TÁR ★★★★★

Something I'd been mulling since my first viewing: is Tár actually any good? The person, not the movie. From what we see, she doesn't seem to be a particularly gifted composer, despite her EGOT status. She's regarded as a great conductor, but what does that really mean? When asked to explain why she's more than just a human metronome who's only there to mark time, her answer is basically, "Well, that IS why I'm there, but it's a very important job." As articulate and self-regarding as she is, the best she can offer as a justification for her own existence is a tepid piece of musical trivia: the opening bar of Beethoven's Fifth begins on a rest, so someone has to be there to start the clock.

Tellingly, though, she makes that point with such piercing charisma that it's almost convincing. When we see her at work, leading the Berlin Philharmonic through rehearsals, her celebrity status seems fully deserved. The absence of subtitles on her rapid-fire German lets us take her in as pure sensory experience, and she's mesmerizing. This is the medium of her brilliance: performance — not of music, but of herself. You could watch her for hours. It's no surprise she sells tickets.

A lesser version of this movie would have opened with Lydia in coattails, conducting an orchestra for some hushed, well-heeled crowd. Instead, we see her sitting in a chair and talking about herself. This is her truest distillation. Tár on Tár.

All of this wraps around, in a beyond-meta way, to Blanchett's performance, which is one of the trippiest feats of acting I've ever seen. Watching her makes me think about Eyes Wide Shut, and not just because of our friend Nick Nightingale. The hyper-deliberate speech in that film, and its weirdly hypnotic effect, has echoes here. Blanchett as Tár is a performance as "conscious" (this is the most appropriate word I can think of) as any ever filmed: a person (Cate) playing a person (Linda) playing a person (Lydia) of her own invention (Linda's, Cate's, and Lydia's too), each layer perceptible and acutely self-aware. Every little gesture and mannerism seems at once uncalculated and delicately practiced. Every sentence sounds spontaneous and yet somehow recited. There is a perfect and impossible geometry here — some kind of shape we may not have the math for yet — but the effect is a simple crystal thing: against all odds, Tár is real.

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