STARTING TOMORROW: Disengaged elites!


With respect to the feature film, Tár: Tomorrow morning, it's going to happen!

A critically praised feature film—Todd Field's Tár—will receive an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Picture. The film stars Cate Blanchett, playing the role of (fictional) composer and conductor Lydia Tár.

To what extent has Tár been critically praised? We'll let the leading authority on the topic do our talking for us:

Tár premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival in September 2022, where Blanchett won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. The film had a limited theatrical release in the United States on October 7, 2022, before a wide release on October 28, by Focus Features.

For Field's work on Tár, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named him Best Director of the Year, and his script Best Original Screenplay, as did the National Society of Film Critics, with Blanchett winning Best Actress from the same groups. Tár was selected Best Film of the Year by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the National Society of Film Critics, becoming only the seventh film in history named as such from the nation's top critics' groups, the so-called "trifecta." Tár was named "Best Picture of the Year" by more critics than any other film released in 2022...

At the 80th Golden Globe Awards in 2023, Blanchett won Best Actress in a Motion Picture–Drama, while the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture–Drama and Best Screenplay.

Tár didn't win Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes. That honor, such as it is, went to Steven Spielberg's autobiopic, The Fabelmans.

It's also true that Tár wasn't a favorite of every high-end critic:

At the New York Times, for example, co-chief critic A. O. Scott included Tár in his list of the year's ten best films, placing it at #6. But co-chief critic Manohla Dargis didn't include it in her own list of the year's ten best. Indeed, Dargis didn't include Tár among the 24 other films from the past year she said you should "make sure to watch."

Tár wasn't loved by every high-end critic; presumably, no film ever is. That said, it was showered with critical praise at the time of its release and during its theatrical run. That same leading authority offers this additional overview concerning the critical consensus:

On Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of 283 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's consensus reads, "Led by the soaring melody of Cate Blanchett's note-perfect performance, Tár riffs brilliantly on the discordant side of fame-fueled power." Metacritic...assigned the film a score of 92 out of 100, based on 59 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." 

Based on reviews by 59 critics, Metacritic judged that Tár had received "universal acclaim." But in one other arena, the widely-praised film seems to have done less well. The leading authority tells us this about gate receipts from Tár's theatrical run:

The film, in general release and about to be released internationally, has to date made 6.3 million dollars...

The New York Times estimated the total budget of the film at $35 million and argued that Tár and similar highbrow films "failed to find an audience big enough to justify their costs." Some commentators attributed the poor box office performance to the film's subject matter alienating a general audience, while others noted a larger trend in art house releases faring poorly during their cinematic runs following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jut to be clear: according to Box Office Mojo, Tár's current take in domestic theaters stands at $5.9 million. The figure cited by the authority includes some early overseas receipts.

At this point, let's be fair. It's certainly true that the covid pandemic has altered moviegoing habits in a way which may never be undone. 

It's also true that you can't measure the quality of a feature film by the amount of money it generates at the box office. If moviegoers didn't show up in large numbers for Tár, that doesn't necessarily mean that the highly favorable critical assessments were somehow "wrong."

That said, did Tár "fail to find a [substantial] audience" during its theatrical run? That too is plainly true. In our view, it's interesting to see a film die such a death at the box office even as it's receiving such overwhelming critical acclaim.

We've had occasion to watch (and watch; and watch) Tár over the past two weekends. In part, it seemed to us that we were observing an allegory for our (failing) political times.

Tár is indeed a "highbrow film," as it's called by the leading authority and in this New York Times headline. In fact, we'd say the film transports the viewer to the kingdom of the highbrow and continues way on from there.

We'd also guess that, in the matter at hand, we're looking at two fundamentally different reactions to that rather unusual journey beyond the valley of the highbrow:

With whatever degree of sincerity, elite critics swooned about their trip through that distant land. By way of contrast, we'll guess that very few moviegoers who saw the film in movie theaters ever got on the phone and told their friends that they should go see Tár too.

