So, we watched TAR last night (sorry, don't know how to get that accent above the "A"). If I can say anything about the film, it would be that it was an "experience." I'm not sure what I experienced...but let's look at the "teaser" trailer for the movie (which I saw several times in the cinema: we watched, TAR, however, via Netflix (a CD no less!).
Okay, so let's take "TAR" one step at a time. Here are some of the questions this clearly, deliberately obfuscating film raised for me.
1. Is this supposed to be a character study of a narcissist?
2. What is a U-Haul lesbian? (Okay, I just looked that up and now I know).
3. Exactly, just what does a conductor do with the orchestra; because I've never really known and will this movie make it clear? E.g.: where do they get their batons? Mail-order? Batons-R-Us?
4. What, exactly, has Lydia done that gets her "cancelled?"
5. Is she really that pretentious?
6. Why does the Russian cello girl apparently live in an abandoned warehouse?
7. Why doesn't Ms. Tar have the slightest sense of humor? Even Towering Geniuses like her don't get far in life without some charm.
8. Is Ms. Tar mentally ill? Why is she hearing beeping sounds at night and then staring into the refrigerator?
9. Is Ms. Tar being stalked? If she isn't, who is leaving cryptic drawings and fucking around with her metronome at night?
10. Why does this story require two hours and thirty-eight minutes to be told?
So, in examining that trailer closer, I can't tell if Ms. Blanchett is actually expelling an actual cloud of smoke from her mouth or if it's CGI; or perhaps both. There seem to be figures coalescing in the smoke: a skull perhaps? What are we to make of the uber-serious, portentous narration over the image? What does "...the bee fertilizes the flower it robs..." mean? What is all this talk of gods? Why does true power require camouflage? Why in order to have true power, does one have to "obliterate" themselves in front of the public and God? These comments seem to be sending out mixed messages. Who wrote this narrative voice-over? I'm guessing it was the writer/director of the movie, Mr. Todd Field. I'm guessing Mr. Field is a pretty intelligent person. Ergo, there is no way he wouldn't know the level of pomposity, pretentiousness and pontification of this trailer. So, if he knows...what does that mean? Is it satire? Is he mocking the self-importance of the Art Film itself? He must be! For nothing could explain the absurd number of accolades regarding Ms. Tar that we hear coming from the moderator from The New Yorker that I'm assuming is taking place in Carnegie Hall. How could it be anywhere less? Yes, we know Mr. Field is intelligent (although there must've been a blip when he chose to purchase this hat):
"...and not only that, she can play the trombone...with her feet!"
"...in the early aughts, she dedicated herself to her one woman string quartet..."
"...her Concerto for Accordion in B-flat is considered the finest piece of accordion music in the history of accordions!"
"...music critic Paul Griffiths wrote, and I quote: 'Her mastery of the kazoo has left the music world racing to catch up; and audiences transported to places beyond the space/time continuum. To wit: Lydia Tar IS the kazoo.' Unquote."
Yes, I jest. But it really is so ridiculously imperious (everything, the tone, the dialogue, Lydia's demeanor, Cate Blanchett's acting, the directing...) that you can't help but ask yourself: "Is this a put on?"
I've seen Mr. Field's other directorial efforts. In the Bedroom and Little Children. All I remember from Little Children was, I think, Kate Winslet getting banged on top of a washing machine(?) by a hunky actor who looks exactly like two other hunky actors. My husband and I call In the Bedroom "the smokingist movie ever." Just thinking about it makes me want a cigarette. There was something to do with lobsters...
Both those movies, though, were pretty straight forward. TAR is decidedly NOT straight forward. It's not even straight!
You know, I wanted to not like this movie; simply because it so full of itself in every way. But I keep thinking about it; and for me, that's a sign that I've watched something with some depth. That run time was punishing though. It just wasn't necessary. I think it will keep a lot of people away from seeing it, let alone re-watching it.
So, let me answer the questions I raised in the beginning.
1. I would say yes. And no. I mean, she's totally full of herself but I didn't see her doing any of the typical things narcissists do. Like, she never gaslights anyone. She's pretty up front about her behavior. She puts her money where her mouth is. If she's achieved all of the things the movie tells me she has, then I think she has the right to be a little big headed.
