The film Carol will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first queer movie I ever saw in theaters. And also – Cate Blanchett is an international treasure. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that Cate Blanchett was starring in the film Tár as lesbian conductor Lydia Tár.
While the similarities between the two films mostly end there – Carol is romantic period piece and Tár is a psychological thriller. After watching both movies, I came to same conclusion: I just can’t get enough of Cate Blanchett.
Blanchett’s performance as Tár was incredible, and it’s no surprise that she is already receiving a ton of Oscar buzz. In the top half of the film, her character reads like a hard-working conductor with an edge. But as story unfolds, we learn just how much of a master manipulator she really is. And she does all of that scheming while wearing suits almost as stunning (and gay!) as the ones she wore in Ocean’s 8.
Though Tár is intense, there are some queer easter eggs to lighten the mood. In one scene, a woman makes a comment about losing sleep during her first year at Smith College. As a Smith grad myself, I wondered: is this lesbian foreshadowing or am I just reading into this?
In another scene, Lydia refers to herself as “U-Haul lesbian,” and I could not stop laughing. It was honestly everything I never knew I needed. Her and her wife also have a touching scene where they dance together, but it wasn’t as exciting as when we meet Lydia’s assistant – played by none other than Noémie Merlant from Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This movie has all the gays!
But unlike Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Carol, this film is not about queerness – Lydia just happens to be a lesbian. And honestly, we could use more films like that. Portrait and Carol are great, but we can’t only have period pieces where one’s sexual orientation is the conflict. And that’s certainly not what is happening in Tár.
At its core, Tár is a meditation on cancel culture, but it doesn’t come across until much later in the film. In one poignant scene towards the beginning of Tár, Lydia is teaching a masterclass for conducting students at Julliard. One of her students, who is a pangender person of color, says that he prefers not to play or conduct music from Johann Sebastian Bach because of his misogyny.
Lydia responds, and questions whether an artist’s personal life or identity should be considered when you evaluate their art. At the time, the scene seemed a bit out of place. But as the film progresses, you realize it’s extremely relevant to the film and its characters.
In the end, there is a character at risk of being “cancelled,” and they are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Watching the film, I found myself asking whether we are ready for queer villains. I believe the answer is yes, but the film turns this character into a villain in a way that feeds into some problematic tropes about queer people. That said, if a queer person does something bad, they should be held accountable.
Much more complicated than Carol, am I right? But hopefully this time around, Blanchett will win an Oscar.