How to Disappear Completely: A Lesbian Musician Watches Tár

This piece contains spoilers for Tar. Mentions of suicide, sexual harassment and professional misconduct.

I really wanted to love Tár.

The movie launches us into the middle of the world of classical music and offers no explanations. It’s overwhelming, at first, to be thrown back into the whirlwind of obscure references and posturing, the “remember whens” of a former conductor or an inside joke about “wide vibrato.” The lack of explanation, the density, the way in which the film completely immerses us in that world and does not care if the audience felt alienated delighted me. Finally, here was a movie about classical music for us.

The elitism and alienation is the point. I won’t go into the intricacies of how difficult it is to navigate and succeed as a symphony musician, but the important things are that it’s very competitive, very white, very cis, very straight, very male, very affluent.

This is the world that Lydia Tár inhabits, the institution where she wants to be seen as a notable and important person. The way that she gets to the top is in the way that the institution has demanded: through assimilation. When The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik lists her achievements during the introduction to her interview, it reads as classic overachieving, the kind you’d undertake to quell Imposter Syndrome. Everything about Lydia is curated, from her tailored suit and open collar, to her obviously rehearsed lesson on the power of the conductor and the nature of time, to the casual way she dismisses any notion that she had to overcome misogyny and homophobia. I thought, “She knows how to play the game.”

Cate Blanchett, who has never looked dykier than in this film, is mesmerizing as a character playing a character, a persona created in the image of the institution. In an early scene, Lydia tosses records onto the floor, looking for cover art inspiration, and settles on Leonard Bernstein (in a black turtleneck and blazer) and Claudio Abbado (in a light blue button-down with a concert score) — both prestigious Deutsche Grammophon yellow labels. My friend and bandmate, Emily — who has been going to the New York Philharmonic since childhood — told me how closely Lydia’s conducting emulates Bernstein’s, down to his super animated arm gestures and mouth sounds. Later, we see her photographed, a near-identical shot of Abbado’s Mahler 5 cover.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar, clutching her fist while directing, in a pristine black button-down shirt

To Lydia Tár, what makes something great is its conversation with the canon, exemplified in her takedown of a literal 20-year-old, who said that they couldn’t get behind Bach because of his misogyny. (Full disclosure: I too would say that I did not get what the big deal was with Bach in my youth, but it was mostly because everyone said he was great and could not tell me why.) What ensues could have been a nuanced conversation about separating the art from the artist, but what occurs is a defensive and smug lecture about Ana Thorvaldsdottir and John Cage’s “shortcomings” as composers and how social media makes one a “robot.” I thought the choices of Thorvaldsdottir and Cage (who is not named, but his controversial piece 4’33 is mentioned disparagingly) were interesting, as both composers utilize graphic notation to a degree. Graphic notation – compared to Western notation, or staff – is a form of documenting musical ideas that is based on visual symbols, illustrations and words, the effect being that individual players have more agency in their interpretation of the score. Thorvaldsdottir’s and much of Cage’s work are also in conversation with nature and, for Cage, happy accidents, in sharp contrast to Lydia’s reverence for the structure of the institution.

In my opinion, if she wanted to go down this route, a more sobering yet effective tactic would have been to remind the class of the type of music rich white donors will expect to be programmed if they want to keep their jobs, or telling them that they can expect to be contending with a board of directors that’s about 90% white, who see themselves as stewards of (white, male, European) tradition.

Power subtly fills every frame of the film. One does not need to know the workings of a symphony orchestra to sense the power-play behind the scenes. You can note it when Lydia shares the screen with her assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and her partner, Sharon (Nina Hoss. Both women give understated and complex performances, a counterpoint to Lydia’s flamboyance. Francesca fulfills the thankless job of catering to Lydia’s whims and responding to Krista Taylor’s desperate emails, no doubt, because Lydia has been dangling an assistant conductor position in front of her.

