In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Tár, we talk about themes that help us understand the film.
- 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 themes and meaning of Tár
Public persona vs. private persona and the separation of the art from the artist
Tár’s titular character is considered a musical legend. She is beloved, respected, and lauded for her artistic contributions. This persona is on full display in the film’s opening conversation between Lydia Tár and Adam Gopnik. We see Lydia in full performance mode. Giving all the right answers. Living up to the idea of a generational composer.
Over the course of the film, we jump back and forth between Lydia’s public persona and her private persona. In the beginning, the private has little impact on the public. By the end, the private (her relationship with Krista and role in Krista’s death) has become public and the consequences are huge. She loses her position as head of the Berlin Orchestra. Her wife leaves her. Lydia’s a pariah. Professionally and personally.
This dynamic between public and private is something all public figures face. Whether someone is a politician, an artist, an athlete, a professor, or business executive. They cultivate what’s essentially a brand, live up to that brand, with very few actually knowing who they are in their normal lives. A lot of people are just that: people. With positives and negatives that are acceptable and understandable. While others hide true transgressions. For years, or decades, or their entire lifetime.
The dichotomy gave birth to the question of the ability to separate the art from the artist. A question Tár brings up in the conversation between Lydia and her student Max. Lydia wants to discuss Bach as a composer. Max says he doesn’t listen to Bach because of Bach’s reported misogyny. That view is something Lydia rips apart. She’s so unrelenting that Max eventually leaves the room, after calling Lydia a b**ch. Initially, it might seem like Lydia is the patient one in this encounter. The “mature” one. Except soon we find out that Lydia has been a predator. She has used her position to sleep with people under her. Then influenced their careers, for better or worse. In the case of Krista, we see emails that Lydia sent to dozens of orchestras, telling them not to bring Krista on. It was a professional annihilation that Lydia committed out of sheer pettiness. It was the reason Krista took her own life.
So was Lydia arguing with Max out of a true appreciation of art, regardless of the artist? Or because Lydia is aware of her own transgressions and doesn’t want to, one day, be judged and forgotten? If Bach could eventually be dismissed, couldn’t Lydia? Suddenly her position feels much more defensive and self-serving than pure. In the process of defending herself, Lydia has no problem throwing Max under the bus.
Overall, Tár is a reminder that these figures we idealize are simply people. Lydia Tár isn’t even her real name. It’s Linda Tarr. The difference between Lydia and Linda, Tár and Tarr, captures the core of the film’s themes and narrative.
Guilt and paranoia
Tár is a #MeToo story that captures in detail the fall from grace that has affected figures like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Franco, and Louis CK. Their lives were privileged and full of opportunity and public affection. All while their transgressions stayed completely out of the mainstream. Until, finally, their private behavior became known. That resulted in the loss of privilege, opportunity, and affection.
The public becomes familiar with the story of what happened and when and the fallout. But not necessarily the emotional journey these figures go on. Tár is a hypothesis of what this must be like. Todd Field puts special emphasis on the way in which guilt and paranoia manifest in the egotistical, especially those in denial of how wrong and bad they’ve been.
Field has the story play out as a version of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story The Tale-Tell Heart in which police visit a man about a missing person. The police have no reason to suspect there’s a body beneath the floorboards. But the narrator keeps hearing a heartbeat. It’s a purely subjective thing, as the cops hear nothing. The paranoia becomes too much, though, and the narrator confesses that the missing person is buried directly under their feet.
In Tár, Lydia doesn’t hear the beating of Krista’a heart. But all these other little moments happen. The metronome activates in the night. Someone screams in the park. There’s the dog that follows her in the underground hallway. Not to mention the ghost of Krista that’s visible at multiple points. None of these moments are truly consequential or climactic. But each one is a turning of the screw that increases the pressure and stress Lydia feels. They’re this externalization of the guilt, paranoia, and fear that must be, on some level, affecting Lydia, and probably also affects people like Weinstein, Spacey, Franco, etc.
Changing times, the next generation
There’s something subtle and interesting with how Tár looks at time. Lydia is, at the time of the movie, an institution. A legend. She is recognized by other establishments and established people. Her post at the Berlin Philharmonic is about as classical as classic music gets. All of these established worlds and people cater to her. The only time she encounters real disobedience or disrespect is from those much younger than her.
In the classroom, Max disagrees with Lydia’s view on Bach and on the total separation of art and the artist. That culminates with him walking out of the classroom after calling Lydia a b**ch. Then Olga, the new, young, cello prodigy, is completely immune to Lydia’s seduction. A number of other young women had fallen prey to Lydia. Except Olga, like Max, isn’t as impressed by Lydia. To the point where Olga even casually gives advice to Lydia about Lydia’s new composition. Not only that, while in New York, Olga rejects spending time with Lydia, this tremendously famous composer, in order to hang out with a random girl.
There’s this implication that the next generation is already moving on from Lydia. That even if this scandal with Krista hadn’t come out, that Lydia was already past the apex of her influence and beginning her descent. It also feels meaningful that at the end, she doesn’t just do nothing. She ends up conducting in the Philippines, a country not typically associated with classical music. But it’s not just classical music. It’s the score to the Monster Hunter video game series. The crowd isn’t filled with rich people in gowns and suits. It’s young adults and teens in cosplay attire. We’re seeing this evolution in the genre. Of its audience and presence. In that way, classical music itself has started to leave Lydia behind. What she represents, the era and history and people, isn’t as important to the next generation.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more themes you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Tár? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider updating the guide.
Write a response