drama encapsulates the downfall of world-renowned fictional conductor Lydia Tár.  Blanchett builds a nuanced performance that delicately unfurls from total control to complete breakdown by the film’s end. 

The film begins with Tár, the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, being interviewed by The New Yorker. The interviewer notes, “Lydia Tár is many things,” a purposeful use of dialogue that only generalizes Tár’s complexities. On the surface, Tár appears to be a focused, blunt and methodical woman who is constantly looking for answers in her music. As the film advances, Tár’s rituals of control reveal themselves as obsessive acts constructed to help her navigate the elitist hierarchies of the orchestral world.

Strained relationships and narcissistic tendencies best represent Tár’s personal life. She threatens her daughter’s bully and struggles with a major medication addiction. Furthermore, she displays manipulative qualities when she fires her loyal assistant conductor Francesca, despite emotional extenuating circumstances. The unraveling of Tár’s personal relationships, initially protected by her musical genius, culminates in her eventual downfall.

The multiple plotlines that navigate Tár’s relationships with different characters — her wife Sharon, her aforementioned assistant Franscesca, the young cellist Olga, and her daughter — paint a portrait of the morally flawed genius. The film purposefully leaves storylines open, and it does not force viewers into a single moral framework. Field’s notion that truth exists in a multiplicity of perspectives forces the viewer to remain active, and catch details as they flicker on screen.

Flooding the film with ambiguities, Field leaves the viewer to develop their own understanding of the eponymous character. As Tár questions her own relationship with music and meaning, the viewer is forced to interrogate their own identification with the film’s central character. Field pushes the audience to question the film’s meaning and question the nuanced reality of human nature.

In a Q&A following a screening of “TÁR” at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles, Field called Tár a “flawed, hypocritical, capricious, clever and cagey” character who echoes the thought that “the act of creation is inherently selfish.” Artistic creation and struggle consume Tár to the point where she ignores the everyday struggles of those around her. She openly displays a lack of self-awareness in her position as a highly-renowned white woman when she claims that she has not faced any challenges as a woman in the classical music industry. This purposeful ignorance of the feminist struggle portrays Tár as a narcissist living within the illusion of her art. 

Field’s phenomenal writing and direction along with Blanchett’s powerful psychological performance create a narrative where the protagonist becomes the antagonist of her life. “TÁR,” thus, comments on the pathology of someone becoming their own enemy and becoming lost in their very creation.

Contact Paree Chopra at [email protected]