Krista Taylor, a member of Lydia’s mentorship program, we learn in the briefest of email subject headings, possibly had some sort of affair with Lydia. I feel like Krista, a much younger woman, developed feelings for Lydia, who treated her the way she treats Francesca, dangling promises of career advancement and never delivering, always reverting to holding up her own power. We learn this via brief glances at the emails that Lydia ultimately sank Krista’s career. This is a pattern for Lydia, played out with Francesca, with Krista, and even in the schoolyard with the girl who’s bullying her own daughter. Lydia counts on being the “adult,” who can threaten a child and know that the younger and less statused person won’t be believed.

I waited for the moment when Francesca would blackmail her with Krista’s emails, but was pleasantly surprised by the swerve of the plot arc when it never happened. It would have been the conventional route for the plot to take. Even if successful, she’d still have to work with Lydia. Francesca quitting without warning and giving Krista’s emails to her parents is not just a fuck you to Lydia, but also a way for her to save her own ass. She could see the writing on the wall.

Any hope I had about seeing a somewhat healthy relationship between middle-aged lesbians at the top of their professional games was dashed against the brutalist architecture before we even see Sharon. Before we meet Sharon, we see Lydia hoard Sharon’s medication and use it to self-medicate. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sharon is the concertmistress, one of the most powerful player positions in the orchestra. Undoubtedly they sought and consolidated power together and enabled each other. When Sharon admits to Lydia that she knows that their relationship is transactional, my heart doesn’t completely break for her, because I think to a significant degree, it was transactional for her, too.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar, with her arms spread wide, in a pristine blue button-down shirt

This is a cynical take, I know! But I can’t help but think of the scene where Sharon reminisces about how, when Lydia first came to the Philharmonic, she asked Sharon to tell her the intricacies of navigating the system. And while I’m more or less fine with the choice to closely follow Lydia in the present, a flashback of post-coital scheming would have been hot! Sharon leaves Lydia in the end, not for the sexual misconduct or affairs, but because Lydia left her in the dark about the investigation into Krista’s death by suicide. To me, this reads that Sharon was more or less okay with the transactional nature of their relationship, as long as she could benefit and as long as she didn’t know the details of Lydia’s trysts – perhaps a willful ignorance. Sharon needed to cut ties with Lydia before she too became a persona non grata in the institution. I absolutely believe that Sharon removed the Mahler 5 concert score from their flat and handed it over to the Philharmonic as a show of fealty.

One thing that’s tricky about this film is that it’s allegedly about cancel culture, but if you blink or don’t know a couple of specific things about how symphony hierarchies function, then it reads that Lydia is fired only because of the pending lawsuit against her or the doctored TikTok video, a kind of supercut of her diatribe against the Juilliard student in the beginning of the film. Certainly these would have a significant impact on whether or not she retains her position, but she also flagrantly disrespects the governing system of the symphony — she goes against the structures she’s spent a lifetime reinforcing.

Formed in 1882, the Berlin Philharmonic is self-governing. The orchestra members vote on chief conductors, echoed in Gopnik’s introduction of Lydia at the beginning. When Lydia tells one of the principals that she wants to let the assistant conductor, Sebastian, go, he offers to get a quorum together to vote on it. She overrules him, leaving him speechless. Later, she tosses out the idea of performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, again to the surprise of the orchestra. (It’s an odd choice. Concert programming is curation, and the Elgar and Mahler 5 don’t really speak to each other.) Lydia then suggests that they hold open auditions for the cello solo, knowing that Olga (Sophie Kauer), the new cellist who has caught Lydia’s eye, plays the piece well. She also gives the section very little time to practice for the audition, all but guaranteeing Olga will win the audition.

This would never happen within the workings of an actual orchestra. The entire ensemble is visibly shocked. Unless there is a guest soloist, solos traditionally go to the principal (first chair of the section). To have a new player who is on trial given a solo is so wild, so unorthodox, and so sloppy. It’s embarrassing to Sharon for her colleagues to be so openly disrespected. My hottest of takes is that as much as Lydia’s downfall is caused by sexual misconduct, it is also because she is a disruptive force to the order within the institution, as well as its reputation. She uses her status to acquire additional privilege, and hers is an abuse of power rather than of a subversion and critique of it.

