Why Did Cate Blanchett Think "Tár” Might Ruin Her Career?
The BAFTA winner challenges industry groupthink
Cate Blanchett took home the Best Actress BAFTA for her role in “Tár,” and during her acceptance speech she revealed the stakes of the story behind the story. She called the project “a dangerous” and even “potentially career-ending undertaking.” Why?
Perhaps it’s because of the film’s peculiar way of exploring the Me Too movement.
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“Tár” gives viewers, not a voracious male protagonist, but a voracious female protagonist. Blanchett’s character, the fictional Lydia Tár, is also a lesbian. The identity matrix so often referenced by influential people tells us that that makes her doubly oppressed, and thus, doubly good.
On top of that, Tár has succeeded in a male-dominated field.
She is a composer who leads a prestigious orchestra. And on stage or off, Tár remains in total control. Every word she utters is as sharp as every tailor-made suit and sweater she wears. For goodness sake, Tár is even an EGOT (a winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony)!
Lydia Tár is very nearly the perfect NPR woman, yet she also uses her power for sexual gratification. For Blanchett and director Todd Field the central horror revealed by Me Too isn’t “toxic masculinity,” but the abuse of power. That’s a failing any of us can exhibit, but pointing it out could have easily triggered an avalanche of outrage.
Perhaps the movie was “potentially career-ending” because it challenges other sacred beliefs.
In one of the film’s most problematic scenes, we find Tár teaching a seminar at Juilliard. She asks a student, Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist), what he thinks about Bach.
MAX: As a BIPOC pangender person, I would say Bach’s misogynist life makes it kind of impossible for me to take his music seriously.
TÁR: C’mon, what do you mean by that?
MAX: Well, didn’t he sire like 20 kids?
TÁR: Yes, that's documented, along with a considerable amount of music. And I'm sorry, I'm unclear as to what his prodigious skills in the marital bed have to do with B minor.
Tár beckons Max to the piano to sit beside her as she plays Bach. She invites him to experience, not the man, but the music. Max remains unmoved.
MAX: You played really well, but nowadays, white male cis composers—it’s just not my thing.
TÁR: Don't be so eager to be offended. The narcissism of small differences leads to the most boring conformity.
Tár tries again.
The student won’t budge on artistic grounds, so Tár provides a self-interested reason for Max to set aside his preoccupation with identity.
[I]f Bach’s talent can be reduced to his gender, birth, country, religion, sexuality, and so on, then so can yours.
Now, someday, Max, when you go out into the world and you guest conduct for a major or minor orchestra, you may notice that the players have more than lightbulbs and music on their stands. They will also have been handed rating sheets, the purpose of which is to rate you.
Now, what kind of criteria would you hope that they would use to do this? Your score reading and stick technique or something else?
The exchange heats up more, and then Max leaves class in a huff. He calls her a “bitch” and she calls him a “robot.”
An edited video of the exchange goes viral, and some rather unclear abuse charges made against Tár in regards to the suicide of a former protege further turn the public against the iconic artist.
The forces of cancellation mount and strip Tár of her status.
“Tár” offers a respite from industry groupthink, but how many people will actually see Blanchett’s act of heresy?
Even the most alluring conductor is no match for a charismatic fighter pilot, and even those who welcome a deep dive into the orchestra world, might balk at the runtime—two hours and 38 minutes!
Viewers willing to sit tight that long will have their resolve tested with a gauntlet of very long, very talky scenes. In the opening scene, we catch up with Tár in the midst of an on-stage interview with the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik. In the ultimate in elite cameos, it is the real Adam Gopnik! (Not that I realized it.)
Tár weighs in on the history of Mahler and explains why she prefers to be called “maestro” instead of “maestra.” She delivers the perfect zinger for Upper West Siders, “We don’t call astronauts astronettes.”
I enjoyed “Tár,” but so much of the film seems designed to repel a mass audience. As an indie film fan, that’s fine by me.
But what about the film’s persuasive potential? Has it been wasted? Not at all.
It’s not the masses who most need to rethink their identity fixation. It’s not the masses who are the most devoted enforcers of groupthink. It’s not the masses that made “Tár” a potentially career-ending undertaking.
Ted Balaker is a filmmaker whose recent work includes “Little Pink House starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn,” “Can We Take a Joke?” featuring Gilbert Gottfried and Penn Jillette, and a forthcoming feature documentary based on the bestselling book, The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
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Fantastic movie. Here's a review that has changed how I think of the film and which will require me to rewatch the film: Tár Is the Most-Talked-About Movie of the Year. So Why Is Everyone Talking About It All Wrong? (https://slate.com/culture/2022/12/tar-cate-blanchett-movie-ending-explained-analyzed.html).
As a musician, I'll add that Blanchett pulls off a rare move for an actor: she actually appears to be performing the music--an achievement I also recently saw in the 2014 (and also fantastic) film "Whiplash," where the actor actually did the drumming and the rest of the musicians were actually musicians, not actors. (J K Simmons did a perfectly respectable job as conductor, too.) "Green Book" did and amazing job (particularly on "Blue Skies"), but they did so by digitally swapping Mahershala Ali's head onto Kris Bowers's body and hands.