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Finally, The End of Tár

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Why is this movie awarded a knowingness it never earns?

Tonight, the Oscars and finally, I hope, the end of Tár—a movie I hated. It is nominated for six awards, including Best Picture. Before this is over, I want to say one last time: This movie is middlebrow crap.

In this turgid, conservative (politically, yes, but aesthetically, truly a conservative film) our main character, Lydia Tár, is a conductor. Supposedly, she is a great one. The film takes us through her “cancellation.” There are other plot points, there are other moments. But this is what this film is about. It is a cancel culture movie focused on the abuser. And so when I saw it last year, I walked away with many of the same thoughts as Richard Brody, who called it “regressive.”

I found Tár adequate, conservative, and adult. It is a film version of a finely-wrought Atlantic piece on cancel culture. In each, there are concrete successes—crisp sentences and scenes—but nothing is beautiful, and nothing is challenging. As Brody wrote: “‘Tár’ is a useful reminder of the connection between regressive ideas and regressive aesthetics.” What even is there to analyze here? The shots are languid. Professional lighting. Meaningless and composed frames of Cate Blanchett. Tár is well done and ill-conceived.

This is not an illuminating movie; it is just quiet. In its silences, the greatest minds of my generation (well, honestly, not mine; the one above mine) have found much more interesting ways of viewing Tár than director Todd Field could ever imagine himself. What if the end was a dream? What if the hyper-focus on an abuser doesn’t elicit empathy (despite that being exactly what it seems to do)? What if one of the most condescending, ridiculous scenes I’ve ever seen in a film was, in fact, not a poorly written Gen-X jeremiad but something which offers Easter eggs to question art’s nature to reality itself?

The movie is awarded a knowingness it never earns. The film treats you like an idiot.

Consider the opening sequence. Before anything, we see the credits—a list of assistant directors and assistants to directors. This is such an obvious choice that I feel weird even typing this next bit: The idea is to say that, unlike Lydia Tár, this film is interested in the people behind the scenes. No abuses of power here. Fair enough, but now there is a proposition to defend, and the film has invited us to judge it on how well it defends that idea. And yet here is how Fied himself explains, in a New Yorker piece by Michael Schulman, his own power as director in relation to the opening:

“Tár” begins where most movies end: with a full list of credits. When I asked Field about this choice, he said that it had to do with the “pyramid of power,” on which someone like Tár stands at the apex. “What are the cornerstones of a pyramid, and how does that support the top?” he explained. “The lines of power really interest me: Who enables it, and what benefit do they get from it? And when is it no longer a benefit?” By listing the gaffers and sound technicians at the beginning of the movie instead of the end, he inverts the pyramid, implicitly drawing a parallel between Tár and himself. Did that mean he saw in his own power a Tár-like capacity for corruption? “I don’t feel like I have any power at all,” he said. “I work seven days a week. I’m lucky to get five hours of sleep a night. I just feel like a panicked parent.”

You’re just a Dad? You, the director, don’t have “any power at all”? Come on. Godard is barely dead and you’re making him roll over in his grave. Field is already shrinking from the argument implied by his use of the credits. You want parables about cancel culture? Here’s one: the guy with the most power in the room pretending he has none.

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