Tár Review

Saying Tàr is about “cancel culture” is like saying Anna Karenina is about trains. It’s correct. 

Me and My Readers (Anna Karenina, p. 236)


Since this film is a piece of art about art, and I, by the act of critiquing it, am further creating art about art about art, it’s worth acknowledging a bitter truth: one can’t engage with art impartially. Two can, but my wife left me. My prior beliefs, “style, taste, individual philosophy, subjectivity, cultural background, real experience, psychology, tricks of the trades” (If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, p.171)—of which I have few—will nevertheless exert an inextricable influence over my otherwise flawless analysis of this film. For the reader’s edification, I’ll clarify my position: 

I don’t know shit about music and I’m literally tone-deaf, so I’m going to handle all the sensitive topics in this movie with reckless abandon, just like my wife did me. What I lack in tact I make up for in record-high media literacy, kept in-tact by watching book TikToks, or “Book Tiks,” analyzing my favorite medium, literature, in my favorite genre, autofiction. I like the ones where the cars have sex. 


Plot (Um, “spoiler alert”? I barely know her alert!)

Lydia Tàr, an accomplished conductor, composer, and effective altruist, is working on conducting and composing “Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5”1 while warning everyone in earshot about the looming threat of “robots” (the AI uprising is worth at least 6000 QALY’s). She also has a book coming out2, detailing her meteoric rise to stardom among the three people who read the New Yorker, and anthropological field work on Beautiful Princess Island, where in five years of arduous explo(ra|i)tation she found no one quite so prepossessing as the girl reading this <3. 

Guest-teaching a class at Juilliard, Lydia interrogates a student over their choice of contemporary music, asking what qualms they have with acclaimed conductor, composer, and effective altruist Johann Sebastian Bach. The student argues Bach’s music is difficult to engage with due to his prolific sexhaving, as statistically young people are having no sex. An unsympathetic Lydia delivers a polemic over the absurdity of “identity politics” in music, the radical transformation and essential separation from its context upon reinterpretation, performance, and reception, and ends mockingly with, “Bach Bach, I’m a chicken who’s scared to separate art from the artist, Bach Bach.” 

Lydia travels to Berlin, received by her first violin wife (her wife that is first violin, potentially also her first wife that plays violin, or first wife that is a violin) and demonically possessed daughter. She selects the Philharmonic’s new cellist, Olga, based on her choice of boots (Goodyear welted, for easier resoling), and pursues a relationship with her. Lydia’s assistant, Francesca, tells her about correspondence she’s received from one Krista Taylor, who claims they’ve won a free iPad mini; Lydia tells her to “unsubscribe.”  Lydia decides to replace the Philharmonic’s old assistant conductor, but passes Francesca over for the job under accusations that “promoting the hot French assistant you unethically (non-monogomously) have sex with is not meritocratic and affirmative action.” Francesca, under immense pressure from the spam emails and scorned by Lydia’s betrayal, quits and leaks their DM’s to the press. A highlight reel of Lydia’s guest lecture circulates online; the Philharmonic board questions her integrity amidst the myriad scandals, but Lydia recriminates by hitting the “inte griddy”3. Lydia travels to New York with Olga, where, much to her chagrin, her laudable attempts at seduction fail from a dire lack of “rizz”.

Lydia comes home to an angry wife, who forbids her from seeing their daughter as she is being exorcised. At the performance of Mahler’s 5th, Lydia storms onto the stage and wrestles her replacement to the ground, commandeering the rostrum. Looking to a horrified crowd, Lydia breaks the tension by quipping, “ooooohhhh, downbeat! I thought the score said ‘beat-down.’” Endeared by her whimsical remark, everyone cheers fervently.  Lydia later realizes the true path to Christ is through gaming, and so travels to Southeast Asia to perform the Monster Hunter video game music at a convention. The righteous path also cures Lydia’s homosexuality, evinced by her vomiting at the prospect of having a female masseuse. A deleted end-credits scene shows Lydia self-flagellating in ecstasy à la Saint Maude, at the end of which she has, in the words of Emily Brontë, a: 

Tits or ass? Bro, her paroxysms of despair. (Wuthering Heights, p. 6)

The scene was replaced with the actual movie, which all takes place after the credits. 


If you didn’t “get” Tàr, you probably weren’t in the “Tàr-get” audience. That’s ok, it’s why I’m here. To get Tàr for you. On Blu-ray/DVD combo.  