For ourselves, we aren't giant fans of Tár. But we think the situation we have described may teach us several lessons. 

No, Virginia! Our nation's high-end political discourse, such as it is, isn't especially "highbrow." 

Policy matters aren't discussed in any type of detail. All in all, policy matter are barely discussed at all.

Our political discourse over the past thirty years has largely emerged from lowbrow forms of Storyline built around personality issues. That said, there is a major disconnect between the values and interests of the nation's high-end political journalists and the values and interests of very large segments of us the people, including the people who vote.

We aren't big fans of Tár ourselves, but that isn't the point. 

A certain ghost is said to lurk all through the (considerable) running time of this widely praised feature film. As we tried to puzzle our way through the length of this highbrow film, we kept thinking that we were visiting a sister city of our failed political discourse.

Tomorrow: Why we rented Tár


  1. It appears, dear Bob, that "highbrow", translated from Dembot, means "liberal", nicht wahr?

    ...then why don't we call it what it is: brain-dead?

  2. Tell you what, Bob. Try the reverse experiment.

    Go rent the top 10 highest grossing films of 2022 and see if you like the judgment of the “people.”

    You will be viewing movies like “Sonic the Hedgehog”, “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru”, and at least two films based on comic book characters.

    1. To be fair, the lowest grossing film this year, and perhaps of all time, is that Daily Wire movie.

      Bwahahshahahahahhaaaa, poor Ben Shapiro.

  3. Somerby’s intent is to imply that (liberal) movie critics only pretended to like Tár.

    1. I haven’t seen the movie. Is the pandemic and it’s holy mandates used as one more device to screw women?

    2. I have not seen it either. I have no idea what you are trying to say, but I think your compatriot Mao correctly summarizes what Somerby is trying to say.

    3. mh, I don’t know if liberals are pretending to like the movie. I just now know that Bob is the only one who has actually seen it.

    4. I haven't seen it either. Nor has it finished its commercial film run. It will be released again in theaters after it is nominated for an Oscar and again if it wins. It might eventually recover its costs, which would undercut Somerby argument about it being unloved despite being lauded.

      I haven't seen it because I am not a big Kate Blanchett fan. Also, it sounds dark and who needs more darkness in these times?

      Somerby keeps trying to make a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow entertainment, but I think most people don't do that. We think of entertainment as one category and go watch what we want within it. With streaming, you don't have to go to the theatre to see anything any more, except live theatre (the kind with actors, dancers, musicians on stage). Tar is not in that category.

      I find it amusing that despite Somerby's litany of awards and critic rave reviews, his sneering tone still comes across loud and clear. Why sneer at something just because a whole bunch of critics like it? That comes across as reverse-snobbery, especially in the complete absence of any reasons why someone might dislike this film, including any synopsis of the film itself.

      This post reveals Somerby's animosity but not the basis for it. He just sounds mean.

    5. Anonymouse 10:24am, he watched the movie. I suspect we will hear more.

      It’s too late for you to reserve judgment on Bob’s opinion after he has watched the movie and you haven’t.

      Let’s watch it and see.

    6. Cecelia, please stop leaving so much extra space at the end of your comments. It makes the rest of us have to scroll down a lot further, as comment accumulate.

      Here is how you do it. Write your comment. Read through it to fix any errors. At the end, use the backspace key to remove the extra Enter keys you pressed. Stop when you get to the words, unless you have second thoughts and wish to delete them too.

    7. I don't have to agree with Somerby's response, just because he saw the film and I didn't. It is entirely possible, even likely, that he and I would not agree even if I had seen the film. At best, someone should reserve judgment.

      But I suspect that I know why Somerby apparently (by his tone) didn't like the film. Here is a synopsis of it:

      "Renowned musician Lydia Tár is days away from recording the symphony that will elevate her career. When all elements seem to conspire against her, Lydia's adopted daughter Petra becomes an integral emotional support for her struggling mother."

