Tár (2022) — Movie Review

Colton Royle
9 min readMar 21



I write reviews based on four categories: Coherence, Intensity of Effect, Complexity, and Originality, each based on a score of 1 to 5. The total score is averaged out of these parts.

Tar is a 2022 drama film directed by Todd Field. Having seen Tar just a few days ago, I cannot stop thinking about it. While I would not say I enjoyed the film a great deal as I was watching it, I have a feeling that, on repeated viewings, I will come to enjoy it more. Just know before going in that it is one of THOSE films, a two hour and 38 minute movie that really demands parts of you that perhaps have not been used for a while. Those parts might include focused attention, leaving preconceptions at the theater or bedroom door, and a willingness to interpret fairly dense dialogue. I’m going to try and review this film without spoiling too much, and some of this review is going to attempt to convince you to watch it. Here we go.


The film is a character study of Lydia Tar played by Cate Blanchett, a female composer and conductor who is set to complete a “cycle” of Mahler with his famous 5th Symphony, and she spends most of the movie preparing for a live recording. We begin with an interview with the New Yorker which does double duty providing exposition on Tar’s success up to this point, as well as remarking on some of the themes we are likely to come across. From there, the camera spends the vast majority of the time following Blanchett’s Lydia, and we learn such an intricate amount of detail about her that the end result of the film is profound in its implications. Tar may not be as coherent of a film visually as it is tonally. As you might already know, I adore films that choose a tone and stick with it, and Tar is resolutely committed to maintaining its feeling and pressure throughout. It is serious and professional. Characters spend their dialogue on a huge wealth of classical music trivia, but also speak so authentically about the composing and the actualization of classical music that, for those like me who know little about music, we are duped into believing that these actors are actually music professionals. As far as cinematography, the camera is willing to do whatever it takes in order to make a certain scene stand out. There is sort of an arc to the film where we go from long takes to shorter and shorter ones, but it is not so simple, cuts and camera angles are more intuitive, and will keep a close proximity for intimacy or rawness, or will back away to highlight sterility or a stunted relationship. Suffice it to say, the coherence is far more story based and character based than in its technical prowess. Compared to something like Blade Runner 2049, where Roger Deakins used few cinematic tools to great effect, I think Florian Hoffmeister’s varied approach here to reflect scenes rather than arcs is serviceable, but may help to make the runtime feel slightly longer. In other words, there are great shots but the connective tissue between them is more difficult to find. That is not to say that they do not exist: quite a lot of the overlap in plot developments are less visual than auditory. Lydia Tar is a music composer, and so the great pleasure of the film is in getting to interpret sound in the same way that she does. If you do watch this movie, I would highly, highly recommend headphones or some kind of surround sound set up. Much of the sound design is subtle but vastly more important, I think, than its image. The unity of the film really shines in the story’s ability to link various subplots together throughout the film in a way that adds to the pressure placed on Lydia Tar to be a professional. Certain symbols used throughout the film appear as leitmotifs in a way typical of a tragedy. For all of these strengths, perhaps minus some slights, I’m giving coherence a 4 out of 5.

Intensity of Effect

While watching Tar, I did admit to myself that I found it difficult to maintain a certain emotional closeness to the thing. One easy comparison to Tar is Darren Arronofsky’s Black Swan, a particular favorite of mine. Both movies feature a professional in a high art setting, given the role of a lifetime, and having to maneuver certain stressors while practicing for their upcoming performance. The biggest difference lies in its emotional appeal. Arronofsky is far more gaudy and unapologetic when it comes to pulling on the strings of the viewer to force their emotional investment. This comes from attaching sexual enticements, emotional outbursts, and thrilling changes in volume, as well as profound editing into the image. Tar favors a cerebral approach that, while it assists a viewer in thinking about the film afterward, its resonance, I think it sacrifices the viewing in the moment. Possibly Tar’s greatest weakness, I think, comes from characters sitting at tables and spouting music trivia. You’re going to hear a lot about Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Mahler, and, once, the philosopher Schopenhauer. Each of these details adds to the larger themes of the movie, but rob the movie of emotion in its immediate runtime. It’s a very talk-heavy movie as a result. Much of the best stuff concerns Tar’s character herself. This is easily the best role I’ve seen Blanchett play, and coming off of Nightmare Alley and this, she’s undoubtedly one of my favorite actresses working at this moment. Her ability to deftly turn the knife as a domineering presence made me simultaneously despise and admire Lydia for her chutzpah. Her confidence in her wielding power is interesting and terrifying. The music trivia is icing on the cake to help provide viewers with a bit of context for how Tar’s behavior compares to music history. Like Black Swan, Tar also attempts to stress the character psychologically in the form of nightmares and possible hallucinations. I think Black Swan managed to time the arrival of the breaking down of Natalie Portman’s character a little better than Blanchett’s Lydia Tar, but I also think that the overall themes addressed work better in the latter film. The final scene of Tar is so shocking and so horrific, given what we know of Tar’s values, that it enters into deliciously dark comedy, and I instantly began thinking of the film’s significance the second it ended. I think the intensity of effect, having been toned down for the majority of the film, only to pick up at the end, stands at a 3 out of 5.