So many facets of Lydia’s sexual relationships are left ambiguous, to the strength of the film. In the beginning, Lydia compliments an admirer’s bag, and when she returns home and her partner, Sharon, notices it, says that it was a gift. Again, Sharon does not want to know. Sebastian predicts that Lydia will give the assistant conductor position to Francesca because of a sexual relationship, which the film neither confirms nor denies. We never even see the reality of what happened between Krista and Lydia, we are only given email subject headings, a first edition of Vita Sackville-West’s Challenge, and Lydia’s unreliable takes.

We are given both subtle and unsubtle clues to Lydia’s masc-ness: her tailored suits and baseball cap, introducing herself as Petra’s “father,” the way in which she doesn’t see herself as subservient to men. The body language she assumes when proclaiming to be a U-Haul lesbian is such LHB energy, it is truly [chef’s kiss]. What’s left unambiguous is her pursuit of Olga, and the second part of the film basically devolves into a portrait of a predatory lesbian. Beyond Lydia changing her score of Olga’s blind audition when she recognizes her shoes from underneath the panels, beyond her practically leering at Olga as she eats her lunch, we are given a scene where a middle-aged lesbian literally chases after someone half her age, and I could not have been more bored. It’s almost as if director/writer Todd Fields didn’t know how to resolve the complexities laid out in the first part of the film and relied on tired stereotypes to displace the tension and conflict. The result is that we can’t help but project what’s happening on screen onto what’s happened off it. I wish we had been given something else to help fill in the blanks or to maintain the mystery in a more compelling way, but also this is what happens when artists make decisions in a vacuum, without thinking about their impact on the identities they depict but don’t share.

It seems that the thesis of Tár is that in order to succeed in an institution, one must take on the traits of that institution, hoping that it would shield her from accountability for her worst impulses. But how do we know that a queer woman chief conductor would act so egregiously? There haven’t really been any. To date, only one queer woman has led a top tier orchestra in Europe and the US: Marin Alsop. (She and Nathalie Stutzmann are the only women to have led top tier orchestras in Europe and the US.) Like Lydia, she conducted an orchestra where her wife was a musician, they have a kid together, she runs a mentorship program for aspiring women conductors. She also retired from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last year with zero accusations of sexual misconduct.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar, sitting in classroom smiling

For Lydia to be an out lesbian and start a mentorship program for aspiring women conductors, there would have been talk about how she was using it to find hook ups and as a way to groom women. For her to somehow not know this, or to act on her impulses despite the rampant sexism and homophobia, or for her to not care and somehow keep getting opportunities is just so weird to me. In my experience, there is a wide spectrum in terms of how much women will acknowledge that sexism or homophobia impacted their careers, but they will never say it had zero impact. Women in musical spaces have worked to build community and to hold doors open for others. They’re so often generous mentors. I’m not going to say that women don’t abuse power in musical spaces, but to have a character who is so flagrantly arrogant and self-serving and abusive, so lacking in self-awareness, does a disservice to the work that other women in classical music have done and are doing. To have the narrative follow Lydia so closely paints her as The Portrait rather than A Portrait.

Having lost her position and her family in Berlin, Lydia returns to her childhood home, where we are met with a twist: she hails from the working class, and this is where I was Officially Done. For a while now, Hollywood has had difficulty portraying the working class with dignity, and a main character returning to their “humble roots” so often reads as shorthand for failure. In Tár, her wood-paneled origins are a sort of “gotcha,” where it’s revealed that Lydia Tár is a character, that the answer to the question “Who is Lydia Tár?’ is “your guess is as good as mine.”

