In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Tár, we will explain the film’s ending.
- Lydia Tár/Linda Tarr – Cate Blanchett
- Sharon Goodnow – Nina Hoss
- Francesca Lentini – Noémie Merlant
- Eliot Kaplan – Mark Strong
- Olga Metkina – Sophie Kauer
- Andris Davis – Julian Glover
- Sebastian Brix – Allan Corduner
- Adam Gopnik – Adam Gopnik
- Written by – Todd Field
- Directed by – Todd Field
The end of Tár explained
Tár’s final sequence begins with Lydia’s retreat to her childhood home in Staten Island. There, she descends into nostalgia. Herchildhood room is as it was. Full of medals, awards, diplomas, and music memorabilia. Her brother returns home and reveals that Lydia Tár was originally Linda Tarr. The brother says to her, “But you don’t seem to know where the hell you came from or where you’re going.”
After a cut, we see Lydia arrive at a hotel in the Philippines. She’s accepted a conducting job there. A bit of sightseeing involves travel on a river. Lydia asks about going for a swim, only to be informed by the guide that crocodiles live in the river, a byproduct of a Marlon Brando film. Lydia proposes “That was a long time ago” to which the guide answers, “They survive.”
Back at the hotel, Lydia asks about getting a massage. The address she’s given takes her to a brothel with a viewing gallery, called the fishbowl, where Lydia’s to select the girl she wants to massage her. All the girls look downward, except for number 5. Number 5 stares right at Lydia. Lydia flees the establishment, throwing up on the sidewalk.
We then see the last day’s preparations. Finally, Lydia takes the stage in front of the orchestra. She’s back in her element. Except this isn’t the hallowed halls of a Berlin music hall and the performance of some ancient piece. It’s the music of the Monster Hunter video game series. Video screens drop down. A narrator speaks, as if the audience were part of the game world. And the audience members, playing their part, are all dressed in cosplay outfits. Fantastic attire. Warriors. Steampunks. Unicorns. Other creatures.
Tár uses Lydia to make a larger point about powerful figures and power structures. First, we see that Lydia Tár was originally Linda Tarr. Meaning that the woman we’ve spent over 2 hours watching, this woman who was hailed as legend, is actually a persona. An act. An idea. Lydia Tár does not exist. Linda Tarr is the reality. And Linda is far less special than Lydia. This is an act of demythologizing. You separate the public perception of someone from the reality of that person.
Stories involving a demythologization aren’t the norm but they are common. Almost Famous is an example, where a teenager, William, gets to go on tour with a band in the 1970s in order to write a story for Rolling Stone. It’s his favorite band. But the more time William spends with them, the less impressed he is, until, finally, he’s completely disillusioned. A lot of bio pics are forms of demythologizing. In 2022’s Elvis, we see the behind the scenes struggles of the King of Rock ‘n Roll that the public did not. They got the myth. The persona. But we bear witness to the man himself.
What elevates Tár is that Lydia can be seen as a symbol representative of other established figures and the establishments they represent. For 99% of Tár, Lydia is the head of the Berlin Philharmonic, arguably the most important orchestra in the world. She’s performing canonical works for mostly wealthy people. There is mention of the contemporary work she’s commissioned from newer figures like Jennifer Higdon and Caroline Shaw. But Higdon is 60 years old. Shaw is 40. These aren’t young people. If they’re not of Lydia’s generation, they’re of her era and in-line with the traditions of the industry.
But throughout Tár, we’re shown hints of a changing tide. The first example of this is the classroom scene where Lydia tries to talk to her student, Max, about Bach. Max says he doesn’t listen to Bach because of Bach’s misogyny. Lydia hates this. She takes the position that the art is the art and should be separate from the artist. Max disagrees. The conversation takes such a negative turn that Max, feeling hurt, ends up calling Lydia a b**ch and leaving the room.
The next prominent example is the arrival of Olga, the young cello player. By the time Olga appears, viewers are already aware of Lydia’s penchant for seducing young performers. We just hadn’t seen it happen. We’re primed to think what happened with Krista and many others will happen again with Olga. Lydia is obviously flirting and posturing and attempting to woo Olga. But Olga doesn’t care. She’s completely unphased by Lydia’s fame. To the point of almost being bored by Lydia. Olga’s interested in other composers than Lydia and has different tastes and influences than the established canon Lydia’s so dedicated to.
Lastly, it’s the performance in the Philippines. Up to that point, all the music we’d heard had been famous works. Works that had been performed thousands of times over decades (if not centuries). Especially in Berlin. Except now we’re outside of Berlin and its legendary music hall. We’re in a place that doesn’t have a long or rich history with classical music. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1973, probably in Lydia’s lifetime. And the music she conducts there isn’t of the Western canon. It’s music from a video game. And the show itself involves video screens. And a narrator. It’s not just classical music. It’s a modern opera. But pay special attention to the intro to the performance:
Sisters and brothers of the Fifth Fleet, it’s time. I’ll keep my farewell brief. Never was much with words. Once you board this ship, there’s no turning back. The next ground your feet touch will be that of the New World. If any of you have lost your nerve, then step away now and let no one judge you.
This isn’t included just for fun. This dialogue is there for a reason. And that reason has to do with the line, “The next ground your feet touch will be that of the New World.” The idea of the new world is a place of promise and potential. A place that’s unburdened by the Old World. Where the new arrivals have the opportunity to shape society how they see fit. It’s the culmination of what Max and Olga had represented. The New World of the next generation. A generation that’s redefining traditions and norms and not so obsessive or in awe of the past.
This is why the movie cuts from Lydia on stage to the crowd. Everyone in the crowd is in costume. Dressed as if they were a character in Monster Hunter. Not like someone attending the Berlin Philharmonic. These are the adventurers ready for the New World. Not those clinging to the past. Even though Lydia was Tár’s main character, the movie isn’t about her. It’s about her downfall and what such a downfall represents. It’s about how the world is changing. That new generations and burgeoning cultures are transformative. And the people who cling to old power dynamics and power structures and tradition for the sake of tradition are likely to be left behind.
Which leaves us with the question. Is Lydia’s conducting this concert a sign of her willingness to voyage to the New World? She could have just stayed on Staten Island. Or fled elsewhere to live out the rest of her days in some quiet, upper class area outside the public eye. She could have continued to conduct traditional pieces in, say, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and just do what she’s always done but for much smaller audiences. Instead, she’s gone to this place totally outside of the bubble she had spent so many years in. And she’s conducting this niche concert.
It doesn’t seem like this is necessarily redemption. Like, “Look at her, being humble.” It feels like hanging on. Like survival rather than growth. The important thing isn’t whether Lydia is okay or not. Whether she’s learned her lesson or not. The important thing is that she’s no longer a person of consequence. Her influence is gone. She’s now a small part of something much larger. A crocodile that lingers in a vast river.
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