Throughout the film, Lydia’s work at her apartment/office/sex hideout is interrupted by noises from a neighboring unit occupied by an elderly woman and her daughter. This culminates in a scene where Lydia’s aid is enlisted helping the woman recover from a fall, repulsing her so thoroughly that she washes her hands. The woman later dies, unceremoniously carried out by two paramedics as Lydia watches in consternation. Some may argue this subplot is meant to underscore Lydia’s visceral fear of aging, “fading” in a literal and metaphorical sense. Further evidence for this includes her diligent moisturizing, obsession with physical fitness and retaining her figure (can’t let your tailor down), and solicitude for her predecessor, for whom she personally employs services under the guise they’re provided by the philharmonic to trick him into believing he’s maintained relevance. In sum, these factors may be touted as representing Lydia’s motivation which drives her character to actions and influences her behavior. This is what we in the analysis game call the blue curtain effect4 coined by me after my stupid English teacher told me I “couldn’t just read the SparkNotes for Frankenstein,” because “we had moved on to Moby Dick.” Frankenstein may have been the scientist, but she was the monster. In reality, Lydia simply finds old people icky, and gross. 

Much of the discourse surrounding this film is on the Juilliard scene, specifically Lydia’s diatribe regarding the “cancellation” of artists. On the one hand, I could argue that the views she expresses are largely orthogonal to the narrative, since the scene primarily gives us insight into her psychology—deep down Lydia recognizes that she’s equally abusive to other great figures in art, but believes (or needs to believe) that the art she makes will endure beyond the transgressions, that her legacy will persist. This belief in the independence of art to its creator implicitly rationalizes her toxic behavior—the ends needn’t even justify the means so long as the two can be evaluated separately. On the other, Lydia is the film’s protagonist, so the fact that she said a thing does imply that the filmmakers condone and believe that thing, and want you to do the same. Furthermore, this article is clickbait, so I too am going to “cancel” Lydia Tar for being “cringe” and “mid.” L + ydia + Tártio.

While Tár isn’t the first work to tackle the weaponization of power, it offers an interesting perspective. Lydia isn’t depicted as cartoonishly evil or sadistic—while she abuses her power, she doesn’t seem to revel in torturing her underlings. Instead, Lydia operates with apathy, almost absent-minded—nonchalantly manipulating others for personal gain, seemingly surprised when challenged. Her wife remarks that nearly every relationship Lydia has is transactional. This is not by design, but necessity; Lydia’s behaved this way for so long it’s become inherent. The film suggests absolute power corrupts absolutely—not in the sense of moral degradation—but in rending the ability to feel, excising one’s humanity. For all her fulmination against “robots,” Lydia’s the biggest robot there is: cold, rote, calculating, and unfeeling in anything other than music. This is, of course, a good thing—Lydia is a girlboss not only in station, but action. I view Tár as a very inspiring work of feminist filmmaking, and think it should be shown to young women everywhere. It also provides a nice counterpoint to the “women in STEM” campaign, demonstrating that women can be strong, exploitative leaders in any industry. 

Note further that Lydia’s “power” doesn’t derive solely from her managerial control, social contract, or monopoly on violence. Lydia carefully constructs a persona—the film’s opening interview serves both to enumerate her qualifications and beguile viewers by Lydia’s mystique. She effortlessly tosses around cultural references, jargon, words in other languages, and speaks in the eloquent, rehearsed cadence of someone ostensibly deep in thought, reflecting, eagerly building tension to deliver her next remark. Lydia’s description of conducting, appearing extemporaneous or spontaneous but always assiduously prepared, is how she approaches all social engagements. Her life itself is a performance, one which she (at least through the film’s first act) exercises delicate, obsessive control over. This reading also recontextualizes the Juilliard monologue: Lydia isn’t just being a pompous, condescending asshole for fun, or to own the libs—she’s doing it for her brand image. To let even one music-adjacent remark go unrebuked, to let someone else have the last word, the mere suggestion of Lydia Tár not being the smartest person in every room, would be a dereliction of duty. Under this consideration, Tár’s ending can be read as oddly positive: Lydia was trapped in her old life, constrained by her success and burdened by the weight of her public image. Now, relegated to some foreign country in which no one really knows or cares who she is, she finally has the same freedom of cultural anonymity she had in her field work; she can view the spotlight from the control booth rather than being in it. In the soul-crushing gristmill of guest-conducting music for vulgar pop culture, one must imagine Tár happy (if you don’t, I’ll find you and ****** ******).

While I found many analyses of this film trite and unerudite, bathetic, and pathetic, there were a few geniuses (like myself) who I felt really understood Tár in a way that suggests they watched the movie at least once. Richard Brody of The New Yorker, for instance, makes several really compelling points. For one, he notes:

“The movie scoots rapidly by the accusations that [Lydia] faces; it blurs the details, eliminates the narratives, merely sketches hearings, leaves crucial events offscreen, and offers a calculated measure of doubt, in order to present her accusers as unhinged and hysterical and the protesters gathered against her as frantic and goofy. Moreover, it depicts her as the victim of another attack, one that is based on blatant falsehoods, but that, in the wake of the other accusations, gains traction in the media.” 

