Tár Plot Synopsis
Tár is a psychological drama based on Lydia Tár, a female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. It documents her rise and fall after her ex commits suicide. Cate Blanchett plays Lydia who is on the top of her game, the first of her kind, set to conduct the daunting piece Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, release a book and hold a masterclass in Julliard. At the same time, she is also the very definition of ‘gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss’.
However, Lydia starts spiralling after she is accused of sleeping with younger women in exchange for favours. This affects her relationship with the orchestra, her assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and her partner, Sharon (Nina Hoss). The last straw is when her ex, Krista commits suicide after Lydia blacklists her and the nature of their relationship comes to light.
Who is following Lydia?
At the beginning of Tar, a red-haired woman is watching Lydia’s conference and then later stands outside her hotel in New Haven. Someone then drops a book, Vita Sackville-West’s ‘Challenge’ at the front desk anonymously and it is hinted that it is from the woman. When Lydia opens it, she sees on the front page that it has a drawing of a pattern that she tears and throws away while she later thinks of Krista who is the redhead.
Krista also keeps sending her emails which she ignores. When Lydia heads home and first visits her studio, we see Krista in her piano room but she disappears the moment the conductor enters implying that she may not be really following Lydia but a figment of her imagination as she is wracked by guilt oh what went down with Krista which arises after Lydia gets the book.
This theory is strengthened when a clearly dead Krista is again seen sitting in Lydia’s bedroom when Petra calls out for her after a nightmare, suggesting that the ex following Lydia is the conductor’s biggest nightmare. At the same time, Krista presumably edits Lydia’s Wikipedia page and adds that her muse was Krista.
Who is doing the Instagram Lives?
In the movie, we see three instances of someone doing an Instagram Live and infringing on Lydia’s personal space while mocking her. In the first Live which is on a private jet while she is sleeping, it is hinted that it is done by Francesca as one of the comments asks if she is still in love with Lydia.
The second Live shows Lydia’s home while she is out of town and points out that it is an imitation of another Spanish conductor suggesting that this Live maybe by her partner Sharon. The third Live, possibly by a stranger is done during Lydia’s book launch and mocks her for bringing up divinity after sexual allegations are made against her.
By then Lydia is alone as Francesca and Sharon have abandoned her symbolising that a celebrity has no privacy and can be subject to hate by friends and haters alike. (This is, of course, the writer’s interpretation as the movie does not elaborate on the Lives.)
Why does Lydia show interest in Olga?
While she has a loving relationship with her partner Sharon and has a daughter with her, it is suggested that Lydia has affairs with younger chairs in her orchestra. When she first spots Olga, a cellist in a bathroom, from then on, she keeps looking out for her. When a senior chair, Sebastian makes a suggestion that she doesn’t accept, she uses it as an excuse to throw him out and make space for Olga.
It is hinted at first that Lydia is interested in her sexually when she lies to Sharon about how she knows about Olga. During rehearsal, she gets distracted by Olga and Sharon who is a violinist in her orchestra notices. Lydia then tries to replace Francesca with Olga as her personal assistant. She ends up gaslighting Sebastian, Andris, Sharon and Francesca in order to hide her intentions.
She goes to lunch with Olga and while they can’t find any common ground, Lydia keeps pursuing her as she convinces the orchestra to play Olga’s favourite piece at their grand opening of Mahler’s The Five. On top of it, she decides to hold auditions for the cello solo (and surreptitiously give it to Olga) instead of giving it to the lead chair which shocks everyone.
The two have private rehearsals in her flat and Lydia constantly shows her affection during orchestra rehearsals. But when Olga accompanies her to her book launch, she ignores Lydia and hangs out with a young boy.
What are the sounds that Lydia occasionally hears?
When Lydia first heads to her old apartment turned studio, she hears music and is doubtful as she goes and recreates it on a piano. Then when she goes out for a run, she hears screaming and runs in that direction but never finds the source. She once again hears music and certain sounds in her studio that make her doubt if they are real or in her head.
Krista’s book plants the seed of doubt as she wonders if her ex is targeting her. After Krista’s death, Lydia continues to hear sounds like a metronome or the fridge humming in the middle of the night. The film’s recording crew explains that she has misphonia which makes her sensitive to sounds and plays with the psychological aspects which makes us wonder if half of the sounds are in her head or real.
What happens to Krista?
Lydia, Krista and Francesca were close but after Krista makes some demands, Lydia gets annoyed by her. After Lydia ends her affair with her, she blacklists Krista, calling her disturbed. Despite her father making an uproar during every placement season, the other orchestras listen to Lydia and reject Krista.
Desperate, Krista constantly sends emails to the conductor which go ignored. After sending her the book, a few days later Krista commits suicide at 25 years old which greatly affects Francesca. Her suicide is predicted as she had sent the book to Lydia as one last cry for help which is about a woman threatening suicide after a breakup.
It is later shown that Krista also tried to email Francesca for help in stopping Lydia from ostracizing her which went ignored as per Lydia’s instructions. After her passing, Krista’s accusations that Lydia would sleep with students in return for favours come to light.
What leads to Lydia’s downfall?
It first begins with Lydia alienating her orchestra, Sharon, Sebastian, Francesca and Andris to grant favours to Olga and get with her. After Krista accuses Lydia in her suicide note, her mentor, Andris warns her that sexual accusation is similar to being accused of being a Nazi. She is asked to get ready for her deposition as Krista’s parents sue her and at the same time, Francesca resigns after Lydia gives her false hope of naming her assistant conductor.
Lydia also gets in a fight with Sharon after her partner tries to defend Francesca. She starts getting nightmares of the people she has slept with and then burning in her bed. While trying to follow Olga who left a toy in her car, a dog chases Lydia till she falls and hurts her face while damaging some nerves in her right shoulder which is important for a conductor.
While preparing for The Five, Lydia then sees an edited video of her Julliard masterclass with snippets taken out of context to make her sound like a predator, racist and sexist. The orchestra informs her that the Accordion of which Krista’s parents are members is using the video to strengthen their argument that Lydia was a groomer who granted favours in return for sexual acts.
When Lydia gets home, she sees her performance score for The Five has gone missing. The next day, her deposition goes badly as the prosecution gets copies of Krista’s emails with Francesca while the Kaplan Fund stops sponsoring her. A protest ruins her book launch while tweets mock her and call Olga her new plaything.
Lydia ignores her partner’s calls and when she returns home she sees an angry Sharon who calls her out on her lies and leaves with their daughter. Meanwhile, her orchestra drops her as a conductor right before the Mahler performance. She moves into her studio where the neighbours complain of her rehearsals as noise.
She then appears uninvited to the Mahler performance, violently accosts her replacement and tries to conduct the orchestra before being escorted out. She moves to her childhood home after her agency tells her to start afresh. She meets her brother, Tony who accuses her of hiding her identity and it turns out, her real name is Linda Tarr and she is from Staten Island.
Lydia then moves to the Philippines where she acts as a substitute conductor. The film ends with her conducting an orchestra for a live performance of the theme song of Monster Hunter, a video game while fans and cosplayers make up the audience.