What does TÁR mean to you? Or to me? Or to writer/director Todd Field? One of the most interesting things about the film is all our answers could be different...
First off, let's get one thing clear.
Lydia Tár is not real. But don't tell Field that.
"She's a real person to me. As real as anyone I've known."
That's what he told me in our conversation about his epic character study starring Cate Blanchett as the titular Lydia Tár. Check it out below:
I considered his comments on her realness and thought to myself that the meaning of TÁR, its ending, and its overall effectiveness are all tied into how real that character was to Field... and in turn... audiences watching.
On the surface, TÁR is a not-real-but-a-fairly-real story about someone with a lot of power and fame, ensconced in their own egoism, who has habitually abused this power and the people around them... only to suffer all manner of consequences.
TÁR is about sexual predators, workplace abuse, abuse of power, corruption of fame, the culture of fame, the idea of cancel culture or consequence culture, and also... classical music.
But the meaning of the ending of TÁR actually leads the mind in a totally different direction. Implying, perhaps, something more complex and harder to be as clear on.
Let's start with the beginning, though...
What is the plot of TÁR?
Renowned composer-conductor Lydia Tár has a few weeks until recording a major symphony, one more feather in the illustrious cap of her career, when a series of her actions and their consequences finally catch up to her, throwing her life and her dreams into chaos.
The movie never leaves Lydia Tár. She is in almost every frame, sometimes duplicated through a frequent motif of shooting her in various reflections, clearly implying that there are many sides, many aspects to this person. To any person.
All of these notions were discussed and confirmed by Field in our conversation.
But what was intended? What did it mean?
Field, for his part, was not interested in offering an interpretation of the character beyond that human beings are complex. But at the same time, he confirmed my reading of the film and its character.
So what was that exactly?
'TÁR'Credit: Focus Features
TÁR movie explained
TÁR is about power and consequences, as I mentioned. We have witnessed in recent years both the massive #MeToo movement and the so-called cancel culture that follows.
This is a polarizing issue to say the least, and there are political implications frequently along with it.
TÁR echoes issues of sexual misconduct in the classical music world, as well as many in the film and television world, or political world. It's all relevant. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Bill Clinton to Brett Kavanaugh.
Field told me he really started writing TÁR during the beginning of the pandemic, not so coincidentally a matter of months after this story was published in the Atlantic.
The headline "Classical Music Has a God Status Problem" is pretty clearly a prompt for the screenplay he would go on to write.
Works like David Mamet's Oleanna come to mind while watching the film, though, to Field's credit, TÁR has far less agenda beyond character exploration. Oleanna was Mamet's own railing against the notion of being entrapped and tormented by #MeToo and cancel culture before those things hit the mainstream.
Recently, however, Mamet claimed teachers were inclined toward grooming and pedophilia in general. Both a major topic of TÁR and a fascination of Mamet's.
Field does a great job of not inserting his own agenda into the plot, though. His camera stays with Lydia as accusations swirl around her, and he hints at her role in multiple obvious transgressions without ever having her actually commit a crime, at least not one we see.
Then again, he gives us enough of a darker shade in her portrait that it's easy to blame her for her general mistreatment of others. It's easy to see why so many around her would like to take her down... it's easy to see how the court of public opinion, and the various moneyed forces backing her are quick to drop her and cast her into cultural Siberia.
Lydia, who has nearly everything in the early scenes of the movie, loses nearly everything by the final scenes.
This alone is epic Greek tragedy story craft, and I give Field and his collaborators all the credit in the world for pulling it off.
But let's talk more about that ending...
'TÁR'Credit: Focus Features
The ending of TÁR explained
At the end of the movie, Lydia finds herself conducting an orchestra in southeast Asia. We're not clear on where exactly, but it's a far cry from the locations she frequented in New York and Berlin up until this point.
She is working hard, as she always does, at doing her job, but the big reveal is in the performance when it becomes clear that Tár is conducting a live performance of the score for the video game Monster Hunter.
Up to this point, the story has framed things as though Tár is a bit of a monster herself, right? And she's been hunted down... by those she wronged?
Many watching the film, however, might not be aware that there is such a thing or phenomenon of "monster hunter" live orchestra performances for crowds of cosplayers. Yeah... it's a real thing.
Once you know, it all fits perfectly though and the TÁR ending sends the film's final not-so-subtle message. Are the witch/monster hunts actually destroying culture itself?
I don't think so.
But TÁR certainly is posing the question.
We have gone from Mahler's 5th to a PlayStation 2 game.
And we have! It's almost shocking to spend the first hours of the film in a world where everyone is thinking, working, talking, and spending deeply on classical music. It's a true niche world. The mainstream of today, as we know it, doesn't even have the patience for a feature film such as this one, or a book... let alone a symphony!
But that's the whole point, perhaps. We have landed, as Tár has, somewhere far afield from appreciating classic art. And this all hearkens back to an early scene where Tár rips apart a young Juilliard student for rejecting the greats of the past for being white cisgender males.
Her educational assault is recut to seem sexual in nature by a fellow student and posted on Twitter, all of which aids her swift downfall.
Whether Field likes this interpretation or not, these are more than breadcrumbs leading us to the conclusion that through cancel culture, we are canceling culture.
It's a bold take, not one the filmmaker or film explicitly commits to... but it's there.
Personally, it makes me think the implication is that by punishing, say, Woody Allen for his alleged crimes, we are robbing humanity of a great artist.
My impression in talking to Field is that he doesn't want to commit to a stance such as this but sees himself rather as a conduit for this character and these events, allowing us to leave the theater discussing it, disagreeing, and perhaps coming together in some way shape or form.
He doesn't want the work, the character, or himself to be limited to an agenda. But rather he wants to present a number of sides to this.
Tár is a monster, she is a hunter, and we decide if that's for better or for worse... right? Then again... that final frame implies strongly that culture itself is what's on the chopping block.
Or is it that culture is simply evolving? And that Lydia Tár's brutal takedown of a young Juilliard student early on was someone too high on the elitist nature of the craft... ignoring that the new modern popular versions have their own value... one she will eventually come to depend on.
You can read TÁR several different ways, and that is its true gift.
What did the ending of TÁR mean to you?