Lydia Tar Isn’t Real, But What Makes The Character So Undeniably Authentic?

When I first heard of Cate Blanchett’s “Tar,” I believed it was a biopic (just as it was marketed) and decided to watch it when I had enough time to immerse myself in the joy of finding out the “true story behind Tar.” Something about the downfall of a real-life hero because of their abuse of power is something we’re all keen to watch. Unfortunately for me, the only thing that is unimaginable about this film is that it is all imagined. Not in actuality, but the fact that the EGOT-winning, lesbian, world-renowned conductor Lydia Tár is just a character makes one wonder how deeply adrift we are from reality or, on the contrary, how perfectly crafted this story is. The movie opens with a scene from a private jet where someone is taking a live video of someone who looks to be Lydia Tár in perfect 2020’s fashion. The film then shifts to a voice-over biography (an astounding one at that) of the extraordinary “Tar,” with snippets of the perfectionist herself going into suit fittings, looking at magazines, and writing music. Of course, the interview drifts from music to the “intellectual” ideas of sexuality and gender in the man’s world of orchestral conducting, with answers leading us to believe Lydia is above it all, claiming she really has nothing to complain about.

It may seem that Lydia is a complex character who derives pleasure only through her heightened passion for composing and music, but she is highly charged with the need to be perceived to be the best in front of those she cares for. For someone who doesn’t understand anything about the world of western classical music, it is easy to be utterly confused and lose interest while watching one babble on about Bach and the symphonies of Beethoven, but even so, “Tar” expertly leads us to understand Lydia’s mind and believe that she is just as lost in power as she would’ve been on her way to get there. Lydia is hilarious, talkative, and beautifully intimidating. The truth is, the complexity of Lydia “Tar” lies in the viewer’s humanity. Although it is true that many women would feel slightly uncomfortable with the portrayal of a woman who abuses her position of power, it makes one wonder how this may be the case in reality. If we can admit power is genderless, then why not the abuse of power as well? We’ve seen the other side of the coin with films like “Black Swan,” which benefit from this idea of exploitation of the artist, whereas “Tar” explores the exploitation of a mind in power. Lydia is not a hero or an anti-hero; she’s just an influential woman who ends up digging her own grave and losing everything she worked so hard to attain. Lydia is uptight, fierce, passionate, and, importantly, manipulative through her position at the top. At the beginning of the movie, Lydia is at the peak of her career, having received many awards as the conductor of the Berlin Philharmoniker, a true honor, and even publishing an eponymous book. At that point, she is able to keep those close to her enchanted by her music and words. Her assistant Francesca may have stuck with her till the end because she believed Lydia would take her up the ladder indisputably, but by the end of it, she’s left with nothing but being Lydia’s right-hand woman. Francesca’s absconding from her side is what triggers Lydia’s downfall. Lydia is so sure that Francesca would never do anything against her, knowing well how naive she had been. Unfortunately for her, Francesca had her own mind, and in the usual manner, when one’s mind is suppressed for too long, it explodes with resentment.

When Lydia is a guest lecturer at Julliard, she expresses to one of the students who is a BIPOC pangender person the need to play the very ‘white misogynistic’ Bach’s phenomenal compositions because in the present day, people want to hear what they already know but in nuanced interpretations, she seemingly doesn’t understand the effect she has on the said student being shocked when they walk away from the class calling her with a curse word. Lydia herself asserts at the beginning of the film using the analogy of the “Shipibo-Kanibo,” who receive their song only when the singer is on the same side of the “spirit that created it,” converging the past and present like the flip side of the same cosmic coin. From my understanding, Lydia believes she’s reached far into the future with her compositions and simultaneously understood the past by conducting the music of the legends, and that’s what makes one truly a maestro. Today, the past can be considered problematic, and although some people, such as Lydia herself, can separate the art from the artist, there are those younger than herself who would not want to be entrusted with such “disgrace.” In another instance, “Tar” lies about being attacked when she falls on her face because she cannot have anyone, including her wife, believe that she could so easily “fall from grace.” Later, when the truth behind Tár’s involvement in the death of the young conductor Krista Taylor appears in front of her wife, she decides to leave Lydia and take their adopted daughter Petra with her, the only person who is able to keep Lydia grounded through it all. We can see how vulnerable she is when she’s left all alone. It is comical, then, to think back on how Lydia spoke to Petra’s bully, essentially telling the little girl that karma will come to get her. Disgraced, she ends up getting physically violent with the male conductor who replaced her for her glorious moment in closing her “cycle,” shattering the little bit of respect she may have had left. Shockingly, in the closing scene of the film, she finds herself in a South-East Asian country (presumably the Philippines or Vietnam) conducting a young orchestra for a cosplay event, continuing to live out her “passion.”

“Tar” is a character study that is watchable only because of a captivating performance by Cate Blanchett, who keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. From the choices she makes to the clothes she wears and how quickly she switches from perfect to incredibly flawed keeps one hoping things will turn out alright for her in the end, even when we know it may not be right. Lydia’s aura is almost narcotic in the manner in which it keeps you consuming more and more of her “innocence” until you start to question your idea of good and bad. Of course, this doesn’t mean we believe Lydia is a saint; she is somewhat gray, which is what makes her so astonishingly authentic. When she visits the spa and is asked to pick a girl from the “fish bowl,” she ends up retching from disgust. One can only presume at this stage, because it seemed till that point Lydia was unhinged by everything she had ever done. What makes her then feel uncomfortable picking a girl to give her a massage by just a number? Maybe Lydia does feel some sort of remorse after everything she’s experienced, going from perfect to humiliated. It is safe to say that the first 15 minutes of the film- the interview, are what firmly plants Lydia as real in our brains, 15 minutes that we keep returning to because of her passion and intelligence in her field, just as the metronome that doesn’t leave a musician.  

See more: ‘Tar’ Ending, Explained: Is The Monster Hunter Orchestra Lydia Tar’s End Or Hibernation? 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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