      It is about women. Somerby will not empathize with Lydia. If you have a film in which a woman is the main character and she is encountering difficulties, you will not enjoy or appreciate that film unless you can find some basis for caring about her. Somerby doesn't do that in real life, and he spends most of his time on this blog attacking female journalists and professors, so the prospect of a film in which the main character is about to achieve something major is not going to float his boat at all.

      This synopsis included no spoilers, so I don't know what the obstacles were, but I can imagine Somerby rooting for the obstacles, not Lydia. And if the film is about the mother-daughter relationship and the ambivalence sometimes felt by adoptees, then Somerby will have little interest there either, except for perhaps reviving his own animosities towards his mother (admitted in Somerby's one-man standup show) as he perhaps identifies with the daughter.

      Somerby appears to want to displace his mixed feelings onto politics, his usual distraction from his other problems, but it should be obvious even to Somerby that this is his usual coping mechanism and not based on any real similarities between politics and any movie not explicitly about politics. Anyone with an ounce of sense could have predicted Somerby's reaction to such a movie.

    8. It's not a highbrow film, it's a supernatural, horror film masquerading as a highbrow film. It's funny to watch movie reviewers and faux highbrow pseudo-liberal idiots completely miss the distinction. They think they are smart and highbrow but they are for the most part low bred idiots. It's funny to watch. It's another emperor with no clothes moment for pseudo liberals.

    9. So, then When Harry Met Sally couldn't win best screenplay because it was an obvious romcom and not some highbrow film? And Gravity couldn't win best picture because it was just dressed up sci fi? Why shouldn't a genre film win best film?

      Then there is this:

      "The Shining was largely unappreciated when it came out, to put it mildly. Despite huge expectations based on the combination of Kubrick and King, it placed just 14th at the box office, grossing $149M in today’s dollars. It was not among the top 20 films mentioned in a year-end critics poll, and my sense is that it would actually have been “rotten” at Rotten Tomatoes, had it existed back then.

      In other words, it was a flop. A misfire. Kubrick was nominated for a Razzie Award as worst director. The film was never in the Oscar discussion at all."

      "The Shining is ranked 53rd on The Greatest Films."

      Is there still some kind of rule that horror films cannot be good films?

    10. So, 11am, since there is such a thing as a “highbrow” film, give us an example of a true one, so we know your definition of that.

    11. Oh my God. I just realized that 11am got “Tár” confused with “Tar”, a 2020 horror movie with this description:

      “A mysterious creature rises from the depths of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to wreak bloody havoc.”

    12. Low bred,.pseudo liberal idiots think it's an intellectual narrative about a highbrow conductor missing that it's really just a supernatural horror movie.

    13. An easy mistake to make, given that Somerby says:

      "A certain ghost is said to lurk all through the (considerable) running time of this widely praised feature film."

      Maybe Somerby watched the La Brea version of Tar too? Anything is possible.

    14. Please enlighten us 12:03. Give us an example of a “highbrow” movie.

    15. There are.ghosts the movie. Twice.

    16. It's similar to Somerby's brilliant analysis of Promising Young Woman, breaking down the movie for what it was while 99% of pseudo liberal idiots inaccurately and robotically called it a movie about "female empowerment".

    17. Cecelia gets quiet about discussing real women, because, for whatever odd reason, Cecelia pretends to be a woman while defending the immorality of right wingers and expressing faux panic over gender identity.

      Morons like Cecelia and 1:03 want to crucify everyone else for their own sins; it’s just more right wing bullshit, demanding others take personal responsibility while endlessly whining about their grievances brought on by The Other.

    18. Amusing that Cecelia, wanting to despise art for all the reasons conservatives usually do, jumps on the dumb dumb feminist train to stick it to Tar. Whatever works I guess, must protect her beautiful mind…..

  4. "As we tried to puzzle our way through the length of this highbrow film, we kept thinking that we were visiting a sister city of our failed political discourse."

    No, there are no parallels at all between movies and politics. Whatever similarities Somerby thinks he sees are only in his head.

