“Tar” is a drama film that excites on all fronts—the performances, especially of Cate Blanchett in the titular role, are brilliant; it majorly brings out the very toxic personal state of affairs in high-art peer circles, and yet, constantly makes one wonder of the other side too, making audiences question whether one’s personal values and actions should come in the way of their artistic evaluation. Following a distinguished music composer-conductor named Lydia Tar, the film focuses on how her past actions led to her fall from grace. Also, with great visuals and a direct style apt to tell such a story, “Tar” is a remarkable film that is compelling and relevant in equal measures.
‘Tar’ Plot Summary: Who Is Lydia Tar?
The film begins with a scene at the prestigious New Yorker Festival, which serves as a great introduction to our protagonist Lydia Tar, as all her accolades and achievements are read out by interviewer Adam Gopnik. Being a world-renowned composer-conductor is only the beginning of who Lydia is, as she has found success in both artistic as well as entertainment circles. Having worked as the chief conductor at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Berlin Philharmonic, she is also one of the very few to have won all four of the major entertainment awards—the Grammy, Oscar, Emmy, and Tony. At present, she intends to perform a live recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony with her orchestra in Berlin, completing a full cycle, and this is the project she mostly promotes at the on-stage interview with Gopnik. It is to be noted that, unlike how “Tar” has been promoted (in some senses), the character of Lydia Tar is completely fictional and does not necessarily bear a resemblance to any significant figure in reality. Soon, we are given access to the busy schedule that the woman follows, as she also runs a fellowship program for aspiring women conductors, which is managed by an associate named Eliot Kaplan. Over a lunch meeting, Lydia tells Kaplan that she is thinking of removing the gender restriction in her fellowship program and opening it up to men as well, and Lydia perhaps decides to reconsider this step when the manager says that this would lead to them losing donors.
Chinks in Lydia’s armor, on a personal level, of course, start to appear gradually, as she seems rather inconsiderate towards her personal assistant Francesca, almost taking her presence and work for granted at most times. Her relationship with her partner and concertmaster, Sharon, is also not the best, as the two hardly spend much time with each other, and Lydia is least bothered about it. It is with their adopted daughter, Petra, that she spends the best time whenever she returns to her fancy residence in Berlin. During a guest lecture session at New York’s Juilliard School, Lydia comes across a young student who refuses to take any interest in Bach’s genius because of his noted patriarchal mindset. In response, Lydia lambastes the young man in a rather erudite fashion and urges the other students not to evaluate an artist’s work based on their personal lives. Meanwhile, a woman keeps trying to make contact with Lydia, both personally and through her assistant Francesca, but Lydia keeps avoiding any interaction. As the number of emails and gifts sent by this woman keeps increasing, it seems more evident that Lydia has some secrets lurking in her past, and these return almost in a physical manner as she starts to hallucinate and hear the smallest of unusual noises in her house.
Who Is The Woman Trying To Reach Lydia? How Do Her Actions Turn Lydia’s Life Upside-Down?
Over time, it is revealed that the young woman sending constant emails and even a book is a former student and member of Lydia’s fellowship program, Krista Taylor. As hints of their past gradually start to come out, it is revealed that Lydia has the immensely toxic and predatory habit of grooming young women to have a sexual relationship with her, promising favors and recommendations in exchange for it. She basically makes use of her position and recognition in the circle of Western Classical music practitioners in the most horrible way possible to get young students intimate with her and then makes choices and preferences based on this. Krista had been a student in her fellowship program who had been approached by Lydia in this same manner, and she must have been promised a fair stage to showcase her talent. However, this relationship between the two did not last, as Krista must have realized the exploitation she was facing and possibly threatened to go public about it. Even if she did not make such threats, Lydia probably did not like the fact that Krista had tried to cut all ties with her and immediately pounced on the young woman’s career to ruin it to the core. Lydia almost blacklisted Krista from all institutions and orchestras, always mentioning in her recommendation emails how the woman had behavioral problems and was unsuited for any position, be it academic or professional. This led to a dire situation for Krista, and this was the reason why she was trying so hard to get in touch with Lydia. Krista was perhaps ready to admit defeat to the world-renowned conductor, but the latter was unwilling to give her that chance, either.