What is the point of this? Just 18.2% of musicians and visual artists in the UK come from the working class, just as an example. I imagined a younger Lydia, juggling hours of individual daily practice with ensemble rehearsals and a full course load, trying to get scholarships and working jobs, dealing with sexual harassment from old-school music professors with regressive approaches to pedagogy, whilst hearing a chorus of “you’re wasting your time” and “we can’t afford to pay your bills when you can’t get a job” back home. I’ve been there, too, shaving the edges off my accent and observing how I’m “supposed” to act around people born into a higher class, filling my free time in college with editing the school paper and lit mag and serving on committees, joining honor societies, being generally “clever” and “precocious,” all while working nights as dorm security, in the hope that one day I could have the “correct” CV so that I might transcend gender, sexual identity, class, tokenism — hoping that a hand might deign to offer me an opportunity so freely given to white men with ⅔ my qualifications, and it would be undeniable that I had earned it.

There are so few accurate portrayals of classical musicians, let alone ones that center on women and other people of marginalized identities, and what we’ve gotten here in one shot is an unsettling portrait of toxic hustling and bootstrapping, as if Lydia’s behavior is somehow an inevitability.

That she felt the need to, in her words, “obliterate” and remake herself in the image of the institution in order to succeed is an understandable conflict, but it’s also cynical and profoundly sad. I don’t think that the film gets this nuance or is able to handle a topic as complicated as class shame. It’s more interested in showing us power as a downward force and the severe upward angle of the camera on Lydia’s downbeat at the podium, seemingly cinematography depicting Lydia at the podium a reference to the Man Ray photograph — Lee Miller (The Necklace) — she’s literally a phallic symbol. What are they trying to say? That in order to get to her position, one must practically become the living embodiment of toxic masculinity? This is reductive and presumptuous at face value, but to project this onto a masc-ish lesbian is so gross.

Speaking of gross, the ending is such a problem! We think Lydia hits rock bottom when she returns home, but then she moves to an unidentified country in Asia, which reads as poor and “uncultured” in the context of the film, and I’m flummoxed as to why this decision was made. In one scene, a concierge sends Lydia to a questionable massage parlor with sex workers (because of course), illustrating that she has moved to a place that condones her predatory behavior. She becomes physically ill, and it could be read that she is repulsed by that idea.

However, the “fish bowl,” where she can select her masseuse, is arranged like an orchestra, the woman who makes eye contact with her sits in Olga’s position and her robe has an embroidered 5, as if Olga and Mahler 5 are mocking her. I don’t know what the point of this is, other than to be completely on the nose about her downfall. On the whole, the last 20 minutes or so tried my patience. I really wish more responsibility and sensitivity were present, and that we weren’t supposed to see a person losing institutional privilege and her “punishment” being to work in a non-Western orchestra and playing music seen by the institution as inferior as some sort of justice. Literally nothing about the institution that enabled her has changed.

To say that the second half of the film has some serious issues and majorly bummed me out is an understatement. I had such high hopes for the film, which disappointed in theme, but what I hold onto is the quality of the performances, which never wavered. With Blanchett, especially, there were so many wonderful bits where she responds to the sound in her environment, aided by the fantastic sound design. In one scene, Lydia hears a noise outside her flat, and she picks the notes out on the piano and riffs on it for a second. This is very musician-y. In another scene, Sebastian clicks a pen, and when he stops, places it on the desk, and walks away, she places the pen into her pocket. Lydia’s relationship with sound heightens the natural horror elements and is reminiscent of another movie about an arts institution, Suspiria.

I can’t help but come back to the moment when, during the interview at the beginning, Lydia announced that she planned to perform the “Adagietto” at around seven minutes. I audibly gasped in the theater. That’s so fast! (Ideal length is about 10 minutes, IMO.) She said that she wanted to play it fast to capture the energy of the new marriage between Gustav and Alma Mahler. “I choose love,” she said.

Musicians often point to The Piece, that moment in their journey when something clicks for the first time, when a connection and a sacrifice and a transcendence occurs, beyond logic, beyond words, a synthesis of emotion and physicality but somehow existing beyond it. For me, it’s the “Adagietto.” When I performed it 20 years ago, it took a patience and presence, so much control and restraint and softness and movement that I had not known I had the capability to communicate through sound. It took everything I had from me, and afterward I leaned against my bass and cried. I can only imagine what it must have felt like for Blanchett to conduct it, to have the camera fixed upon Lydia as she stood in stillness as the air still buzzed. I was emotionally moved to hear the end of the “Adagietto”in the film, to melt into the double basses surrendering from the G to the F and the slow decrescendo into silence. And I thought, “Who would want to rush through love?”

