The film Tár is about many things: the rarefied world of elite classical music, the behavioral allowances offered to “geniuses,” the dangers of self-mythologization, an examination of the human and emotional spoils of making art. It is also possibly—and perhaps unintentionally—one of the most feminist films that I’ve ever seen. And, to that end, it should come as no surprise that Tár’s conclusion is rather tragic.
A brief synopsis for the uninformed, one I promise is relatively spoiler-free (though, honestly, there are no spoilers for this film; nothing can ruin the experience of watching the out-of-this-stratosphere Cate Blanchett). The film is about the fictional Lydia Tár, a world-renowned figure in classical music and the current conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. It opens with her being interviewed by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, who reads her impressive and long résumé and notes the rarity of her position. Yes, she is a woman who has reached the pinnacle of the world of classical music, but her excellence is not only because of that; she is the best conductor in the world, regardless of gender. Period.
And Lydia Tár is aware of—and basks in—this status. As we watch her being fitted for bespoke suits, Tár explains how she is not the “woman on top,” relegated to, as the character calls it, the “show dog” role of guest-conducting. She actively rejects the honorific Maestra, likening it to the ridiculous notion of female astronauts calling themselves “astronettes.” Having started an organization to help women advance in the world of classical music, she at one point in the film suggests changing the group’s mission. I paraphrase, but “We’ve sort of proved the point haven’t we?,” Tár asks.
I perked up in my seat at that moment, because it seemed to me that the film was asking a larger question—one I’ve been writing about here for some months. From a feminist lens— feminism defined as women’s striving for gender-based parity with men—I suppose Lydia Tár did, indeed, already prove the point. She had paved, for herself and other women, a (we soon come to find) highly conditional path into the same rare, powerful positions that men who’d come before had hoarded for themselves.