3. I learned the conductor keeps time with their right hand and "shapes" with the left. Other than that, no. I did not learn anything else about conducting. Why did we not see her conduct her own composition she was working on? Take us through that? Seems like the movie should have. And it's a flop. And that's what takes her down.
4.Apparently she had an affair with a red-headed woman who ended up committing suicide. Lydia advised an orchestra that this woman was unstable and shouldn't hire her. This woman stalked Lydia then killed herself...so, yeah, clearly she was unstable. A video was cobbled together and edited to make her seem like a bigot and a grabber of knees. Clearly this was all out of context; anyone could see that. So, I would say no. She didn't do anything that should of lost her her job. Well, then again, she did try and delete all those emails...so, yeah...I suppose that's a dismissible offense. And who made the video? It seemed to come from numerous sources that it couldn't have. In reality, that is.
6.The girl couldn't have lived there, as it is presented. Which led me to believe that the girl didn't actually exist and that the movie was really about a woman having a mental come apart. Which brings us to the bear...and the dog...(which I will get to later).
7. It seems to me that Lydia, in what we come to discover later in the movie, has created her persona from whole cloth (which would explain the scene in the tailor shop!). In her mind, a "great Maestro" would be super-serious...so, nothing so low brow as humor.
8. It seems as though Ms. Tar is having some kind of mental breakdown; which, let's face it, is kind of a cliche. Yet another crazy woman of The Cinema: Marnie, Black Swan, Repulsion, Fatal Attraction...the list goes on). Why are all these crazy lady movies generally written and directed by men? Gee, I wonder. I guess a woman going off the rails is sexier. But TAR refuses to come out and tell us. Is she crazy or isn't she? Who attacked her? A large black dog, or some strange man, which is what she tells everyone is what happened. Or, was she imagining the whole thing and simply tripped and banged her face? Did the dog and the stuffed bear toy exist? The black dog is a traditional symbol of a demon; so is Lydia being stalked by her demons, which are catching up to her?
"In folklore worldwide, Bear sits in a position of judgment, often representing morality. They offer lessons in both what to do and what not to do in order to maintain the high ground. They grant rewards to the righteous and punish those who are immoral." So is Lydia being punished for her immoral behavior. For her "predatory" behavior. I'm gonna say, yes.
9. Ms. Tar, I think, is being literally ghosted by the dead girl with the red hair. It is this "ghost" that is leaving cryptic messages and so forth. At least, that's how it should be taken in the world of this movie. I think there's also a possibility that Lydia's wife is doing it. She's the one gaslighting the narcissist. I mean, she doesn't seem to like Lydia very much and later on withholds their daughter from Lydia, which, I'm sorry, you can't just do that.
10. It doesn't. A good forty minutes could've been shaved off, making the movie tighter and thus, better. I mean, why did we have to see her jogging a dozen times? Why did her conversations with everyone drag on for twice as long as they should have?
Some more questions. What is the meaning of the accordion? Why is Ms. Tar's foundation for young, aspiring female musicians called The Accordion Project, or whatever it was. And later, Ms. Tar "plays" an accordion in her second apartment. Why the hell would high falutin' Lydia Tar have an accordion, the one musical instrument that is so low brow it is a literal punchline? Is this a sly joke? That Lydia is not quite as high falutin' as she thinks?
I must say, I loved the scene where Lydia tackled her replacement during Mahler's 5th symphony. I didn't see that coming! Actually, I wished they had gone further with the scene. Like, it would've been AWESOME to see a De Palmaesque slo-mo scene of Lydia, like, trashing musical instruments like a rock star. She picks up a cello and bashes it over her rivals head. She shoots him with a bow from a violin, using the violin like an archer. Oh! And then, pandemonium breaks out and the other musicians go nuts and start fighting with their instruments, in their formal clothes, all while Stravinsky's Rite of Spring plays over the scene.
I will say though, the ending, where Lydia is conducting an orchestra for what appears to be a Furry convention, although amusing, didn't really work for me. I don't think Lydia would've taken a demeaning job like that. I mean, why? She didn't appear to need money. In fact, she seemed quite wealthy. Someone like her would just bide their time until the "problem" blew over, I think. And slowly start working back. You know, like scoring a TV show.
So, those are my thoughts about TAR.
I recommend it. But you'll want a lot of things around to make those nearly three hours go by faster. Do some bills. Do your nails. Organize your record collection. Practice your batoning. Blow some smoke. Whatever.