Brock Willard editor in chief
“Tar” is a riveting tale of a truly phenomenal artist as she navigates the professional music world and maintains her psyche as she “services the composer.”
The movie, directed by Todd Field, stars Australian actress Cate Blanchett as fictional orchestral conductor and composer Lydia Tar as she prepares for one of the most taxing and high-profile concerts of her career: a full performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, one of many masterworks in the Western art music canon but especially monumental in its scope. Throughout the film, the pressures Tar faces slowly creep more and more into her psyche as she approaches this incredible performance. She also experiences considerable marital issues, and the stress eats her alive. The film centers on how she’s able to cope (or not) with these pressures and stress.
Firstly, the film is more well done than any music film in a long time. Blanchett went through considerable training to make sure she looks like she is a conductor. There are many movies that feature a conductor or other musicians, but the actors do not have any musical training. Rather than hiring a trained musician as a consultant to make sure they appear realistic in their portrayals, film studios often just tell actors to “fake it.” This often creates performances that are comical at best, insulting at worst to actual musicians. This movie takes great pains to avoid that. One of the actresses in the film is a classically trained cellist turned actress.
The film plays with themes that artists often struggle with. One primary theme is emblazoned in a powerful quote by Blanchett’s character: “If you want to dance the masque, you must service the composer. You must sublimate yourself, your desires, and even your personality in service to the music…” That’s a powerful statement that artists often find themselves grappling with. Musicians often ask themselves if it’s more appropriate to play the piece on the page exactly as written or if it is okay if there is some sort of expressive consideration to be had? The answer is quite unique to each performer, and it’s a question that is especially important to conductors.
The struggles that Blanchett’s character goes through are also relatable to a general audience. She slowly begins to lose her mind because of how hard she is driving herself into the intrigue that is inherent in her work. I think any person can relate to the ways that Blanchett tries to cope with her growing stress-induced madness. Think of the last time you felt completely exhausted by your career in a “love-hate” sort of way? You love what you do but there are obviously moments when you feel like if you don’t rest, you might go over the edge and be unable to recover safely. That is what “Tar” is about.
The movie is only in select theatres right now, but it gets a full theatrical release on Oct. 28. It is a movie that you will want to see. Pre-screens of “Tar” give it an A-plus rating and so do I.