In other words, by not explicitly telling us what it is that Lydia did, the movie is encouraging us to take her side and disregard the allegations. This is absolutely correct and echoes my point above: Lydia is the main character of the film, so everything she does is, lex lata et lex ferenda, good and endorsed by the filmmaker. I would actually go one step further than Brody—not only are Lydia’s “haters” to be disregarded, the movie implicitly vilifies them. Just like Squidward Tentacles (the perfect antagonist), the critics serve to prevent Lydia (the protagonist) from attaining her goals. It is thus that the movie wants us to believe that all people like “Krista Taylor” are evil and to be paid no mind. “All people like,” of course, referring to those with two first names. 

Brody also incisively identifies the film’s pernicious commentary on its setting, writing: 

“It presents the efforts to expand the world of classical music to become more inclusive, by way of commissioning and presenting new music by a wider range of composers, as somewhere between a self-sacrificing gesture of charity and utterly pointless. It mocks the concept of the blind audition (intended to prevent gatekeeping conductors, musicians, and administrators from making decisions on the basis of appearance). It sneers at the presumption of an orchestra to self-govern (which the one that Lydia unmistakably conducts in the film, the Berlin Philharmonic, does in real life).”

This is also a good point—when a piece of media depicts a system exploited by a single bad actor as corrupt, it automatically criticizes this system with no nuance. This is the same reason Psycho maligns motel managers, Starry Eyes castigates casting directors5, Dr. Dolittle vituperates veterinarians, and 90% of “Young Adult Fiction” advocates for anarcho-primitivism.  

Brody concludes by remarking, 

“[Tár is] as far from the great art of movies as most movie scores are from a Mahler symphony.” 

Thereby hinting (through a brilliant use of auxesis and analogy) at perhaps the most enlightened take one can have on cinema—movies are fucking terrible, and no one should watch them. 

Other reads tended toward the laughable, even preposterous. Dan Kois’ theory, for instance, that the film’s final act was somehow “supernatural” or “paranormal” or “metaphorical.” For one, if the film was genuinely some sort of dream, hallucination, or simulation, there’d be at least one scene of a character expositing that information to the audience, otherwise it would be a plot hole and bad world building. Furthermore, if Kois was correct in ascertaining the presence of “ghosts” or other spirits, that would make Tár a horror film, implying the existence of jump scares, of which, last I checked, there were none. Nice try Dan, maybe get back to me when you’ve watched a few more video essays. 

There are a few arguments I feel neutral about, like this one and this one, which make the same points I made 6 and 7 paragraphs ago, before I made them, but did so on inferior platforms to WordPress. Thanks to my elite status as a WordPress user, I can freely claim their intellectual property as my own. 

The film had a few other clever instances of imagery and themes. During the second act, Lydia gets injured by falling flat on her face, then tells the orchestra members she was attacked by the “woke mob.” A careless viewer may miss that this is symbolism representing the fact that Lydia was trippin’. I could list these all day, with minimal effort, but don’t feel it necessary to belabor the point—I’m sure comprehending them is quite difficult for someone lacking in my expertise. 


While many are praising Blanchett’s performance acting in this film—completely warranted—few are praising my performance watching this film. It was very long and had almost no comic relief, but I persevered and did not go home because unlike all of you, I care more about cinema than whether I left my oven on. 

I thought this film had very good cinematography, costume design, production design, sound mixing, sound editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, supporting actress, lead actress, and director. It did not, however, have particularly good visual effects (that one part where the lady was on fire looked so obviously like CGI until the paramedics came and got her out of my theater), or international feature film. The German dub was quite bad and jarring.

This film had a few “deep cuts” for real musicheads to appreciate. I really liked the strong MF DOOM influence in Lydia’s accordion freestyle, the strong Kanye influence in her playing the piano, and the strong NBA YoungBoy influence in the inclusion of music. 


Harry Styles once said, “You know, my favorite thing about the movie is, like, it feels like a movie. It feels like a real, like, you know, ‘go to the theater’ film movie,” which is honestly so true. I think if you can see Tár in a theater you should, and if you can’t see Tár in a theater you should talk to the manager because something’s probably wrong with the projector 👍.

I rate this film 4 out of 5 Társ.  

1No clue who “Gustav Mahler” is, maybe a Tim Burton situation?

2The film glosses over the “plot hole” that there’s no reason for Lydia to have written a book, since no one reads anymore (unless the work is by Colleen Hoover, who ghost wrote the script for this movie). 

3One of eight dance sequences interspersed throughout the film, derided by several critics as “self-indulgent” and “pathological.” I quite enjoyed them. 

4Other names include the “Bolzano-Weierstrass Theorem.” 

5“But Bod, this film was criticizing the industry!” You think I care? You think I actually watch movies? I don’t even know what that is.

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