The Genius of Cate Blanchett in ‘Tár’

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Getting right to the point, the masterful film “Tár” includes one of the best takedowns of identity politics I’ve ever heard. The conductor is invited to teach a master class in music at the Juilliard Conservatory. It’s pretty obvious from the way the students are scattered out throughout the room that they are not that interested in what the famed conductor at the height of her career has to say.

A master class is supposed to be about adoring students and an experienced achiever revealing all the important secrets of success. In this case, the students were aloof and seemingly under duress for being forced to be there at all, not that the teacher knew this.

Why might this be? You need to know something about academic music in such high circles. For decades they have cultivated a loathing of audiences, a bitter opposition to the economics of high-end “classical” music, and a deep resentment of the canon of musical mastery of the past. Identity politics has provided this set an added justification. Western music has long been dominated by powerful white elites who, in new and enlightened times, deserve our scorn.

Attending the best schools, Lydia Tár knew much of this and checked all the boxes in her bio—all boxes but one. She is a woman in a male-dominated field. She studied indigenous music in some far-flung place, celebrating the neglected genius of its structures. She rose up the ranks against all odds. What she did not expect when she walked into that room was that she would meet with the presumption that she was herself regarded as the power to overthrow.

Sensing a lack of responsiveness from the students, she calls on the kid in the front row and accounts for the piece of music that they are trying to conduct, a typical “new composition” without tonality and coherent rhythm, the usual deconstructionist drivel that has dominated these schools for decades.

So she decides to take it on, explaining that a conductor can only make sense of a composition if the composer himself or herself has a clear and confident message to deliver. She observes that this seems to be lacking in the piece they are working on.

It was a mild criticism but tensions began to rise. So she starts to explain further and asks a student, “Why is this piece not, for example, a Kyrie, from the B Minor Mass?” She zeroes in on the kid and demands an answer. He says he doesn’t know anything about Bach, in a graduate level course at Julliard! This is really too much for Lydia, and she wants to know why. The kid explains that Bach had twenty children, with the implication that he was an exploitative monster in his personal life. He further explains that he is personally done with the whole white, male, cisgender patriarchy.

Nonplussed, Lydia then goes to the piano to try to explain to him the beauty of even the simplest Bach melody but the effort is hopeless. The kid has already identified her as the enemy to hate and overthrow—a typical punk who knows nothing but still believes in his own moral superiority. She then delivers the devastating line, which I must summarize because I cannot quote directly.

Epoch Times Photo
Cate Blanchett poses with the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress for “Tár” during the award winners photocall at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, on Sept. 10, 2022. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

She says: the problem with dismissing art or literature or any other creation based on the race, gender, and sexual orientation of the creator is that the critic should then expect that his or her work can be similarly dismissed on the same grounds. Filling in the blanks, if he can dismiss Bach on those grounds, similarly this student could be written off on grounds of race and sexual orientation.

Boom! That’s exactly it. What goes around comes around for the purveyors of identity politics. They are trying to reverse historical injustices but they only end up creating more for themselves later. Instead of fairness and equality, we end up with only more hate based on identity. It doesn’t create community. It only creates more arbitrary division.

The student is so upset at having his worldview disturbed that he storms out after calling her the B word. She thinks nothing of it. She figures that this is just part of his education.

Later, it turns out that someone was filming the whole exchange and took out selective portions to make it look like a moment of power abuse with sexual overtones. This ridiculous TikToky video is deployed on social media in the context of other iffy situations going on in her life. In a matter of weeks, Lydia finds herself unseated from her fame and success. Canceled, as they say, and left with no one to defend her.

This deeply tragic film features other great scenes such as one in a taxi when Lydia is arguing over the legacy of Alma Mahler, Gustav’s wife until she dumped him for more fashionable Viennese achievers. Her assistant trots out the usual line that Alma is the victim because she was forced to give up composing as a condition of marriage. Lydia won’t hear it because she knows full well that Alma was not in fact very good and that even her melodies that remain today are entirely filled out with brilliant orchestrations by Gustav himself!

So you can see what kind of person we have here with Lydia. She competed and won in a man’s world entirely due to her own intelligence and talent. She is proud of that and refuses to wallow in fashionably fake victimhood. She has zero interest in woke philosophy. She will be called Maestro, not Maestra! That and other personal eccentricities lead to her undoing.

There is so much more to this extraordinary film and plenty about which to write, but let me just summarize with the following observation. It is very difficult to make a film about classical music that is realistic, especially when it involves conducting. Think back to the wonderful film “Amadeus.” As good as it was, the lead character was an awful and unmusical conductor. For anyone educated in this realm, that was a huge distraction.

There are actors. There are musicians. They are not usually the same person. This is a major problem for this genre. Cate Blanchett overcame this by spending two years of lockdowns learning piano, studying music reading and scores, and then actually conducting real orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic. I’m just in awe of the achievement here. She actually pulls it off. She is wholly believable because it is all real.

In fact, there is already an album based on the movie in which she conducts both Mahler’s 5th Symphony and Edward Elgar’s cello concerto. Indeed, I would judge this to be the most successful film about the realities of the classical music world ever made, including both its majesty and its internal viciousness, along with a devastating critique of the current moment in cultural history together with its moral purism which is nothing but a leftist reimagining of 17th-century puritanism (complete with witch burnings) under a new ideological guise.

The film is nothing short of a triumph, and the blistering attack on woke ideology is just a bonus element of a movie that really is for the ages. As a final observation, I’m deeply encouraged that such an intelligent and subtle film could be made today. If Blanchett doesn’t win every award for her performance, there is something very wrong.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Jeffrey A. Tucker


Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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