FYC: ‘TÁR’ for Best Original Screenplay

Todd Field summons the audience’s attention when he places the end credits at the beginning of the film to gear up for the two-and-a-half-hour symphony he is about to command.

When people hear the term “Original Screenplay,” they immediately equate it with the most outrageous idea. In this category at the Oscars, there are plenty of past winners that fit this definition with its heightened lens on a social or domestic issue such as Parasite, Get Out, or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This category has some of the best wins in the history of the Academy Awards which I think stems from its strategy of not necessarily awarding who the writers’ branch thinks will win the big prize at the end of the night, but simply what they like. Todd Field’s TÁR would be an incredible addition to join the ranks of Lost in Translation, Her, Manchester By the Sea, Juno, and so many other edgy films that walked away with only one award at Hollywood’s biggest party.

After taking an infamous 16-year break from filmmaking, Field returned with an original idea that gave birth to the legend herself: Lydia Tár. The director has added three more Academy Award nominations to his previous three, but broke new ground by landing a Best Director Nomination. TÁR is Field’s first venture into the original screenplay territory (his previous two films were adapted), and the finished product was well worth the wait. TÁR is a step outside his comfort zone as his previous films revolved around the domestic life of the American upper-middle class family in the suburbs. He enters an unknown territory of the realm of classical musical with Cate Blanchett by his side.

Todd Field should win an award for single-handily convincing people this is a biopic about a real person. His mind managed to carefully plot out every aspect of her life that could’ve happened in real life, from what she won the EGOT for to being tied to Leonard Bernstein (which his estate recently confirmed to be true). Field thought out every detail even those not important to the story he is telling.

To the general viewer, TÁR might seem like your typical Oscar Bait movie, but Field takes a big risk in his storytelling format, without which, it probably wouldn’t have become the cultural phenomenon that has caused many discussions on- and offline. Field wants his audience to work for that big finale, by giving them details and glimpses into the mind of Lydia but leaving it up to them to piece together the whole story. Through Field’s rich, layered storytelling he creates a film that is a different experience upon each rewatch, not on accident but on purpose. Audiences have fallen in love with TÁR as the detail-heavy film becomes a game on what new information is picked up on Lydia’s misdeeds or how many times the redheaded Krista is spotted lurking in the background. By blending supernatural elements to represent the past betrayals of the insidious composer, Field expresses how all the money and power in the world cannot absolve her from her sins or mostly herself.

From the very first shot of the film, the viewer sees Lydia from the point of view of a smartphone, almost like the audience is watching from the outside. As the story plunges into the Tár world, Field places you with her as she goes on her preparations for a big Q&A that perfectly places her in the zeitgeist of music where no one would question if she is real or not. She is performative, knowing she is being watched and doing everything she can to make a charming impression.

We move with her to the iconic Julliard moment where she is truly alive in a space where there is no need for performance, but the audience doesn’t know what makes her the way she is as she berates a student over political correctness. It is at this moment she makes you question what she stands for and if she is the musical genius she claims to be. Lydia takes this moment with these students to overperform and minimize them against her inflated ego; she isn’t looking to use this moment to provide wisdom but promote herself.

Lastly, in the most immersive section of the film, without the use of editing and sound, Field can place us directly with her in the moment. There is no thinking about her past or future because none of that is important or relevant to what is happening in the present of these three weeks that will ultimately change her life. Although we are provided with multiple angles of Lydia, from how she wants to be seen to how others see her, she will always be a mystery that will remain elusive no matter how close you think you get to cracking what makes her who she is. That is not the point of the film

Lydia Tár could be described in many ways: cunning, narcissistic, and complex, but Todd Field isn’t interested in that. He is simply using the fact that she is a human being to emphasize a power structure and how those closest to someone will continue to uphold it if they are benefitting from it. The orchestra symbolizes the triangular power hierarchy, but it is also important to keep in mind that it is a democratic orchestra that can easily kick someone out of power as easily as it lets them in if they manage to upset those that feed off of them. In this case, Sharon, Lydia’s partner, who on the first watch seems to not have a lot to do holds more power than Lydia in this group dynamic. She waits until Lydia’s demise starts to affect her to shake up the dynamic between the lovers. From using her to represent humanity, Field leaves it up to other humans either onscreen with her or watching offscreen to decide their feelings on what they have witnessed instead of him, as the filmmaker, telling them how to interpret or feel.

Field tackles the largely debated “art versus artist” discussion through a fictional character. In an era where the term “cancel culture” has lost all meaning and is tossed around, Field manages to explore what that looks like without making it feel dated or relying on popular buzzwords to fuel his script. Society is at the point to discuss that regardless of someone’s achievements in their particular field or background, they should be held accountable for their actions. Because someone creates a quotable movie or the song of the century, that does not mean they are free to do whatever they please. Lydia is in a disciplined occupation, where her entire life has been devoted to her passion for music which resulted in her not being able to function normally in life. Her status makes her think she has control over her perception and navigation through the world. She is ultimately untouchable in her mind.

Choosing to make his protagonist a lesbian white woman also makes the narrative unpredictable rather than going with a male as the lead. Often in society, we are a bit naive about the effect of power and to have a lesbian be the most powerful person in the film in which she ultimately lets power overtake her is interesting. Many people would expect someone from an oppressed group to use their power for good to uplift others from their demographic, or at least to understand the abuse directed towards their group, but Lydia often uses those assumptions as a shield against those who challenge her.

Overall, Todd Field has added another masterpiece to his filmography. Field perfectly translates what he writes on the page to the screen to create a compelling character study turned supernatural thriller about the forces of power and betrayal. The actual script length is shorter than the movie to leave space for the sound and melodic rhythms that perfectly flow through the commanding voice and tone Field establishes from the beginning. On more watches, TÁR complicates your original interpretation of the film, rather than confirming it. It is a film that we who are not Todd Field might never fully know, but this is why it is so exceptional.

Todd Field knows all, and awarding him in this category for TÁR would be one of the coolest Oscar wins of all time.

You can read our review of TÁR here.

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