Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and its subsequent U.S. release on Oct. 7, Todd Field’s “Tár” has become a rare thing: a much-discussed art-house film that demands your attention, if not your obsession. On repeat viewing, Cate Blanchett’s performance as the famous conductor Lydia Tár deepens and becomes more complicated, beautiful and upsetting, as the enigmatic layers of Field’s screenplay continue to unfold for the audience. Now, Variety is exclusively exhibiting the script for the first time.
In Variety’s Jan. 5 cover story, Field and Blanchett discussed the making of “Tár,” why they were interested in this story, and how they created this character. They had met a decade earlier over dinner to discuss a project with Joan Didion that ended up not happening, and Field had written Lydia Tár — a character he’d been thinking about “for about 10 years,” he said — for Blanchett alone. Field handed in his first draft to Focus Features in May 2020, having written it in 12 weeks during the lockdown stage of early COVID.
In the film, we meet Lydia Tár during a precipitous, pivotal three-week period of her life. She’s the conductor of a renowned, unnamed Berlin orchestra, and is at the height of her career — and the pinnacle of the world of classical music. But as “Tár” unfolds, the abuses Lydia has perpetrated against young women she was supposed to be mentoring come to light after one of them kills herself.
Through Lydia, Field wanted to explore how power works, and he knew he wanted her to fall from a towering height once her sexual predations are exposed. An orchestra is a symbol, Field said: “It’s a picture of a pyramid. She’s literally at the tip of that fulcrum.”
“I’ve never had such an extraordinary collaboration,” Blanchett said about working with Field. “When I read the screenplay, I thought, ‘You don’t change a syllable of this.’”
But before any of this happened, Field needed a greenlight to make it. After years of thwarted projects — he hadn’t made a movie since “Little Children” in 2006 — Field met with Focus Features’ Peter Kujawski and Kiska Higgs in fall 2019 and outlined the notion of “Tár.” Kujawski’s first job out of college was with Good Machine, when the independent production company — which was later bought by Universal and evolved into Focus — was filming “In the Bedroom,” Field’s first feature as director (and an eventual Best Picture nominee). According to Kujawski, they wanted to work with Field on pretty much any project, and the Focus executives told him to “go do whatever you want to do.”
When Field sent in that first draft, it “basically was the shooting draft,” Kujawski said. “The decision upon reading the script to say, ‘We’re obviously making this,’ was basically instantaneous.”
In the film, anagrams are among the themes of “Tár” — one if its puzzles. And an anagram for “Tár,” of course, is “art” — which the movie is. It’s a brain-teasing Oscars-frontrunner that’s made critics swoon, while also setting the minds of internet detectives on fire.
As its writer-director, Field has been conjuring the life of Lydia Tár for more than a decade now. “I can tell you her street address where she grew up,” Field said of Lydia’s Staten Island childhood, something she’s erased in from her official biography. “I can tell you its proximity to Fresh Kills, the largest landfill on Earth where her father worked. And I could talk about the smell of the garbage coming through those windows. I know more about this character than I should ever talk about.”
So what’s it like to say goodbye, now that “Tár” is out there in the world?
“It’s really hard,” Field said, souding wistful. “It’s so many years.”
Read the full screenplay for “Tár” here.