In the midst of comprehension’s mundanity, sometimes someone has a daring agenda to deviously place a question in your lap and run. However much we may try to convince ourselves of our inclination toward the uncomplicated, the dead end of something frustratingly ambiguous is a seduction that is hard to resist. Perhaps that is what movies like “Tar” gamble on. What guards Todd Field’s charismatic drama in 2022? Tar’s gamble is the director’s conscious, successful effort toward securing all the risky ends with a magnificent narrative and the phenomenal Cate Blanchett casting her captivating spell. With nothing left to chance, Tar slyly makes way for the crowd’s questions to emerge one after another while the unsuspecting audience remains immersed in the gripping story of celebrated orchestra conductor Lydia Tar’s collapsing life. Not answering any of it is how Field shrewdly aims to maintain the conversations around the experience that would have gone perfectly fine without the ambiguity. But mediocre is clearly not what Tar means to be.
‘Tar’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
The New Yorker Festival’s host Adam Gopnik singing an overwhelmingly detailed hymn of all of her extraordinary achievements as a revered conductor is how we first see Lydia Tar. The Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award-winning composer and conductor has guided orchestras in Boston, Cleveland, and also Berlin, where she now wishes to perform Mahler’s No. 5. She is as smooth at leading an orchestra as she is at casually deconstructing Mahler’s muse for his tune and reminiscing about Bernstein’s effect on her own work. What Lydia is also smooth with is gently placing a clearly manipulative suggestion on the table while lunching with her fellowship’s manager, Eliot Kaplan. Knowing very well that it will affect the flow of donations and Kaplan will never go for it, Lydia only suggests opening her fellowship to all genders just so that it could be turned down without her having to take the blame. She also proposes the sacking of Sebastian, her assistant conductor in Berlin. Flirting endlessly with a fan while her faithful assistant Francesca waits is how Lydia pays her back for her devotion. It is also important to mention the unmissable, one-way tension flowing from Francesca to Lydia–the former being someone who seems to be harboring a romantic feeling while the latter simply does not give a damn.
A Juilliard student, Max, pays handsomely for mentioning to Lydia that he can’t possibly separate Bach’s talent as a composer from his extremely misogynistic lifestyle. Giving an “art vs. artist” lecture is how Lydia hopes to change Max’s mind. And when that doesn’t work, the celebrated conductor stoops to a masked personal attack. Lydia pays for not allowing Kaplan to take a look at her notes by flying business class to Berlin, where her wife Sharon and daughter Petra await. The truth about her faux affection for her wife is readily presented for us to gawk at when Lydia sees Sharon in pain, gives her the medication, and lies about the circumstances of finding it when she had had it with her all along. She doesn’t mess around on stage in Berlin and gives it her all to make sure that the orchestra echoes the exact feeling she wants to express with her rendition of Mahler’s No. 5. There is a ghost from her past that Lydia is running from. Repeated emails and cryptic gifts from someone she is answerable to, haunt Lydia in her most vulnerable state.
Who Is Krista, And Why Does She Kill Herself?
We first hear of an “erratic” member of Lydia’s fellowship during her conversation with Kaplan. She apparently was the only one in the group with no possibility of a future as a conductor. Krista’s name is first mentioned by Francesca, who relays her frantic emails and urges Lydia to write back. We are allowed a disturbing revelation of Krista’s identity when the devastated Francesca delivers the news of her suicide to Lydia. Panicking out of sheer guilt, Lydia deletes the traces of her correspondence with and about Krista and asks Francesca to do the same. We soon learn that what haunts Lydia is her festering guilt. Consciously burying the instances of her violently blacklisting Krista when their inappropriate sexual relationship got out of hand may come easy for Lydia, who is generally comfortable grooming her pupils and demanding sexual favors. But her subconscious is increasingly afflicted with her fear of it all coming out in the open. Lydia routinely abuses her position of power in the world of classical music to grant promotions in exchange for sexual favors. If we are to assume that it was Krista who sent her Vita Sackville-West’s “Challenge,” a story about Sackville’s own relationship that led to a threat of suicide, it can be said that Krista perhaps got more attached to Lydia than Lydia ever did to her. And if that was why Lydia decided to end their relationship, Krista must not have taken it well. In any case, from the looks of the emails she sent to Francesca, it was the unfair death of her career that troubled Krista. Not getting a response from Lydia, let alone any help is what pushed Krista to end her life.
How Do Lydia’s Wrongdoings Come To Light?
