Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
palace theatre signage 3004075?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
palace theatre signage 3004075?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
Felicity Warner / HCM
Culture > Entertainment

Lydia Tar: Hollywood’s It Villain 

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

For the last week, I worked at the State News covering the worst thing that has happened to Michigan State’s campus. Every day, I was met with more and more vulnerable and gut-wrenching stories that I will never forget, moving me to tears and keeping me in my head, thinking about everything we went through as a community. So, I’m done talking about real bad guys. Let’s talk about the best fictional bad guy on the Oscars scene right now: Cate Blanchette in “Tar” as Lydia Tar. 

I saw “Tar” two weeks ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The cinematography was gorgeous, with every shot showing the expansive space of concert halls and the intricacies of Lydia Tar’s life. The score is to die for, as you would expect for a movie about a music composer. The story is the most original screenplay this Oscars season has seen. But the most important part of this movie is the way Cate Blanchette portrays the character of Lydia Tar. 

My boyfriend thought that “Tar” was a biopic throughout the movie because he could not believe that Blanchette had created that entire character. She portrayed the character so well that he believed it had to have been based on someone who already had preexisting mannerisms and character traits. However, Blanchette ran with the original screenplay and created one of the most iconic characters in film in the last couple of years. 

Lydia Tar is a manipulative and cruel composer, professor, and mentor, trying to shape the younger women in her life who look up to her into another version of herself. If Tar is not the one in control of her own narrative at any point, we see the true evil behind her character: willing to give up anything, but her dignity, to make sure she is the one who has the power behind her career and any person that stands in the way of it. Tar is a character created out of the idea of toxic perfectionism and the establishment rich and pretentious in the arts. 

Throughout the movie, the audience is not sure if we are supposed to root for her or not. While in the beginning, she just comes off as harsh and cold, but hugely talented and dedicated to her craft. She devolves into somewhat of an evil genius, rigging the competition so she can become closer to a student that she is attracted to, manipulating police investigators and press when they are on her tail for the tragic suicide of another one of her students and even giving up her wife to support her career. 

However, everything beautifully connects to the demise of her own character. By the end, we see her lose it in a way that I have only seen in the film “Whiplash,” another composer and music-inspired movie that attacks the concept of perfection in a craft, allowing her own vision to corrode her and allowing the way she always used to manipulate people, which has now failed, to still guide her decisions. 

By the end of the movie, it becomes very clear that she is completely in the wrong and has been the antagonist the entire time. She is outed for being a “groomer,” using relationships with other women in her career, such as her mentees, to get favors out of people, dangling power in front of their faces just to take it away. I think that is the biggest takeaway from her character: the power dynamics she holds with other people and her intentions always being more nefarious than they seem. 

While you could argue that Tar is just a self-conscious person looking for emotional support in any way she can get it, even scheming for it, she knows what she’s doing. She knows all the ways to tear down other people, making her more calculated than she is a victim of her own environment.  

I also think this movie conducts really interesting discourse on cancel culture. In the beginning of the movie, Tar talks about how students shouldn’t discredit old composers because they led terribly immoral lives because they still created great art. Due to these conversations, she was blasted online for this, making her more cancellable for this than the actual terrible things she had been doing to her counterparts. It sort of speaks to the idea that a lot of cancel culture is just scandal porn, rather than actually holding public figures accountable for their behavior behind the scenes. I also think that her first conversation with the students is a parallel to her own life: absolving her of any guilt because she is this great artist. I am a sucker for parallel storylines in a movie if it’s done brilliantly. 

What this dissertation all comes down to say, is that Cate Blanchette is a badass. She plays the role in a way that is believable and makes the story personal without attaching the story to a real person to emulate. Her delivery of each line is pugnacious and intense, creating a more sinister air to the film. Her mannerisms fit that of a tortured genius who gets off on disillusioning others to think that they can get close to her. That’s the whole point: not even the audience feels as though they can get close to her, because Lydia Tar is one of the most complex characters on today’s screen. 

Go watch “Tar” if you feel like fake intensity would take away from the actual tension of your real life. You will be immersed in this world where a gold star from Lydia Tar is the only thing that matters to these characters, even if they never can achieve it. I think that if I continued writing for 30 more pages I wouldn’t even scratch the surface of what director Todd Fields was going for with this character, but I hope that it inspires you to go out to a movie theater with your friends and start a discussion on what real heroes and villains look like in film.

I am a freshman at Michigan State University. I am majoring in Journalism and Political Science. I hope to work as a political analyst or speech writer for politicians in the future. My passion is politics and being an advocate for women's rights. I also love to speak out about mental and women's health. I also love creative writing such as poetry and stand-up comedy.