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Sadie Powers is a bassist and sound artist currently based in Pittsburgh, PA. You can find her on instagram at @sadiepowersmusic

Sadie has written 1 article for us.


  1. I love how clearly knowledgeable you are about the world of classical music – I learned so much from this review!

    Still haven’t watched Tar and remain unsure whether to, but found this a fascinating digest either way 😊

  2. This is really great, nuanced writing, and I’m so glad I got to read it here! I agree a flashback to a sexy scheming moment with Lydia and her wife would have added nice heat to the film. I also was disappointed in what felt like Todd Field not knowing how to continue the nuance into the second half of the film re the predatory lesbian vibes.

    • So glad I’m not alone with wanting a sexy steamy scheming scene! Agreed about the second half! It felt like we were set up for some great threads that never really played out. I feel like the movie started to lose momentum after Noémie Merlant left, but that could just be me wanting more Noémie Merlant. Thank you for your thoughts! ❤️

  3. I appreciate the insider perspective of this review! definitely helped me understand some of the musical elements I didn’t get before.

    but not sorry to say I still love this movie. sometimes I just want to watch a movie that shows me complicated dynamics and makes me feel like shit once I realize the woman I’ve been fawning over for an hour is actually the villain lol

    also yeah, nothing about the institution that built lydia has changed, but if the person who almost sexually harassed me out of my career fell from grace and had to settle for temp work (not even as a first choice) – instead of what actually happened, getting an even better job and institutional accolades – I’d still be pretty thrilled

  4. Really appreciate this review. A few queer women friends and I, who love classical music and opera, have been puzzled by the choice of a dude director to have the predator in this film be a queer woman when so so so so many men have never been held accountable for their abuse. This puzzlement makes me hesitant to see this movie even though I love Cate generally.

    • It’s so true! I’m tired of artists adorning their work with sprinkles of marginalized identities in order to elevate their work. A woman chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic already puts this movie in the realm of fantasy. You could literally tell any story!

      If you love classical music, the first half of the film is wonderfully nerdy and has the makings of what could have been a stellar film, and Cate is magnetic. But having the film devolve into a portrait of a predatory lesbian was A Choice.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts! ❤️

  5. Thanks so much for this thoughtful, detailed discussion. For one thing, it got me to look up Ana Thorvaldsdottir; I’ve never been that interested in atonal music but the excerpt in the film was intriguing, and I like what I’m hearing. I totally agree about Sharon’s role in the relationship. I also really appreciate your perspective on orchestra politics and being a working-class lesbian in the music world.
    I saw the movie this weekend and really enjoyed it: beautifully acted, beautifully shot, fantastic music, and that LHB energy. Plus it gave me a lot to think about.
    I didn’t take her to be *the* inevitable high-achieving lesbian conductor, but I also wondered, like the commenter above, why this movie had to be about a lesbian?
    I finally took it as asking, partly, what happens to the artist who separates *themselves* from their art. I think that’s one of the many ugly things going on in the Julliard scene: when she says the student has to make that separation so as not to be judged, it points right back to what she’s done, which is to viciously compartmentalize herself, and now she’s trying to force that on him.
    And I see her as someone who decided that in order not to be bullied she had to be the biggest bully in the room (which is what happens in the schoolyard scene). So for those dynamics to occur you need someone who could be bullied, who could be judged negatively on their identity—and then makes the choices that make her so damaging.
    But, yeah, this is written/directed/produced by people outside that identity, so they get to play with it, and we have to live with it. I think the thing that most straight filmmakers get wrong is that they see lesbians only in isolation—maybe an isolated pair, but never as people with lesbian friends or a lesbian community. So the question gets begged, what choices would she make if she had those connections, some people to call her out at some point, or just keep her connected to herself so she doesn’t disappear into Lydia Tár, great conductor who can only feel through music and sex?
    In the end it had me thinking that even people who benefit in terms of money and power from the “separate the art from the artist” idea might actually be better off without it—but when you have money and power it’s pretty hard to see past them.
    Soooo many thoughts—I mean I haven’t even gotten into that Tiktok video—I have never used Discord but would be tempted by it for a Tár discussion!