    For one thing, most of us have a firm grasp on the fact that politics are the way we govern our country whereas movies are strictly unreal, entertainment, a diversion from reality. None of us who inhabit the real world find anything amusing or entertaining, thrilling or moving about the goons who are ruining our political landscape and making our country a mess, squandering time and money to win instead of to serve.

    Any parallels are forced by Somerby. It is a lazy way of reasoning, especially since he doesn't bother telling us anything about the film itself, nor about the things he considers to be similar in political discourse.

    If I said, out of thin air, that I consider a cat to be very like a gorilla, would anyone understand why, without any explanation at all? What if I said that a lemon is like an accordian? They would be fools to agree. Today Somerby is playing us all for fools.

    1. That’s an utter affront to the greatest script writers and movie directors of all time.

      She hasn’t seen this movie yet he’s playing us for fools.

      She has yet read this: “Tomorrow: Why we rented Tár”

    2. Cecelia, why did you deliberately leave all of this space at the end of your comment, after bein asked nicely to stop? Are you a moron who cannot figure out how to use your keyboard?

      Yes, Somerby promises to explain tomorrow, just like he was going to explain why he slimed NPR last week but then said nothing about it. Somerby is very unreliable about explaining and providing evidence to support his attacks on people, but very reliable about the attacks themselves.

      And yes, he is playing YOU for a fool. Next he will claim that politics are like car repair and our troubled discourse is like a parakeet without a toy or like the football playoffs or some such. Facile comparisons without explanation.

      I could say that you, Cecelia are like breakfast cereal, because no matter how much milk I try to drown you in, I can still hear the snap, crackle and pop. And that is more explanation than Somerby ever gives when he describes some political crime and then segues into telling us that we liberals in our smug blue tribe are just as bad as whatever it was he spent his entire post whining about.

    3. Anonymouse 10:56sm, on the contrary, it’s not that he doesn’t tell us how he feels, It that he explicitly does.

    4. OK, so please quote the part of today's post where Somerby tells us why he thinks the film Tar is like our tribe's political discourse. Please do not tell us why YOU think he has made an apt analogy. Just show us the place where Somerby explains himself.

    5. Somerby doesn't even tell us "explicitly" that he doesn't like Tar. You have to read between such lines as:

      "We aren't big fans of Tár ourselves, but that isn't the point.

      A certain ghost is said to lurk all through the (considerable) running time of this widely praised feature film. As we tried to puzzle our way through the length of this highbrow film, we kept thinking that we were visiting a sister city of our failed political discourse."

      Not being a big fan of something is far from being no fan at all, which I think is closer to Somerby's truth. And for some reason, he doesn't like to "puzzle" his way through anything. A teacher would call that intellectually lazy. Is Somerby perhaps insulting lowbrow people today? Sounds like it to me.

    6. Old men have plumbing problems that make it hard for them to sit through lengthy films. That is perhaps the real issue. And perhaps no one has told Somerby that there is a pause button on his remote (given his difficulties with links at the Washington Post). Cameron gave the audience permission to run out to the bathroom several times during his new Avatar movie (also on the best film lists). He said you can see what you missed the next time you see the film. I don't think he was joking.

    7. Anonymouse 11:29am, Somerby gives you a hook at the end of his blog.

      We’re all sure that you’ll love it.

    8. You mean this?

      "Tomorrow: Why we rented Tár"

      He won't say anything about it. He has a very low percentage of follow-through on his teases. And who really cares?

    9. I think Bob has already told us why he rented “Tar.” You think just maybe he will use this mildly challenging movie to attack out of touch elites who want to see something other than Donald Trump on professional wrestling?

  5. In general, I don't like films where bad things happen to women and children in order to create suspense. I hated Aliens. That says nothing about how well done the film may be, however.

  6. This is what Somerby should have written about today. A New York Times editorial is titled:

    "There’s a Line on George Santos’s Résumé That No One Can Cross Out"

    You read the entire article and it barely mentioned Santos, does not say what line on his resume they are talking about. It is Bret Stephens and Gail Collins in a meandering conversation about nothing much.

