“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18 [NRSV])
In Tár, written and directed by Todd Field, we meet a woman at the very pinnacle of professional life. Her accomplishments may astound us. Her world seems to be as full as it can be, but we slowly get clues that our admiration of her may be misplaced.
Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a world renown musician, conductor, and composer. We first see her as she is being introduced for an in-person interview. The interviewer lists her numerous accomplishments, including being the first woman to be the conductor of the prestigious Berlin Symphony. It’s impossible not to be impressed with what she has attained. The first third of the film lets us see her as she displays her competence, confidence, and even a bit of swagger in various settings, both personal and professional. She is among the best in the world at what she does, and she (and the people around her) know it.
She is preparing for a particularly important concert. Much of the film is built around rehearsals for this, but there are many undercurrents that are involved. Her family life involves her relationship with Sharon (Nina Hoss) who is also the symphony’s concert master, and their young daughter, Petra. Lydia relies on Francesca (Noémie Merlant) to keep things running smoothly. We may not really notice some of the little things that will become cracks in this picture of success, but they are there all along.
First, we see her belittle a student at Juilliard. Her criticisms may well be accurate, but they are done in a way that diminishes rather than constructs. When she confronts a bully at Petra’s school, she becomes a bully herself. And then there are small insinuations of sexual impropriety, which creates questions about the attention she gives to a new cellist in the symphony.
The film leaves us with doubt as to the truth of the serious accusations against Lydia, but there is ample smoke to justify the possibility of flames. The #metoo aspect of the charges are a reminder that such issues are not always a case of male privilege, but are at their core about power. (Although it is of note that at one point, Lydia calls herself Petra’s father.) Whether or not the accusations are true, we have seen enough of Lydia’s behavior to begin to think of her as arrogant. We know that she has been manipulative and heartless. All that will add to the depth of the fall when it comes to this haughty spirit.
The film is a complete package of great performance, music, cinematography, and story. All of it works together to lead the audience from our opening attraction to Lydia and all she has achieved to the point where we see the depths to which she has plummeted and wonder how she can maintain the pride that has filled her life—and led to her downfall.
Tár is playing in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Focus Features.