    • Ooooooh, I love all these thoughts! That she’s not just pontificating to the Juilliard student from a place of philosophy, but from a place of “I needed to compartmentalize myself and you should too.” It makes me want to rewatch that scene from the perspective of perhaps a fear response that maybe she isn’t aware of and is filtered through self-righteousness.

      So much to think about here. I agree on the pitfalls of straight directors/ writers/etc depicting queers in isolation. Things just stick out as odd. I’d love to rewatch it and maybe discuss on the next Discord! Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughts!

      • Thanks for the response! I think you nailed it when you mentioned imposter syndrome. Right before she goes on for the Gopnik interview she’s so nervous that she’s shooing hallucinatory flies, and then we find out she’s so emotionally isolated she can’t talk to her wife about her anxiety but instead is stealing her pills. I saw her as being terrified of being attacked throughout. And yet she nails the interview—she’s intellectually hugely competent but an emotional train wreck. Thanks for the chance for a little dialogue!

  6. I have forwarded this critique on to my wife, an ex musician and lover of all things not homophobic.

    My comment is this. It is often an error to complain that an artistic endeavor is not realistic. That is not art, imo. I’m a sculpturer and painter. Art may communicate and express archetypal notions, which always seem to be ridiculous to realists. What you might really be looking for are accurate, factual reports. I submit that there has never been one.

    Be well,


  7. It is often an error to complain that an artistic endeavor is not realistic. That is not art, imo. Art often communicates and expresses almost ineffable archetypal notions, which always seem to be ridiculous to realists. What you might really be looking for are accurate, factual reports. I submit that there has never been one.

    Be well,


  8. Great review. I am very disappointed with the plot of this movie and I agree, the bully should’ve been a cis-het man. I still kind of love classical music and wish we could someday read an interview with Marin Alsap.

  9. last thing – I don’t get why the take is ‘Lydia should have been a cis het man’? then wouldn’t the movie have been boring as hell? like, I would have never watched a movie about a white man conductor, and then I would have assumed from the very first frame that he was an asshole and probably a sexual harasser? I only got taken in by the plot bc Lydia was someone I could relate to, was interested in, and could be seduced by. should movies just be documentaries?

    • I agree. If the protagonist had been a man, he would’ve been viewed as a lecherous predator from the get-go. Lydia is presented as a more complex figure because you are not immediately able to peg her as the villain. Further, the focus is not on a powerful man in a setting where women exist only to be victimized by him. This feels like a step in the right direction.

      I think this is one of the view movies I’ve watched where the main character is a complicated woman whose sole focus isn’t a romantic or maternal interest, but who is motivated purely by professional ambition (even the real-life villain Elizabeth Holmes gets caught up with an older man in her pursuits).

  10. Such a fantastic review! Thanks to the author — fascinating insight. I think I was disappointed at first, too. It’s a disturbing, bleak work, a show-off piece, jam-packed with references and allusions and hints and film wizardry. The single-take Juilliard scene is magnificent, pulling from Dance of Masks, Freud, Emily Dickinson, with references to a number of composers and events etc etc, as Tar shows us her intellectual chops and perhaps a bit of cruelty or even personal history. But here’s the thing. After I watched it, I could not get it out of my head. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Move you, make you think, make you feel. I watched it a second time and noticed even more packed into this movie. Clearly, Fields had every moment accounted for. She clearly had a psychotic break, I’d like to think she got treatment and didn’t just appear in a PR office to plot her comeback. She showed cracks from the opening scenes. Today’s MeToo offenders, from Weinstein to Charlie Rose to Matt Lauer etc didn’t have the mental breakdowns, this is something Fields gave Tar. I guess for drama’s sake, as it beats a long courtroom scene or settlement in some lawyer’s office. There’s no question Tar’s behavior was self-destructive. She pursued Olga (a silly character, but one still smart enough to turn the tables and use Lydia) against all logic, when the spotlight was on her behavior. She had a chance to delete all the Krista emails on Francesca’s laptop — they were, after all, on a work computer. The only out of character (non-transactional) relationship was with Petra, which was out of character until you see a solitary child, different, picked on, and you realize that was Tar’s youth, most likely. Just loads to unpack — which is why I loved the movie, despite the awful, clownish ending (no offense to Monster Hunters, which is apparently a thing. Talk about a low common denominator).

