‘TÁR’ Ending Explained: Lydia Tár, Your Time Is Up!
BY LIAM GAUGHAN, published January 28, 2023
Cate Blanchett’s famed composer gets her comeuppance in the end.
Although this year’s Academy Awards nominations provided film fans with an opportunity to argue about the various snubs, surprises, shocks, and undeserving honorees as they do every year, there weren’t many cinephiles that were complaining about the awards given to Tár. Todd Field’s psychological drama about the fictional composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) has been acclaimed as one of the best films of the year since its festival release in September and has continued to wrack up prizes and accolades throughout the award season. Although Blanchett has already
two Academy Awards on her mantle thanks to The Aviator and Blue Jasmine, it’s very possible that Tár could earn her a third. The film tackles the current surrounding “cancel culture” in a nuanced way, leaving audiences with an ending that some may find baffling.
What Is ‘Tár’ About?
Tár follows the downfall of Lydia’s career after she’s honored at a celebratory Q&A at The New Yorker Festival discussing her life’s achievements; in addition to being an accomplished pianist, ethnomusicologist, and composer, she became the first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. As she puts together an ensemble for her next performance, details emerge from Lydia’s past that reveal that she was once in a sexual relationship with a member of her staff, Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote). Following the end of their relationship, Lydia blacklisted Krista, who subsequently spiraled into depression and anxiety, resulting in her suicide in the middle of the film. Lydia is met with the consequences of her actions as she refuses to apologize for her misdeeds.
Tár is quite accurate in its depiction of the nature of public discourse and includes more than a few timely storylines that feel like they are ripped straight from the headlines. In fact, it’s not surprising that due to the authenticity of the film’s screenplay and direction, many have mistaken it for a true story. It’s a fitting third feature for Field, whose previous work includes In the Bedroom and Little Children, as he has a mastery of telling complex emotional stories about sensitive topics. While Tár offers a relatively balanced perspective on the state of institutions, its central character is completely unapologetic until the very end. In fact, the closing moments of Tár seemingly confirm a greater irony about Lydia and her uncompromising arrogance.
Lydia’s Uncompromising Nature Is Her Destruction
As is evident from her initial Q&A, Lydia is only able to address her vulnerabilities under the guise of her artistic achievements, as she feels that she is above discussing her personal life in interviews. We see in the now iconic classroom scene that Lydia is often intentionally inflammatory when she’s not subjected to the spotlight of the public’s attention. She chastises and bullies her Juilliard student Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist), who identifies as a BIPOC pangender person, for refusing to study white cisgender composers like J. S. Bach. Lydia believes that examining the work of a famous artist should be done only based on the quality of their work; this suggests that she holds herself to these same standards.
It’s subsequently revealed that Lydia’s unflinching belief that brilliant artists should not be held to the same moral and ethical standards as others is made evident after what is revealed about Krista. Krista dies by suicide, and Lydia subsequently informs her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) to delete any records of their correspondence. This frightens both Francesca and Lydia’s wife, Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss). They have both noticed that Lydia has been growing close with one of her students, the Russian hopeful Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer).
Lydia Loses Everything and Spirals Into Madness
Lydia begins to advance Olga’s position in the ensemble and manipulates the scorecard to secure her position. After realizing that Krista’s parents intend to file a lawsuit against Lydia following their daughter’s suicide, she consults with a lawyer to discuss her options. However, we see that Lydia still intends to pursue her career, and replaces her assistant conductor Seastian Brix (Allan Corduner). Sebastian suggests that people are aware of Lydia’s history of exchanging sexual favors, and Francesca resigns without telling Lydia.
However, Lydia’s actions are finally unveiled to an audience beyond the selective artistic community when a video of her tirade against Max goes viral in The New York Post; simultaneously, she heads to New York to face the lawsuit from Krista’s parents, who reveal that Francesca has handed over incriminating correspondences between Lydia and Krista. Lydia’s book signing is met with protestors, and in Berlin, she’s removed from the orchestra entirely due to the controversy and outcry. Sharon even refuses to let Lydia see their daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic).
Stripped of her relationships and status, Lydia spirals deeper into madness. Even her brother is hostile towards her for turning her back on their famiy, as she has hidden the fact that she grew up in Staten Island in fear of being viewed as “lesser” by the high-class music community. It’s also revealed that she changed her name from “Linda Tarr” in order to suggest she was of a higher class. However, Lydia essentially destroys any sympathy the audience may have for her when she barrages into a concert hall doing a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth in order to tackle Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), her replacement conductor and former friend.
What Happens to Lydia in the End?
The most satisfying and surprisingly hilarious moment in Lydia’s fall from the public spotlight comes at the very conclusion of the story, as she has relocated to the Philippines in order to avoid the probing controversies in the United States and Europe. When Lydia asks the manager of the hotel she is staying in to recommend a place for a message, he sends her to a brothel. Lydia is told to choose a young woman from the “fishbowl,” where a dozen young women sit in front of a massive window, waiting to be picked. She locks eyes with one of them who sits in a similar position to where Olga sits in the orchestra. We then see Lydia rush out of the brothel projectile vomiting.
The film closes as we see that Lydia is once again performing before a concert hall, although this time, she doesn’t exactly get to conduct a selection of Bach. Surrounded by a crowd of cosplayers, Lydia conducts a performance of the theme music from the Monster Hunter video game series with the same fervor and professionalism she showed with the Mahler piece. The woman who once decried the acceptance of modern composers in favor of classics is now playing for the Comic-Con crowd; it’s a pointed satire of the ways that “canceled” artists are forced to reinvent themselves.
Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes