Tár’s delirious Monster Hunter ending explained
2022’s most unexpected setup for a movie joke comes in the credits for Tar, which rolls by at the beginning of the film. It’s an innocuous detail – a song credit that reads “©Capcom”. It’s an exciting name to see in a prestige-style mainstream drama about a world-famous conductor navigating fame, a sexual scandal and a fall from grace. The fictional celebrity Lydia Tár (played by Cate Blanchett) is a serious, even self-important intellectual, seen early in the film teaching at Juilliard, and is interviewed by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik in front of a large, rapt audience. She doesn’t seem like a movie character who sits down to play a video game, or knows much about them.
Which makes the final minutes of the film particularly surprising for video game fans.
[Ed. note: End spoilers ahead for Todd Field’s Tár.]
In the film’s final scenes, Lydia takes to the stage in what appears to be a low-rent concert hall in an unnamed Southeast Asian country. The lights go down on the orchestra she conducts. A series of video screens descend behind the musicians. And a famous voice-over plays:
“Sisters and brothers of the Fifth Fleet, it is time. I’ll keep the parting short – there have never been many words. Once you board this ship, there is no turning back. The next ground your feet touch will be that of the New World.” The camera pans through an audience dressed in elaborate cosplay outfits, revealing that the famous Lydia Tár – one of the most famous conductors in this fictional world – has been reduced to conducting a Monster Hunter live concert.
It’s an extremely funny moment. The opening credits are a little Chekhov’s gun that’s easy to miss, and as Lydia navigates the fallout from her sexual exploitation of the students, there’s no indication that this is where the movie is going. Ahead of the event, as Lydia confers with the organizers and explores the venue, the audience is led to believe that this is just an ordinary symphonic concert, just one with less of the glitz and glamor she has been used to with her conducting work in Berlin and New York.
So when Monster Hunter: Worldthe opening scene begins to play, and viewers see this silent, serious audience in their elaborate costumes, it’s hard not to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all, especially given the high stakes and grim story that precedes it. The audience’s first instinct is probably to see Lydia’s latest job as a humiliating downgrade. That’s the Place: Lydia Tár is so toxic that she’s been banished to a place where her name means nothing. And she directs the music for Monster Hunter, a series in which players hack dragons and dinosaurs to death, harvest them for parts and meat, and give the proceeds to an anthropomorphic feline assistant to craft weapons with.
It is, to put it mildly, a sharp departure from Lydia’s previous project, conducting a series of Gustav Mahler pieces with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. An initial reading of that ending suggests that she has been reduced to conducting background music for an audience that will never fawn over her like the participants at the New Yorker panel in the film’s opening scene.
As tempting as it is to read Monster Hunter: World concert as a humiliation for her, but that interpretation does not show the whole story. Writer-director Todd Field doesn’t take clear sides: Lydia is clearly a talented, accomplished conductor, but she apparently grooms young students for transactional sexual relationships, and is willing to ruin their careers if they offend her. It is worth noting that she treats Monster Hunter: World concert like any other assignment: She studies the music, practices with intention and focus, and discusses the progress with the other performers. Although she thinks the subject is beneath her, she gives it as much attention as she gives Mahler.
But for an audience, what really is the difference between dressing in your best for Mahler and cosplaying for one Monster hunter performance? Culturally, people tend to think of film and game scores as separate from symphonic music, even though they use the same instruments and techniques. Play as Bloodborne, Travel, and Final Fantasy 14 include several classical compositional styles and techniques, from waltzes to choral singing. Lydia herself is known to be an EGOT winner, which means she’s worked in film and TV, maybe even on a musical. And both are ultimately quite expensive experiences for the public, even if Monster Hunter is at the lower end.
A classical fan might say the difference is in the music, but at the end of the day, is there so much room between John Williams and Gustav Mahler? The key figure that connects all of this is Lydia’s inspiration, the famous composer Leonard Bernstein. As The Daily Beast points out, the impetus for her decision to continue working seems to come after she watches an old favorite VHS tape from one of Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” created to introduce the great composers to children. Bernstein himself was a great champion of bringing classical music to the masses. What is one Monster hunter concert, but another place to share this joy with other people?
Many critics have interpreted Tar as a film that condemns “interrupt culture”, but to reduce Field’s film to a mass execution does him and the character of Lydia Tár a great disservice. Yes, Lydia has been “cancelled” towards the end, removed from her prestigious position in Berlin, and told by her publicity team to lay low until the scandal passes. But Field is more interested in her as a figure who cultivates power, and in exploring how that coincides with the myth of the great artist.
The film suggests that Lydia is not really in her career for the music anymore and it has become a tool to feed her ego. Her face and name appear prominently on the cover of the Mahler recording she is working on throughout the film. In an advertisement for that concert later, she is placed directly opposite Mahler as the headliner for the event. When she begins advocating for a young cellist to take a prominent place in her orchestra, it is more out of infatuation than for her talent. (Although she’s clearly talented.) Lydia’s opening remarks during the New Yorker interview have her proclaiming that when she conducts, she is in control of time itself.
Music, especially orchestral music, is an expression of this power for her: the musicians must follow what is written on the sheet music, and while the conductor must too, it is ultimately her decision whether to repeat a segment or “get rid of it all together . ,” as well as whether they set the pace. She even goes so far as to move a trumpet player offstage and backstage to get the perfect echoing, distant sound she wants. The music itself has become a form of control for the character, an ultimate display of her power. After all, what is more powerful than controlling time? She obviously loves the music, but she loves it because she can bend it to her will, and control how the audience hears it.
Fear of loss of control permeates the entire film. Lydia constantly experiences sounds she can’t fully control: a hidden metronome ticking in her apartment, a neighbor’s annoying doorbell, an unseen woman screaming in what sounds like terror or pain while Lydia is out running. Fear of losing control – of her artistry, of her reputation, of her life – dominates her character, ultimately leading to her downfall. It’s what prompts her to delete the incriminating evidence that she blacklisted her late former student, even going so far as to demand her assistant’s laptop so she can surreptitiously search her emails.
Lydia’s ultimate triumph is to overcome this fear, and get the chance to reclaim her status by loosening her grip on both the music and the people beneath her.
About her deserves that chance – exactly which of the accusations against her are true – is ambiguous. It’s another world where she hits the cancel culture circuit, becoming another in a long line of celebrities and artists who lament the fact that their actions have consequences. She could double her behavior, or compose entirely behind the scenes. But that would just be an extension of her ego trip, a way to recreate the bubble where she is the most important person in the world.
Ultimately, though, Field is not concerned with whether what is happening to her is justified. His startling, improbable Monster Hunter: World The ending suggests that a woman purges herself of everything but her art and her audience, relinquishing the need for total control. Only when she has rededicated herself to music can Lydia return to being the master she once was. It’s possible that being that champion is the problem itself, and it’s one she still needs to navigate. But ultimately, pulling off a video game concert isn’t the humiliation viewers have suggested it is. It’s a way to reclaim what she loves about music, without the parts of it that poisoned her.
Tar is at the cinema now.