Cate Blanchett Double Feature

Lydia Tár is at the top of the world looking down. Her compositional talent is undeniable; her fame unprecedented in this century. She’s promoting her upcoming victory lap: a live recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, accompanied by a book – Tár on Tár. She has good relationships with her wife and daughter. Her mastery of words makes her impossible to criticize. But her talent can’t save her from the choices she’s made on her path to elite reverence. Even her words begin to fail her as the pieces she’s spent years putting together are undone. She did this. She has only herself to blame.

Jasmine Francis is at the top of the world looking around. She (her husband) has money, and she won’t apologize for it. She spends her days with friends, living the lifestyle she’s always wanted. She has a good relationship with her husband; why wouldn’t she? He reads the documents, she signs them. Her obliviousness is a choice; there’s no reason to question having it all when you already have it all. But her willful ignorance can’t save her from the lack of agency she’s taken thus far in her life. Her utopian comfort crumbles as she’s blindsided with a betrayal that never should’ve blindsided her. He did this. She doesn’t know who to blame. 

Cate Blanchett’s pair of masterful performances as the lead in both Tár and Blue Jasmine share so much DNA that, upon watching Blue Jasmine recently, I felt as though I was required to write about it. To describe both films vaguely: A high class woman’s life falls to pieces as a terrible secret comes to light. I know, it’s vague enough that it could probably apply to plenty of other movies. But the fact that Cate Blanchett is the lead in both, and the fact that both movies are titled after the names the women gave themselves to appear higher class means that Tár is inextricable from Blue Jasmine and vice versa, and therefore the films deserve to be analyzed in relation to each other. I don’t want to discuss exclusively what these films have in common, though. I want to dissect the differing ways the films grapple with dignity and how these flawed women are treated by the films they’re written into. 

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field’s TÁR, a Focus Features release.

For the first long while of the film, Tár is impenetrable. She knows the right thing to say to win every argument, to impress every interviewer, or to quell every marital squabble. Her position in society paired with her self-made status puts her on a podium anytime she’s not alone in a room. She’ll infuriate a student, she’ll criticize her assistant, but she does it with such grace and such eloquence that you have trouble questioning much other than her overt pretentiousness. If she shows any flaws early on, it’s hubris. She’s all but spoken about in the same breath as Stravinsky and since she can’t go much higher, she’s settled into a life of rave publications and prestige concertos. Her undoing is not brief, then. The rich and the powerful don’t go down without a fight, and this one is a fight to the (ego?) death. She’s not going to let some edited video or some baseless accusations of grooming a former assistant take her down. And even if they’re true, it was consensual. And even if consent is offset by a clear power imbalance and coercion and career threats, it wasn’t that bad. And…well, Tár is too cemented in the grand discourse of composing to be entirely canceled, right? She watches helplessly, unable to retain a smidgen of dignity as she’s dragged by the press, by her peers, and by her loved ones. Everything she’s built has collapsed around her and though she may look to blame everyone but herself, she pulled her cornerstone years ago. 

This downfall looks a decent amount like Jasmine’s on the surface. Both lose everyone in their lives that they once valued and struggle immensely with the consequences. But it’s the way they attempt to claw back, the way they cling to what advantages they hope to have retained, that they differ so drastically. The ending of Tár sees Lydia performing somewhere in Southeast Asia, conducting for the score of a video game to a crowd of cosplayers. There’s been plenty of ink spilled over the meaning of this ambiguous, arguably humorous scene, but I see it clearly: Lydia – ever-talented – is desperately retaining the slightest bit of self-worth. She may be disgraced, she may have betrayed and been ostracized by everyone she supposedly cared for, but she has true, innate talent. She knows it’s the one thing that can’t be taken away from her, and she’s going to make sure her (assumed) name won’t go down entirely in infamy. 

Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine Francis in director Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE, a Sony Pictures Classics release.

Jasmine has no such innate talent. She’s relied entirely on the tenuous generosity of her husband and now that that’s gone, she’s dead set on returning to her previous lifestyle (even if she says she plans on going back to school). Moving in with her lower middle-class sister is no bonding experience; it’s a minor setback on what she believes to be an inevitable return to the realm of the wealthy. At a party she meets Dwight Westlake and he’s everything she needs to get back to her world. But her entire persona is based around being a flawless upper-class high culture woman, and her self-worth is based entirely around that. She lies, then, about nearly everything in her past. In her attempt to maintain any personal dignity, she jeopardized the one chance she had. And when all’s said and done, she’s left to wander the streets, friendless, loveless, and doomed. 

Tár was my favourite film of 2022, and that’s in part because of how non-judgmental Todd Field is in depicting a flawed, often narcissistic, and ultimately self-destructive character. I never felt as though scenes were cherry-picked to show Lydia purely at her lowest, I simply felt that Todd was showing us everything we needed to see in order to formulate our own judgments and truths. Her story isn’t spun, it’s told. It’s crucial to Tár’s script that we get to know Lydia in the same way the people in the diegesis know her since it allows us to feel her downfall in that same way we would if she were a real life celebrity. I struggle to feel the same way about Jasmine. The audience is given little opportunity to know Jasmine as anything but a woman plagued by her choices and the choices of those around her. Some lengthy flashbacks give us some much needed insight into her life prior to her breakdown, and though I appreciate the boldness of structuring the film in this way, I think it ultimately removes some potential for more natural character development. Most egregious is the “twist” near the end that Jasmine is the one who turned her husband in to the FBI, an aspect of her character that I would argue should have been revealed far sooner to give us a full understanding of who she is and why she makes the decisions she does. Field shows, Allen frames.

Yes, yes, separate the art from the artist and all that, but I couldn’t help but think of Allen’s vile mistreatment of the women in his life while watching a story about the complete deterioration of a wealthy woman. She’s smartly written, impeccably performed, and yet Allen’s filthy handprints can be found if you look close enough. I can’t say I know much about Field, but his borderline objective style of filmmaking adds an element of honesty and reality Allen can’t provide. Allen’s own bizarre moments of willful ignorance about himself – “She is a teenager for Christ’s sake…I mean, are you crazy?” Jasmine yells at her cheating husband – rip me straight from the movie and into the bleak reality where Woody Allen exists and still makes movies with A-listers.

I’m realizing this post doesn’t offer much in the way of a point. That’s ok. If there’s any takeaway to be had, it’s that Cate Blanchett is incredible and knows how to command a scene even when playing the most tragic of characters. Despite the fact that I’ve just spoiled the entirety of both films, I highly recommend seeing Tár and Blue Jasmine just to see if you have the same feelings I did while watching them – and see if you can ignore the Woody Allen-ness of Blue Jasmine like I couldn’t. One final similarity between the two films comes to mind: sometimes terrible people make some fantastic art, and it’s up to us to figure out how to reckon with that.


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