Tár: A Movie About Abuse and Self-Destruction

This movie tells the story of the first female director of the Berlin Philharmonic. She's a brilliant figure as well as enigmatic and manipulative. The film depicts her dramatic fall from grace.
Tár: A Movie About Abuse and Self-Destruction
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 18 December, 2023

In some movies, anguish is invisibly impregnated in the atmosphere, the non-verbal communication, or, in this case, the tick-tock of a metronome.

These kinds of elements usually configure the complex psychological strata of the protagonists, their fears, and even their feelings of paranoia. The latest production by the actor-turned-director, Todd Field, is one such example.

Tár is an audiovisual portrait of an orchestra director. She’s at the peak of her career. In fact, she’s a clear example of how some women, far from having to break glass ceilings, manage to dissolve them with their personalities and resounding worth. However, in this movie, we discover that, behind the maestro, lies a monster.

This is an extraordinary psychodrama. It’s reminiscent of Kubrick’s productions and has been nominated for six Oscars. Many see the movie as a parable about the #MeToo movement. Others view it as the essence of cancel culture. But, the real driving force of this movie is the titanic performance of Cate Blanchett.

“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

-Leonard Bernstein-

Tár is the story of a lesbian orchestra conductor who, at times, exhibits abusive behavior

Lydia Tár and meritocratic glory

Tár plays with the viewer. It’s an enigma, a mystery that needs unraveling, and a kaleidoscope of light and shadow. The first part of the movie focuses almost exclusively on showing us what the protagonist, Lydia Tár, is like. We witness her conducting on a stage in Manhattan. We even see how her biography is edited on Wikipedia.

In fact, her introduction is so believable that we could be forgiven for experiencing the sudden urge to google her name. That’s because we almost unconsciously assume that the movie must be a biopic. However, it’s not.

The character is completely fictional. But, why shouldn’t someone like her exist? After all, this chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic is the epitome of meritocratic glory.

Her mentor is Leonard Bernstein. She’s played in great orchestras such as New York, Cleveland, and Boston. She has a doctorate from Harvard. She’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and even a Tony. Now, her book, Tár on Tár, is about to be released. Her success, influence in the media, and even her power are more than justified. But, sometimes, those at the top falter.

Cloistered worlds and a hermetic personality

The movie takes place in large buildings with long, bright white corridors and high ceilings. The rooms in which we see Tár in absolute command, exercising the ins and outs of musical politics, are immense.

But, everything seems cold and regimented. Moreover, the atmosphere is dominated by the protagonist’s constant need to exercise control.

In the first part of the movie, we witness Tár’s return to Berlin from a trip to New York. It doesn’t take us long to sense her personal struggles.

She has a difficult history that she tries to forget along with certain emotional problems that she quells with the use of psychoactive drugs. Her assistant orbits around her with the sadness and fascination of someone who can neither access nor understand the object of their desire.

Lydia lives with Sharon, the first violinist of the Berlin Philharmonic, and her daughter, Petra. There’s a subtle resentment evident in the relationship. There’s also a kind of sadness that’s camouflaged within the daily routines of work and raising the child. Lydia’s profession is her greatest shield. It also nourishes her by giving her the power she so badly needs.

The problem with enrolling yourself as an ultrasonic epistemic dissident is that if Bach’s talent can be reduced to his gender, birth country, religion, sexuality, and so on, then so can yours.”

-Lydia Tár-

Lydia Tár is used to exercising control in all areas of her life, although we soon sense the shadow of her anxieties and paranoia

The monster behind aesthetic perfection

This movie exudes the psychological atmosphere of Kubrick’s productions. In the second part, we become subject to a strange sensation of threat. Lydia begins to perceive the veil of something evil around her, something that’s fast approaching.

However, it turns out to be nothing more than the echoes of her own conscience manifested in the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

She hears female screams in the distance, the sound of a metronome in a locked cabinet, and a piano that sound like hers. These events raise the tension as the darker side of her character is gradually revealed to us. She becomes obsessed with a young cellist whom she’s extremely quick to promote. On the other hand, she banishes and dismisses other figures.

Shortly after, we discover that this is a habitual pattern. She uses people as and when she feels like it. In addition, she manipulates them in the same way that she directs the concert musicians with her baton; with passion, but violent forcefulness. Nevertheless, her behavior ultimately has dramatic consequences. That’s when her fall from grace occurs.

“If you want to dance the mask, you must service the composer. You gotta sublimate yourself, your ego, and, yes, your identity. You must, in fact, stand in front of the public and God and obliterate yourself.”

-Lydia Tár-

Cancel culture or a paradox of the #MeToo movement?

Tár is the dazzling story of a woman who’s reached a privileged position on her own merit and is then removed from that golden sphere. We learn that it isn’t easy to stay in such a position when public opinion is like an omnipotent god that exalts and destroys. As viewers, we’re free to assess whether the protagonist gets what she deserves.

We’re also able to conclude whether an artist’s conduct is more important than their work. Cancel culture is a phenomenon that’s increasingly engulfing public figures today. It occurs when certain comments or behaviors they make are interpreted as offensive.

As viewers, we can build our own opinions of this story. However, the one aspect on which we’ll surely all agree concerns the extraordinary performance of Cate Blanchett. She brings to life this extraordinary woman who both captivates and concerns us.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.