  11. When I read about the film first, I immediately thought that the choice of a lesbian predator was made to “abstract” the plot from the usual male predator, as an artistic choice. But the question remains why.
    My biggest problem is that I just don’t buy that this film is about an actual female predator (they exist), but that Tar is just a metaphor, for male predators. Like those Star Trek plots where racism is not between the white and black main characters but because of some other, alien, characteristics. And the black characters are racist in that situation too.
    But real racism against black characters never ever gets addressed (apart from DS9). So the question remains- why do white, male directors want to discuss racism, sexism, abuse etc. on an “abstract” level without naming the perpetrators?
    By doing this, the deeds of the majority perpetrators get obscured, while at the same time, the film does not do justice to actual female predators and their victims. It feels to me like they are too unimportant for a realistic portrait and that makes me angry.

    • I agree, I think Todd Field’s intention was definitely not to show what is or would have been specific to the experience and behavior of a queer female perpetrator (although there is a little bit of that, such as showing the way Lydia had to separate from her identity to be successful). But, yeah, to me it feels like Field uses his lesbian protagonist as a tool to question male power and abuse in general and from a safe distance. Because of that, it reads as if the intended audience for the movie is (as always) straight males, since they are the ones needing this distance to engage with the topic.

      I actually really loved the movie, but I also think it sucks for lesbian conductors who had it hard enough without being used as a metaphor for the behavior of shitty men who impeded the careers of women just like them (well not technically a “metaphor” but you get it).

      By the way isn’t Nathalie Stutzmann also queer? I remember coming across this info very easily on the French internet of 10 years ago, can’t find it anywhere now. This makes Tár even more infuriating in this aspect, if the only female conductors of top-tier orchestras who’ve worked both sides of the Atlantic are actually TWO QUEER WOMEN!! (who, by all accounts, are absolutely nothing like Tár)

      Anyway, this review was brilliant! I particularly appreciated your insight on what would have been the trajectory of a working-class lesbian conducting hopeful. Thanks.

  12. As someone who is neither a musician nor a lesbian and why I can see your interpretation of the film and those of every other critic I just didn’t see Lydia Tar as either an alpha male nor a sexual predator let alone a power obsessed ultra ego. For me (and I realise I am alone in this) the film is about the downfall of a successful woman who doesn’t accept the gender fluid woke bullshit of this modern era and to whom – as in every successful woman – she is surrounded by those who are jealous, inadequate and inferior in any way this set out to destroy her. You can hardly blame someone’s suicide on a an affair (even if that did happen but if so where’s the evidence of abuse?) nor the inaccurate mash up of a video based on a masterclass intended entirely to discredit her. And who is taking the videos and sending nasty text messages? Why does a second rate conductor eventually replace her (and not the man she fired!) No! I’m all for team-Lydia!

    • The implication was that Krista took her own life because Lydia had sent emails to all major orchestras telling them not to hire Krista. If you spend your whole life practising your instrument several hours a day and suddenly have no job opportunities that’s devastating.

      I’m a lesbian in a male-dominated field and this film really hurt me.
      The people this film hurts the most are the real women out there trying to make a difference for everyone. Including for you!

  13. Reviews of this film led to the highest of expectations, as did the trailer and first 30 minutes. I had spent a few years in this world (as librettist and companion to a composer/conductor). Thank you for a review that explains my deep disappointment in it. Especially sensitive to the class comments.