    I suspect the line is that Santos is a Republican, but they truly never say. I want my money back. Meanwhile, Somerby is ranting about some movie no one has seen, as if it were a travesty instead of earning the box-office it should get.

    There are so many bad films out there that Somerby never mentions, most likely because they are about men not women. I predict the Oscars will overlook Adam Sandler's Hubie Halloween, once again. A true horror film. Where is Somerby's outrage? When critics single out a film because it is different and thought-provoking, well-acted and well-directed, but not to Somerby's taste, then Somerby is all over it! The travesty! How dare critics have different tastes from himself? Does Somerby have no clue what a ridiculous figure he has made of himself again today?

    1. Where were you the last time he “ranted” about Stephens and Collins?

    2. You mean today? Right here.

  7. I have the credentials to be considered "highbrow", I don't seem to be in sync with today's movies. They're technically superb, but the plots and dialogue don't match up to movies of the past.

    Perhaps this is a biased view, since the old movies I watch are those that have passed the test of time. Still, I can't think of modern movies that people will still be watching 75 years from now.

    1. I don’t consider you highbrow, David.

    2. David, we could connect your idea with Somerby’s post. In the studio system, the directors and actors worked for the studios. Some of the studios owned their own theaters. They could afford to experiment and absorb a few flops. Nowadays, every movie needs to make a profit. So you get films based on comic book heroes, wall to wall action movies with implausible stunts, etc. this is what today’s audiences want. It’s today’s business model, mostly.

      Somerby doesn’t review these kinds of movies. Instead, he complains when critics, who are subjected to the kinds of films I mentioned on a daily basis, find more mature themes and more complex characters to be compelling. He trashes the critics for being “cosseted elites” (remember him using that phrase?) for liking films like “Jeanne Dielman” or (presumably) “Tár”. Does he agree with you about today’s popular box office hits? In other words, does he affirm that public opinion is a good guide to “good” movies?

    3. Lowbrow and highbrow are arbitrary terms used as weapons by those wanting to maintain arbitrary hierarchies.

      mh hints at the real problem, which is privatization and commodification; these notions suggest only a subset of certain people can engage in producing what is in fact universal.

  8. Amazing. Thirty-two comments, and it seems no one has actually seen the film - and that might as well include Somerby himself, who only uses it for one of his shallow screeds. First, Tár isn't particularly "high-brow", although its classical music setting is. And it isn't really political except on the surface. Instead, it's an old-fashion tragedy, where the hubris and misdeeds of a great character gradually brings him (or her) to a deserved end.

    The person above who claims it as a "supernatural horror film" also misses the boat. Although the Blanchett character is the height of arrogance and stone-cold indifferent to other peoples lives, some part of her is starting to unravel from suppressed panic and fear. You watch this movie like you watch a Shakespearean tragedy, half identifying-with and half repulsed by the central character, seeing a slowly accumulating series of missteps lead to her ruin. It's a damn good movie.

    1. The last third of the movie was all in the main character's head. The whole movie is full of supernatural events. You can see ghosts in the background of two shots. The final shot was just a nightmare in her head. That's why the Asian country is never named. It's also why in her dream nightmare that made up the last third of the movie the man who ran her foundation was her replacement after she was canceled. In real life, he was just an amateur conductor.. It's also why the young cellist she was grooming was living in that dank and dark basement occupied by wild dogs.

    2. It's most certainly not a damn good movie. Explain to me why you would say that. You're just being pretentious and following the crowd.

    3. Blanchett was horrible in it as usual. She's an overrated, horrible, horrible actress.

    4. That is such a typical take of the low bred pseudo liberal regarding this movie! It's damn good! It shakespearean! These idiots don't realize it's a supernatural thriller and take it as some serious, highbrow work. You're a total idiot! You totally missed the point.

    5. It's so funny to watch mass delusion of dumb shits you think they're the smartest people on earth.

    6. "The last third of the movie was all in the main character's head."