The most disturbing truth about sexual exploitation in any industry is that the misconduct–almost invariably–is a well-known secret. Voices are muffled by the threats of an absolute obliteration of careers. People around Lydia know of her shameful habit. Yet Sebastian only has the courage to charge her with it when he is about to be removed from his position as assistant conductor. Francesca has given Lydia her all professionally and most likely even otherwise. She stood by her side even when she knew of Lydia’s garish habits. At the same time, she was smart enough to keep the incriminating emails sent by Krista, even though Lydia asked her to delete them. Perhaps she meant to use them as leverage to get the assistant conductor job. Or, if I put my cynical side to rest, I could assume that she might have saved them to bring Lydia to justice. When Krista’s influential family sues Lydia for the death of their daughter, Lydia still can’t wrap her head around the fact that she is doomed. Her insane self-absorption and arrogance make her believe that Francesca will have her back even though she didn’t get the assistant conductor job. But Francesca completely demolishes Lydia by quitting out of the blue and most likely providing the investigators with the evidence against her. To make matters infinitely worse for Lydia, a falsified video of her day at Juilliard goes viral and reaches the board. Driven entirely by her indomitable impulses, Lydia continues her predatory advances on a newcomer, cellist Olga. The growing tension of the investigation against her doesn’t keep her from pursuing Olga and going out of her way to grant her favors just to draw her in closer. Consumed by her new infatuation, Lydia barely notices how close she is to the absolute wreckage of her career. She certainly didn’t expect her faithful Francesca to hand over the evidence to the investigators. Attacking her head-on at the deposition, the attorney doesn’t even allow Lydia a chance to lie her way out of it.
Who Was Working Against Lydia?
If there can’t be a right or wrong interpretation of a film this obscure, the bits and pieces of clues scattered throughout the narrative are all we have to rely on to draw our conclusions. There may have been more truth behind Lydia’s damnation than the immediate surface of the story lets on. We see a pair of hands texting about Lydia at intervals. The most likely conclusion about that is that the hands and the texts belong to Francesca. Being her shadow allowed Francesca the kind of access to Lydia that could’ve definitely been used against her. But who was she texting? Was it Krista? Sharon? Or Olga? It would not even be a stretch to assume that they were all in it together. Let’s see why that is. Francesca had more than enough reason to wish for Lydia’s downfall. She was a witness to the unbelievable manipulation and cruelty that Krista and countless others, including herself, endured. It’s likely that she was in cahoots with Krista and planned to bring Lydia down, but the pain of her career’s death was too much for Krista to bear. There were several instances of Lydia hallucinating hauntings in her own home. While the presence of Krista’s spirit can either be the design of Lydia’s declining psyche or the director’s dark humor, some other visions and sounds she experienced could very well have been orchestrated. Her long-suffering wife Sharon kept her mouth shut about the awful ways she conducted herself and was all too eager to bail and take their daughter with her when Lydia got “canceled.” Granted, that was a reasonable reaction, but Sharon had more than enough reasons to work against Lydia. It could easily be Sharon who stole Lydia’s performance piece and handed it over to Kaplan. If they were all, in fact, working together, Kaplan being the one to replace Lydia to play Mahler’s No. 5 was something they most certainly anticipated. The last nail in Lydia’s coffin was Olga. The mysterious air around her and how she always presented herself as the antithesis of everything Lydia believed in do suggest that she may have known of Lydia’s wickedness all along and placed herself in that position only to mess with her even further.
‘Tar’ Ending Explained: Is The Monster Hunter Orchestra Lydia Tar’s End Or Hibernation?
Being dragged out of the orchestra after attacking Kaplan may be the lowest point Lydia’s extravagant public personality has ever hit. Although just how excessively erratic that incident was did make me wonder if it was all in her head. But let’s not get carried away debating about something irresolvable. Todd Field evidently didn’t want to pick a side in the “art vs. artist” conversation. And if it is up to the audience to decide whether Lydia got what she deserved or if “cancel culture” preyed on another maestro, we first have to explore what really happened to her in the end. Taking the instructions of the new PR team to heart, Lydia lays low for a while. She pays her old home a visit, and there we find out her real name, Linda Tarr. In her old, humble room and amongst all the medals, Lydia revisits the version of herself that she left behind. The version that found unbelievable joy and inspiration watching Leonard Bernstein create magic with notes. As she sits and tries to reconnect with that old emotion, we see Lydia before fame happened to her.
She gets herself hired as a conductor in a Southeast Asian country. It’s a huge step down from Berlin hall or even the New York one. But she still gets to do what she loves. When she visits a local massage parlor, she is appalled to see women sitting in a room that the receptionist calls a “fishbowl,” waiting to be picked. When the woman with the number 5 written on her robe looks up, Lydia is reminded of the vulnerable women she took advantage of. It takes the blatant transparency of the massage parlor, which stands in stark contrast to the hush-hush felonies that someone like Lydia commits in her highbrow world, to make her realize just how monstrous she has been. It is also a ruthless reminder for Lydia that, at the end of the day, it’s all the same. The number 5 comes back into Lydia’s life often and without warning. It comes back only to remind her of what she will never achieve. She holds a Tony, an Oscar, a Grammy, and an Emmy. The fifth and most significant feat for her to pull off would have been the live recording of Mahler’s No. 5.
As we see Lydia gear up to lead her new orchestra, a VFX banner falls in the background, and the audience in cosplay costumes gets ready for the music. Lydia is now the conductor of the musical orchestra for the video game Monster Hunter. The daunting irony of her performing for something she could have called “robotic” in her glory days looms heavy over the sequence. But it may not really be the end of her career. She may as well be laying low until the controversy around her dies down, and she can rise back up again. She may not even consider this to be a step down if all she really cares about is connecting with the audience, any audience, with her music.