Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #61

The actor:Cate Blanchett
The character:Lydia Tár
The film:Tár
The line:“If you want to dance the masque, you must service the composer.”

I think what stands out to me most about this line—more than its presence in an instantly indelible scene, more than Cate Blanchett’s terrifically aloof and theatrical posturing, more than the way that it leads us fluidly into the cancel culture piece of the picture—is that it makes no sense.

“These words scan with a fantastic degree of confidence considering that together they make no sense at all” is the Lydia Tár experience in its most charitable interpretation. I get the larger point that she’s trying to make in this scene, which is that great conducting requires an openness to the music that people like Lydia Tár are interpreting. I’ll even grant that in her worldview, this means that there’s only traditional taste that dictates what makes great music, and that this (winces) gatekeeps the future. But those words…they sound a lot better than they actually come off for like, comprehension. When it comes down to it, Lydia is built on these kind of pithy comments that sound wonderful off the tongue, so wonderful that all one has left is Treppenwitz by the time one’s brain has actually figured out what happened. This is one of the many things that maintains her power, a way with words that is equal parts charming and threatening. It’s an awfully difficult path to walk, of course. It requires something darn near perfection from Lydia Tár in the practical realm, which is not limited at all to her professional work but also to her personal life. The professional work she can keep up. The personal life (suicidal ex-lovers, dropped functionaries, mindless affairs, you know the drill) is so far from perfect that it derails everything with the thoroughness of iron rods on train tracks.

This is a revealing line not just in how it shows us the mask, ha ha, of Lydia Tár, but in the connotations presented by such a specific and rarely used word. Say “masque” and one presumably heads straight for “The Masque of the Red Death,” the Edgar Allan Poe short story that tells the story of disease both moral and physical, the way that the two of those things feed off of each other in much the same way that Lydia Tár’s moral rot is a prime mover of her interpretation of classical music. Go further back from Prince Prospero, as Poe did, and head to Act V of The Tempest. There, Prospero’s masque ends with great suddenness. Perhaps it does not end overnight, as the storied career of Lydia Tár seems to, and of course it does not end without his consent. But, as he tells us, it was all “baseless fabric” anyway.

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