‘TÁR’ review: A riveting character study dissecting identity, corruption, and cancel culture
Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field's TÁR, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Focus Features

The new psychological drama TÁR is an intense experience of watching the deconstruction of perhaps one of the most interesting characters to grace our screens in some time. The main protagonist, Lydia Tár, is a musical genius who arguably may be her own worst enemy. Through the time we spend with her we are introduced to hot button relevant topics, such as cancel culture, identity politics, and corruption. It is clear that everything in this film— from the credit roll out to the sounds we hear— has been meticulously planned for a fully engaged viewing experience. The audience is presented with many complex issues, yet offered no easy answers or outright condemnations. TÁR dares us to think and listen intently in a world filled with so many distracting noises. For some this will be a welcomed task, for others it may be a grueling process during the movie’s two hours and thirty-eight minutes runtime.

Written and directed by Todd Field (Little Children), the film stars Cate Blanchett as Lydia, an artist considered one of the greatest living composers/conductors, and first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra. The film follows Lydia as she prepares for a historic performance while dealing with a growing scandal caused by accusations thrown at her of wrongdoing. Throughout TÁR we are given various sides and layers of this character through the many roles she plays, including teacher, mother, lover, and celebrity. She’s a complex and flawed figure that Blanchett brings to life in an extraordinary way. Director Field does the work of painting the world around her through sight, dialogue, and most importantly sound.

The way to watch TÁR is to go in there knowing that this is all about character. The plot is important of course, but only in so much as it relates to our central focus— Lydia. If one were to go into this film expecting huge revelations and constant blowouts, then they will be disappointed. That’s not to say that the film is quiet and painstakingly subtle. Much is said, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the sounds are boisterous. Yet, what sparks the fire of this movie is Blanchett’s Lydia, as she is the catalyst for pretty much all that happens to her. She is somehow able to be used as a form of symbolism, but also a distinct character in her own right.

Lydia is a highly intelligent woman who is well aware of her talent and prestige. She is surrounded in circles of people who are both adoring fans, envious rivals, and pretentious colleagues. Classical music lovers will relish in plenty of the conversations had in the film dissecting past musical greats and their impact on the genre today. Lydia may be a fictional character, but all of the famous composers she references, and the other characters discuss, are very much real. And these aren’t just surface conversations to show us that we’re in the musical world. Long stints of time are devoted to some of these conversations dissecting style and choice.

This is an impressive display of the research Field put into writing the screenplay to make TÁR as authentic as it feels in the beginning. Yet, I would argue that all of the highfalutin discussions in the film serve a dual purpose. It doesn’t just show how knowledgeable Lydia and the characters around her are, it also displays how pretentious and pompous they can be as well. This is important in putting into context how Lydia has reached the mind-state she has as a woman a little too high off of her own power.

TÁR movie poster

And what does power mean in this film? That is a central theme that is explored through Lydia. She’s an interesting character who at times lacks a real moral compass. She’s ambitious and calculating. I would argue that she wields her power, especially in relation to the scandal she finds herself at the center of, in a male-coded way. In the times of the #MeToo movement this is an interesting juxtaposition that the female lesbian musical genius finds herself in, and we the audience have to try to understand.

Would it be easier to digest her actions if she were a man? Could we make sense of her shortcomings? Maybe we’d be more comfortable condemning her than trying to find some way to understand her motives. The film questions if an artist’s masterful work surpasses their individual transgressions. It also inquires if cancel-culture (the idea of attempting to socially and professionally exile a person after wrongdoings have been exposed) has made it so far too many people are way too eager to be offended by something.

There are some great scenes that take on these topics which will definitely divide some viewers. Field clearly shoots these moments in a way that makes it hard to come to one cut and dry judgment. This is why Lydia as a character is key, because although she is deeply flawed, the other areas she encompasses (lesbian, female trailblazer, caring mother) adds a nuance that works against coming to hard and fast conclusions.

Sound is used by Field to give us a view into Lydia’s mind and the world around her. Everything is used in a way for maximum impact, from the sound of water dripping to the ticking of a clock. The music, of course, is amazing as well. Humor surprisingly comes into play plenty of times in the film, intertwining nicely through the more dramatic scenes.

Some may argue that TÁR could be shorter in length, but this is debatable. All of the scenes matter, and help the audience to sink into Lydia’s world. This kind of film will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The style and atmosphere has more of a niche, arthouse, vibe rather than one for mass appeal. It’s daring in a good way, and hopefully viewers will welcome the challenge.

TÁR is available in theaters October 7, 2022.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.