Prestige and paranoia abound in “Tár”

Published 12:42 pm Monday, November 14, 2022

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Taking the spotlight at Tryon Theatre this week is “Tár,” an immersive and dramatic film that paints an unflinchingly severe portrait of a world-renowned composer and conductor, Lydia Tár. 

In contrast to many films about artists, this film is not concerned with the ascension of the artist. Rather, it begins at the pinnacle of Lydia’s career and personal arc, as she is precariously perched on the precipice of a downfall, both professionally and personally. “Tár” beautifully traces this great fall from grace with unsettling intensity. 


“Tár” is directed by Todd Fields, whose last work, “Little Children” (2006), was an excellent film not for the faint of heart. That film similarly portrayed the destructive and tragic arcs of deeply complicated subjects. Fields’ ability to enrapture an audience is a credit to the aesthetic and composition of his films. 


This is a beautiful film to behold, often cold and stark, but nonetheless meticulous. The film makes great use of partitioned spaces, be it cities, forests, concert halls, or a labyrinthian apartment, to accentuate the increasingly fractured and paranoid state of its protagonist. Lydia is an individual defined by strict order, but growing ever more frenetic and disharmonious. 


Lydia Tár’s rigid sense of order is really a rigid sense of control, one that registers in every facet of her life, from her constant and domineering emotional abuse of her peers to her perfectly pressed and paired outfits. She has internalized the praise bestowed on her career, considering herself a self-anointed god among mortals, and a well of obsession and arrogance. She is a true predator – socially, sexually, and professionally – and sees others as products to be consumed and used. 


Despite the obliqueness of Lydia’s villainy, the film masterfully builds its tension, leaving the viewer with a creeping sense of dread at every moment. Lydia is equally poised to be the recipient or deliverer of the impending terror. The ambiguity of the film’s narrative tension is also reflected in the ambiguity of its thematic tensions. 


The film establishes many questions about art and culture, predominantly interrogating the premium we place on artistic virtuosity, and the behavior we are willing to forgive on behalf of that talent. Simultaneously, it questions the culture that finds personal identity and politics so inseparable from the artistic product of an individual’s talent. Can artistic talent ever be separated from the artist, in either the creation or reception of art?


“Tár” does not have the answers to these questions, but it poses them in thoughtful and engaging ways, making a true work of cinematic art from the examination of an artist.