Tár opens with a POV scene in which someone covertly records a video of superstar conductor/composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) asleep on an airplane while texting someone else. One writes: "She's haunted". The other: "Are you still in love with her?"
We're never told who is communicating, so we are left to gnaw on this mystery for a few minutes as we are treated, inexplicably, to the bulk of the end credits up front. But honestly, this mystery pervades the entire film.
We then watch Lydia interviewed at a packed New Yorker event. After real New Yorker journalist Adam Gopnik treats the live audience – and us – to some exposition about Lydia's career, the two engage in a brisk back-and-forth in which we can see that Lydia, who has become the first woman to conduct the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, is at the very top of her game, and knows it. Supremely self-confident, the openly lesbian Lydia has reached a point where she even doubts the existence of sexism in today's classical music world.
Next, in a 10+ minute single take, Lydia lectures at a music class at Juilliard and takes a self-righteous student down a few pegs after he dismisses Johann Sebastian Bach as "sexist". That'll show those woke Millennials! But this scene, like many others, will indeed come to haunt Lydia Tár later on.
Much of the front half of Tár is sort of a slice of life, following Lydia as she prepares to conduct her white whale, Mahler's 5th Symphony, for an upcoming recording. But a story emerges in bits and pieces, with Lydia pestered by a never-seen ex-protégé named Krista Taylor – one of the two people texting at the beginning of the film, perhaps? – and we may infer that Lydia groomed the girl into a sexual relationship, then spurned her and even ruined her. But we can only infer, as writer/director Field refuses to tell us what actually happened. Regardless, it's clear that Krista is emotionally unstable, and her offscreen actions will most certainly come to haunt Lydia.
Helming his first feature in 14 years, Todd Field sure has done his homework about the quotidian details of orchestra life. Yet as Tár's plot and its protagonist both unravel, what emerges is a complex and ambiguous examination not only of the #MeToo movement but of an entire generational shift in human relationships. Field, like Cate Blanchett, Lydia Tár, and myself, is a Gen X'er, so I can't help but wonder if his film is a secret indictment of Millennial/Gen Z attitudes or if he sees Lydia Tár as a moral dinosaur whom the world is moving past, and good riddance to her. Tár's pitiful and absurd final shot suggests both.
It goes without saying that Blanchett is perfect in the role. A top-notch production at all levels, Tár is long but essential viewing. Don't miss it.