    I thought the film took the easy way out: manufactured cheap drama. And yet there is so much fascinating material in the actual world of high music. I was told my a conductor friend (in Berlin) once that the orchestra is tricky to negotiate: everyone in it once had the ambition to be a soloist (you have to be that good of course to pursue music professionally) but all of them are in the ranks. There’s a dedicated orchestra psychologist. I guess what I’m saying is, I think this film obscured the reality of that world, and appreciate your showing more precisely how it failed to capture it’s richness.
    That’s why I also find comments unhelpful that remind us this is a ‘work of fiction’ and not to expect verisimilitude. Pffffft! Why make art if not to capture what is idiosyncratic, or compelling, or noble, or telling, or characteristic, of some era or phenomenon? Why just use the superficial trappings of a world, instead of giving a glimpse into that world. I agree that Tar started out showing us the inner workings more clearly. Alienated and elitist as they are. I just wish it had stayed true to that beginning. Moreover, I learned very little about how woman or others with marginalised identities might have acted, or their experience.
    And nothing about the class boundaries and expectations. Lydia’s working class origins were treated as shorthand for some shameful secret, a shameful reveal.
    So again, thank you for this article, which is spot on.

  14. I was initially hesitant to watch this movie, but I am glad I did. However, I was ultimately disappointed with the way the character of Tar was portrayed. Although I am a cis-male, it concerns me that there are so few roles for lesbian characters in big movies, and to see one of them depicted in such a negative light as a sociopath was disheartening. I was curious to know if I was alone in my opinion.

  15. This was a fantastic review, thank you. I’ve only just seen the film because it’s finally on its first run here in the UK. There are a bunch of things I can’t stop thinking about either –

    We’re told she somehow had time to go get a PhD in musicology from the University of Vienna which had a heavy ethnographic fieldwork component in Peru for FIVE YEARS?? (after! she went to Harvard, and then to a conservatory!) so like maybe she’s 25 when she starts her PhD, it takes her 5-6 years, so when, by god, did she have time to start up her conducting career? We’re told she conducted in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York! Okay, let’s assume she’s Cate Blanchett’s actual age, she’s 53. She finished her PhD when she was 30, and then decided as Dr. Tár to return to music performance instead of an academic career in the thing she just spent 5 years doing in Peru. How long does it take from doing probably very little orchestral performance for that long to conducting in Chicago or New York or Berlin? I’m just assuming she was busy with fieldwork and writing a PhD – maybe I’m wrong, I wouldn’t know, I spent most of my time crying in the library during mine. Let’s pretend that takes 10 years? We know around her early 40s she’s elected the principal conductor at Berlin. Sure, I guess she then can spend all of her 40s becoming an EGOT & running her mentorship program. I say, from the couch.

    anyway, that rant over… she’s definitely also a kind of academic personality I’ve encountered again and again. That posturing is very familiar, the need to prove over and over your cerebral prowess while being utterly unable to function in any ordinary arena of life without someone handing you tea and sorting your calendar, and not really aware that like deleting emails from your sent folder does not delete them from the world – big prof chair energy.

    and you’re very right about this ‘gothca’ moment when we see her childhood home. I felt like a lot of the setup was meant to show you how repulsed she is by poverty and seemingly surprised that there are people in the world who aren’t living like she’s living, because she is supposed to be filthy fucking rich, and yet ope, no, she’s just Linda from upstate.

    anyway, that’s my ramble, gotta watch it again in my own home so I can really unnecessarily stew on those things.

  16. I’m super late to the conversation. Thanks for all the musical insight. I loved the film, as someone with much less musical knowledge but in academia. So many female academics bully or harass their students, particularly female students. To get to the top, these women had to embody the institution and along the way they become terrible predators. From that framework I also enjoyed the end part. I read it as a system of abuse where these (probably great!) musicians in another country are subjected to potential abuse by Tar as part of her downfall. The story is always about Tar and never about those around her whose careers are made (or ruined) by what Tar thinks of them.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!