      I guess you wouldn't like "Being John Malkovich" then?

    7. I think 3:33 has characterized the movie well. It may not be to Somerby's taste, but it is part of a tradition and those who care about people will be interested in it as a character study and tragedy. Some believe that we each contain the seeds of our own undoing, which may make the film uncomfortable for some to watch, suspecting their own flaws. If Somerby is a narcissist like the main character, it would explain why he may be both fascinated and repelled by the film. Somerby lacks the insight to appreciate a psychological film.

      But why blame the left wing or highbrows? This is the result of choices by those who made the film, not the audience.

    8. There’s nothing supernatural in the film.

      5:40 you explain how it was all in her head, which it was. Doh!

      Tar is in part just a tedious rehash of the 70’s Lumet movie Network (tedious in part because it seems to misunderstand the film it is imitating), which wasn’t great filmmaking but a spot on prophecy of the right wing dystopia America became starting in the 80’s with Reagan. Blanchett is just doing her best impression of Faye Dunaway. The difference with Tar is that it seems like more of a right wing attack on woke ism than anything else. As the New Yorker film critic put it “a regressive film that takes bitter aim at so-called cancel culture and lampoons so-called identity politics”. Oof.

      Somerby may offer his take, but since he is a right wing moron, who cares.

    9. Amazing. How can a movie be "a right wing attack on woke-ism" when the subject of that "woke-ism" is shown deserving of everything that happens to her? The New Yorker critic didn't bother to explain that; nor do you. We witness Tár committing one loathsome act after another, most of them both unprofessional and unethical. The New Yorker critic seem to object to everything not being tied-up with a big polemical bow. He seemed troubled that Tár's comeuppance was so messy. Well, that's life, isn't it?

      One thing's for sure: If the director wanted to make a film against "cancel culture", he probably would have stated with a main character who isn't guilty as sin. He probably wouldn't have delivered this imaginary message in such a rancid package as the movie's title figure.

  9. I thought Tar was terrific. Very much worth seeing.

  10. TDH, there have always been highbrow movies, literature, and art - or at least for the past several decades. There's a place for it. Some of it is good, some not, though it's often a matter of taste. Some people don't like or at least like a change of pace from all the superhero movies or ones with a lot of gross outs. To each his own. I haven't seen tar, but I read a long review of it in the elitist New York Review of Books and it sounded interesting. I think TDH gets carried away with analogizing whatever he haphazardly encounters and the current political straits we find ourselves enduring. Even though I didn't see Tar, I think there are more salient examples of the current cluelessness of our liberal tribe.

    1. "the elitist New York Review of Books"

      People are not elitist for reading (or writing) the New York Review of Books. It is called being literate.

  11. As Bob admits the disclaimers illustrate that
    “Highbrows” don’t as a group all love the movie. A lot of people seemed to just find it boring. I thought it was very involving though the conclusion didn’t quite satisfy.
    Bob is gleeful that a movie that seems to be for pointy heads tanked, employing his customary reverse snobbery. The movie did fail at the theaters where anything but a comic book is likely to stiff these days. It may make it back in streaming, I don’t get much how these things work.

  12. "There is a major disconnect between the values and interests of the nation's high-end political journalists and the values and interests of very large segments of us the people, including the people who vote."

  13. We might note finally that what Bob says here does not make much sense. He says the movie is a highbrow art thing for snobs and it reminds him off our discourse. Yet he admits, our discourse isn’t highbrow at all. So the only parallel is…. It reminds Bob how he hates left wing “elites.” But what doesn’t?
    I liked the movie. It was over two hours with an unlikable lead character an (unlike some people) I was never bored or disinterested. It gave you something to think about. I thought Tar’s corruption was much more ambiguous (as in any thoughtful drama) than most people have noted. But the plot had problems too.
    The kind of ambiguity the screenplay contained probably bugs Bob. Bob argues that people who want to see Trump held accountable for his crimes just like sending people to jail. How is that sort of idiocy supposed to comprehend a modestly complex film?

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