Besides perhaps The Lighthouse, or The Favourite, I cannot think of any other film in the past 5 or so years that I have seen that has shaken me after watching like Tar. Tar invites questions of agency and authorship, but it also invites doubt into the innerworkings of institutions, and it discusses the use of power so thoroughly that one imagines Todd Field came out of a class on Foucault. One of the fascinating aspects of Tar is how several reviewers either went into the film or left the film expecting Lydia Tar to either be a real person, or based on a real person. That means that the sophistication and authenticity of the character, details, and settings, is so precise that it sort of bootstrapped what it takes to make a real, compelling character. This is revelatory. It has been a long time since I have absorbed fiction where I look at a character and find myself thinking of them as a character and not some function of the author or of the historical moment. Lydia is not an archetype like a superhero movie. She is not an allegorical character in some historical Oscar bait. Instead, the layers of contradictory points made in the film are so numerous that we cannot look at Lydia Tar, and her context in the music world, without coming away with disturbing lessons. Indeed, as A.O. Scott writes in his New York Times article, one of the darker lessons concerns reality itself and the perception of reality. Similar to Showtime’s underestimated show The Affair, Tar makes us wonder whether people in an intimate space can really talk to each other about the same people, or places, or things. Tar makes demands on her players, and sometimes they are obviously manipulative, but so does the staff around her. This manipulation of the psychology of people broadens into creating art, where we also wonder whether art can be, or has ever been, in a sacred space. Much of the intermingling of power dynamics with the rehearsals for Mahler’s Symphony №5, and the conversations of other artists on the idea of originality, point to the argument that no, art can never be sacred. The beauty of Tar is that I think there are brief moments in the film where a devil’s advocate position certainly CAN be taken on this argument. Suffice it to say, I feel very, very strongly for the complexity of this film. It is extremely topical to our current moment, in regards to public perception and cancel culture, but I also think it transcends that conversation into the sphere of universal human desire and its relationship to artistic production. Tar easily scores a 5 out of 5.


Tar’s best place for originality is likely the intersection of social media, institutional bias, and good ‘ole fashioned power and manipulation. Weaving these together, Todd Field has provided a tragedy that speaks directly to a 21st century problem. In Tar’s case, this is a rather insular problem: who has thought about music and its production as deeply as these characters? Few people really know Bach, or Beethoven, or even Mahler. I myself love the symphony no. 5, and have listened to it at the kitchen table before seeing the film, but I was simply lucky, and I consider myself a pretentious academic. If the film had used perhaps Brahms, or some other composer, I would have been totally blind. The script does not let up in this regard, and is detailed to the point of opaqueness. I think it serves to make Lydia Tar so concrete of a character as to seem real. This is a double-edged sword, I think, because most viewers are not interested in hearing about the innerworkings of music for over two and a half hours. I think that the point of all this sophistication in the story is to embed universal themes into a context which feels true. This puts it in league with something like Ulysses, where James Joyce sought to recreate what it FELT like in Dublin in 1904. That makes Tar an esoteric work, but I think its popularity will grow over time because its universal message is rewarded for its specificity. It asks a question I have not heard before: at what threshold in the personal characteristics of an artist do they descend in moral reprehensibility before we disqualify them from holding public station? The particularities of this question change over time, because each time period has differing ethical and moral tastes that make up our symbolic world. But the question in its abstract will be with us forever. Because art will always be a part of us and (hopefully) because human beings will continue to be the ones making the art. Because of this excellent display of the abstract and concrete, Tar gains a 5 out of 5 for originality.

In conclusion, a score of 4.25 out of 5 reflects a movie that is most profound for what it suggests even more so than what it shows. That may be a strange statement to make, but it points to a challenging film that asks you, the viewer, to be patient with its scenes in isolation, in order to be profoundly moved when taken in aggregate. I loved Tar, but I only love it now, with some distance between me and it. Had I reviewed this in the moment, or even immediately after, I suspect this score would be lower. But I am hard-pressed to remember a movie that I sat with in my mind like this. Just know, going in, that the movie treats you like a professional. Like Tar’s performers, she asks a lot of you too. It’ll be up to you to decide if you want to show her what you’ve got.



Colton Royle

Colton tries to picture a world in which nobody trusted their System 1 thinking. He is currently working on trying to be a better listener.