‘Tár’: A brilliant demonstration of passion gone wrong


Shavonne Chin

Illustration by

Jack Muscatello, Associate Multimedia Editor

With awards season in full swing for the film industry, numerous Oscar-bait projects have populated festivals around the world. One of these films deserves to stand out amid the crowded independent scene: “Tár,” an overlong drama about cancel culture, power and abuse, with a tour-de-force lead performance from actress Cate Blanchett.

The film, which released in theaters on Oct. 28, follows the fictional world-renowned composer and conductor Lydia Tár, in the weeks leading up to a performance of George Mahler’s fifth symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra.

Throughout the film’s near three-hour runtime, Tár dedicates most of her time to rehearsing, writing a new composition and struggling to balance work with her commitment to her partner Sharon, and their adopted daughter Petra.

She’s at the top of her craft as the film opens, but when a former student from a fellowship program publicly accuses her of abuse and sexual exploitation, Tár’s bucket-list career quickly unravels in a dramatic fall from grace.

Writer-director Todd Field embraces a remarkably realistic tone with his script, crafting an elaborate story behind Tár’s success that reads almost like a biopic chronicling a real-life music industry powerhouse.

The film’s level of depth and nuance, introduced to the audience through an extended interview scene in the opening act, adds multiple layers to Tár’s rough exterior. She is smooth, calculated and devoted to the point of obsession — but her reach for unended glory ultimately exceeds her grasp.

Blanchett brings a consistent sense of tension to her on-screen persona, keeping the audience absorbed even when Tár’s increasingly troubling decisions cast her as the villain in her own story. The level of dedication in her performance is extraordinary, and the vulnerability she lends to the character, particularly in the final act, demands to be seen.

The editing throughout the film is almost invisible, gently nudging the audience through extended conversations and heated moments with minimal cuts. The pacing takes its time, and the script is in no hurry to keep the plot concise, occasionally to the film’s detriment. But Tár’s descent is matched well by Field’s harsh visual style. The cinematography lends a sweeping, gliding camera to a few brilliant moments of psychological dread, which manage to rival even the best horror films of the past few years.

The final act surprisingly detours from the relatively serious tone of the narrative up until that point, branching off into a more satirical slant with a welcomed sense of dry humor and self-awareness toward Tár’s collapse. The turn might be a deterrent for some, especially as late in the film as it is, but the bold risks Field takes with the story throughout are exactly what makes this and other independent projects so enthralling.

The richness of the characters, the complexity of the drama and the genuinely unique approach to relevant topics are the bread and butter of independent storytelling, lending small-scale films like “Tár” the freedom to breathe and explore as many angles of a story as possible.

The theme of dissecting cancel culture with a woman as the lead protagonist sets up several sequences that were all but impossible to witness on the big screen just a few years ago. The film poses several questions, and even a few stark answers, that promise to stick with the audience well after the final shot cuts to black.

At its core, “Tár” is a twisted psychological drama with a mission to challenge convention. It swings for the fences with an unreliable main character amid scandal, heartbreak and chaos that is unfortunately all too familiar.

But the film also goes one step further, breaking down the tragic pattern of artists taking advantage of their prowess, abusing the value of their success and destroying the universal appeal of their creations in the process of seeking boundless praise. Because of this and much more, “Tár” might just be the most interesting film to see this year.