After making all these failed attempts and trying her best to get placed in any orchestra, Krista commits suicide, making it very apparent to those close to her that Lydia is indirectly responsible for it. The woman’s parents, who also seem to hold an important position in Citibank, which has close ties with Lydia’s fellowship program, soon decide to sue Lydia for her death. A major piece of evidence of the two women’s relationship, based on favors and promises, exists in the emails that Krista has been sending to Francesca in recent times, as well as in the negative recommendation emails that Lydia had sent to various institutions and groups. The maestro does her part of covering it all up by deleting all these emails and asks Francesca to do the same too. Although “Tar” is not based on any real-life individual, these instances of favor-based exploitation are not at all uncommon in circles of academia and art, as the world is now very aware. Also, in fashion with reality, it is not that Lydia Tar’s associates and colleagues are unaware of such occurrences either. There comes the point in the film when Lydia decides to replace her trusted assistant conductor, Sebastian, who she feels has been losing his efficiency. When she tells this to Sebastian, the man reveals that he, as well as others in the orchestra, are aware of Lydia’s favoritism and preferences, which are made on the basis of which student agrees to be sexually involved with her. Sebastian also takes a dig at her, suggesting that he knows she will replace him with her assistant Francesca, probably because there has been an agreement of sexual favors between them. Lydia ultimately chooses someone else, though, which is also an inconsiderate decision towards Francesca, as the assistant had been hopeful of getting the position for a long time, and it was only for this that she had been keeping up with Lydia’s obstinate treatment towards her.
How Did Olga Lead To Lydia’s Downfall? Who Was Behind The Controversial Videos?
Despite the specter of Krista looming over Lydia’s life (quite literally in one scene, as Lydia seems to hallucinate Krista in one corner of her work apartment), the woman finds another new target in the form of Olga, a young Russian cellist interested in joining the orchestra. Lydia takes notice of her and quickly grows attracted to her, then starts to pull favors for her, altering her score sheets and such. She announces an opening for the spot of a cello player in their group and makes sure that Olga is selected. She does so by going against the conventional norms and rules of the orchestra and also by making her bias clear in the voting procedure. It is quite obvious to the other members, especially Francesca and Sharon, that Lydia is favoring Olga because she is growing attracted to her. Perhaps both of these women know and believe that the rumors about Lydia in closed circles are more than negative ideas spread by her haters. Lydia, though, does not concern herself much with what her two closest aides think, and she busies herself trying to pursue Olga. After the cellist has been made part of the orchestra, she spends time with Lydia practicing, sometimes at her work apartment, and it is almost like the predator waits to make her advances. One day Lydia drops Olga off at an apartment block where the latter is staying and then follows her in, most probably to make her move. But an encounter with an unfriendly dog makes her hurry out of the place, during which Lydia stumbles and falls, hurting her face heavily. She reports these injuries to everyone as wounds from being attacked by a man on the streets, though. In this while, Francesca leaves her job as Lydia’s personal assistant without any prior notice or communication to the woman. Lydia soon has to go to New York for a deputation with regard to the death of Krista and also for her own book launch, and she takes Olga along with her. It is again quite obvious that she takes the young woman to try and make her move, but Olga does not seem interested in asking for any favors at all. It is almost as if Olga knows what Lydia is trying to do and knows all the ways to avoid such a situation.
Two viral videos on social media become a major reason for Lydia Tar’s ultimate downfall, and the identity of the one making these videos is kept unexplained in the film. The first video is an edited compilation of various clips from the obnoxious lecture at Juilliard, where Lydia had preached about keeping an artist’s professional and personal lives separate. But this video shows her saying all the wrong and inappropriate things to be said in a class, taking certain words out of the context she was talking about. This cooks up a storm on the internet, with the woman facing backlash over her behavior at the same time when mourners of Krista’s death were blaming her for it. Francesca, who had suddenly quit her job by now, had never deleted the emails that Krista had sent her, desperately wanting to speak to Lydia, and she had now handed all of them over as evidence to the investigating team looking into the matter. This is the reason why Lydia had to attend a deputation, and this also goes heavily against her favor, as the team believes she has mistreated the student and hampered her career. A second video goes viral a little while later, in which Lydia and Olga are seen walking into the venue of Tar’s book release amidst a crowd of protestors calling out against her. This video mentions Olga as Lydia’s next target, spreading the word on the fact that Lydia exploits her students and associates in such a manner. There is a strong possibility that these videos are taken by Francesca, and there are a number of other instances where we see a pair of hands texting someone through a Facetime video chat. This also seems to have been Francesca, and my guess would be that she was probably texting with either Krista or Olga. The fact that Olga looks almost prepared to avoid any unfavorable scenario with Lydia and that she also, in a way, directly leads to the woman’s downfall perhaps makes one wonder whether Olga was part of any such plan from beforehand. Or it may very well be that any of the students, associates, or people attending or protesting the book event could have taken the videos, as there could have been many more victims of Lydia, who had been unfairly taken advantage of by the maestro.
Lydia’s life starts to spiral out of control from here on, as Sharon also now confronts her about keeping her in the dark about the possible court case coming against her for her actions against Krista. Sharon also hints that their relation too had started as a sort of sexual transaction and states that the only relationship Lydia has in her life that does not involve a transaction is with their daughter Petra. Sharon is bound to take this away, too, as she leaves their house with the daughter and also does not allow Lydia to meet her after school. By this time, Lydia has been removed as the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, just days before the performance of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, and she cannot live with this. In a state of meltdown, she crashes onto the stage during the performance and physically assaults the conductor who had replaced her. Lydia then tries to instruct the orchestra, only to be taken away by the security personnel. She meets with a public relations firm in New York in order to manage the situation of crisis to her image and is advised to reset her image and start it afresh in some other form. Shortly after this, Lydia visits her family house too, which is much more modest than her current lifestyle, and it is revealed that her real name is Linda Tarr. This is perhaps a hint to the fact that Lydia too had her beginnings from a middle-class root, which she seems to be ignorant of at present. Lydia had been avoiding meeting her mother for a long time throughout the film, and she now does not find much support at home either, as her brother reacts to her presence rather mildly. Lydia now has no option but to go away to Southeast Asia in an attempt to start afresh.
‘Tar’ Ending Explained: Where Does Lydia Ultimately End Up?
After arriving on the other side of the planet and possibly traveling across multiple countries in Southeast Asia, Lydia secures a job as a conductor for some event. In between her dedicated practice sessions and finding her way in the new city, she goes looking for a massage parlor and is led to one that seems to offer sexual services as well. Here she is asked to pick her masseuse (and partner) from a glass room, and the manner in which all the women are seated resembles exactly the position of performers in an orchestra. In a brilliant shot that encapsulates the whole fervor, Lydia takes the position of a conductor in front of the women, but this time, there are no pretensions she needs to make to get intimate with any of them. For the first time in the entire film, the maestro seems affected by any of the allegations, as the crudeness of this coincidence makes her throw up. Lydia is then seen conducting an orchestra in the event she had been preparing for, which turns out to be the launch of the musical score of a Monster Hunter video game. The audience is made up of cosplaying video gamers.
In some senses, this fall from grace is one that definitely breaks Lydia and shakes her to the core, even if we do not directly see it. A particular word that the artist had been using throughout the entire film was “robot” to refer to anyone and everyone with whom she did not agree, and yet at the end of the film, life brings her to a position where she has to record the scores of a videogame, which is rather mechanical and robotic. To someone like Lydia Tar, such a transformation—from audiences well-versed in Western Classical music to cosplayers—is something she would not be able to live with for long. However, on the other hand, the particular ending of “Tar” also makes one wonder whether Lydia ultimately gets away from her messy situation without too much of a consequence. She does, after all, manage to find employment doing what she really enjoys doing, and this might very well be an attempt to relaunch herself in a new role. The film leaves viewers with such compelling thoughts and a few more as well. Does Lydia ultimately deserve to lose her professional stronghold because of her actions in her personal sphere? Or was it not Lydia Tar herself who meddled with the boundaries between her professional and personal spaces, therefore leading to her ultimate downfall?
“Tar” is a 2022 Drama film directed by Todd Field.