Sympathy for the Devil

The revolution as seen through the eyes of the those revolved out in Memories of Underdevelopment and Tár

The year is 2022, and conductor Lydia Tár is a foot from the top. Her memoir, Tár on Tár, will be published in time for the Christmas holiday. Her latest composition is finished and has a title and dedication. And she is one performance away from completing her Mahler cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, all with her at the podium and wife Sharon as concertmaster. All that remains is Gustav Mahler’s 1902 composition, Symphony No. 5. Once complete, Deutsche Grammophon will release the lot in one handsomely packaged boxed set, just in time for Mahler’s birthday. It’s a lifetime of work culminating with a distant trumpet calling the orchestra to attention. The trumpet sounds, the orchestra responds, and the funeral march of the five is underway. Except Lydia is not at the podium. She’s standing off stage: disheveled, furious, vindictive. You’re nothing. You’re dead. Your destruction starts now.

Havana, 1961: “The wealthy are fleeing the island.” A revolution is coming, and the ruling class knows it’s time to get the hell out of dodge. Miami, New York, Paris—anywhere but here. That includes the Menoyas: Father, mother, and daughter-in-law. Only the son, Sergio, remains in Cuba. Not because he’s a communist and not because he can’t feel the shifting winds, but because he’s already detached. From his wife, his family, his class, and his heritage. All those who loved and nagged me up until the last minute have left.

What do these two have in common? Lydia and Sergio. Both are protagonists in fiction films, though their relationships to reality aren’t buried that deep. Lydia shares similarities with former Met Opera maestro James Levine—who gets name-dropped in Tár. Sergio’s analog is more general. And though he’s a construct, he’s often filmed as if he’s the subject of a documentary. Indeed it is with Tár: With so much attention to detail and references to real-world individuals, it’s safe to assume many viewers, especially future viewers, expect Lydia to be based on someone specific.

But it is where generality meets specificity that the movies Tár (2022) and Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) succeed. Lydia’s fall is synonymous with any number of powerful figures at the top of their industry. Sergio’s economic privilege separates him from the revolutionaries knocking at the door, but his intellectual curiosity removes him from the gentry fleeing Cuba. Neither is blind to the crashing waves of time. They’ve just turned their backs on them. As the saying goes, history is written by the winners, and what Lydia and Sergio leave behind is a record of those revolved out. Consider the Roman centurion in Ernest Hemingway’s one-act play, On a Friday. Is it the wine making the soldier’s stomach sour, or is it the crucifixion he’s just taken part in? Does the sourness he feels have anything to do with the one he helped crucify? What does it feel like to realize history’s next chapter does not include you?

Separated by centuries and countries, filmmaker Todd Field’s Tár and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias del subdesarrollo) are playing in the same sandbox. It’s a big sandbox, and they’re not the only ones building castles, but sometimes it’s fun to single a couple out and compare structures. Consider Tár’s opening monologue, delivered by New Yorker author Adam Gopnick, an impressive recounting of Lydia’s illustrious career. In it, Gopnick points out Lydia’s predilection for programming contemporary composers against the canon: “She’s been quoted as saying, ‘These composers are having a conversation, and it may not always be so polite.’”

So it seems in Memories of Underdevelopment and Tár. As actress Daisy Granados, the young Maria in Memories, told the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in a 2017 interview, Memories contains undeniable parallels to our current moment—then the very height of #MeToo. If Granados is right and Memories was a “forbearer,” then maybe Tár is the descendant. Not the resolution and certainly not the coda, but a movement in the symphony at the very least.

Backstage in Berlin

But before we get there, let’s pour the foundation. Fair warning: spoilers for both Tár and Memories of Underdevelopment from here on out.

As mentioned at the top, Tár opens with Lydia’s (Cate Blanchett) career about to crescendo in one grand gesture of accomplishment. Naturally, the narrative conspires to bite back.

Krista (Sylvia Flote) pulls the first thread. Seen only from behind in the movie’s first few scenes, Field identifies Krista via her red hair. She is more a haunting presence than character, to the point we don’t know whom she is until later in the film when it’s revealed Krista has committed suicide. Lydia’s first reaction to this information is curt. Only later, when Lydia is reading a news story about Krista’s death in private, does her face betray a more familiar emotion. This is also when the movie visually connects the silent observer with the name, again through Krista’s red hair—this time from a photo accompanying the news post. In it, Krista conducts, her hair swirling free in ecstasy from her place at the podium. Even in this photo, the hair obscures Krista’s face. Field denies viewers a concrete view of who Krista is and was. Red hair is all you get.

As we’ll learn, Krista was a promising young conductor taken under Lydia’s wing through a mentorship program. Is lured a better word? Possibly. An affair occurred, Krista developed an attachment, and Lydia cast her aside for unknown but guessable reasons. Was Krista a threat to Lydia’s career? Her legacy and her family? Probably. Did Lydia find someone new: “Fresh meat,” in the words of the protestors at Lydia’s book launch? Perhaps. Either way, Lydia blackballed Krista’s career before it even began. How much Francesca (Noémi Merlant), Lydia’s current assistant suspects, even knows—she’s been in communication with Krista—is worth considering. Does Francesca now occupy the spot under Lydia’s wing that Krista once did? Whose foot is that touching Lydia’s in the montage accompanying Gopnick’s monologue?

A pattern emerges. Isn’t that the phrase used anytime bad behavior comes to light? Field leaves the door open enough to suggest Krista was neither the first to fall under Lydia’s baton nor will she be the last. A tender touch here, a text message there, an accusation spit out in moments of anger, hushed whispers—you know the drill. And when an impeccably skilled young Russian cellist, Olga (Sophie Kauer), shows up for a blind audition to join the Berlin Philharmonic, the cycle begins again.

Meanwhile… in Communist Havana

Not that Lydia owns a monopoly on extramarital affairs, nor is she alone in her pursuits from a position of power. Memories of Underdevelopment’s Sergio (Sergio Corrieri) is right there with her. His wife (Yolanda Farr) flees Havana with Sergio’s parents with not so much as a goodbye—both hold nothing but contempt for each other. Now Sergio wanders the streets and pools of Havana, scoping out women. His gaze is leering. His thoughts, presented in voice-over, are worse. 

The gaze is important to Memories. The movie opens with a party: Men and women dancing while musicians drum and play for the crowd. The sound of gunshots momentarily breaks the festivities, and a man falls to the ground. His body is quickly extricated, the music begins again, and the dancers fill the floor. Except now things feel different: Less enthusiastic, less uninhibited. A woman continues to dance with her partner, but her eyes are wide with confusion and terror. She looks directly into the lens, and the image freezes.

Upon first viewing, this dance scene, over which the titles play, gives Memories the flavor of documentary, which Gutiérrez Alea continues into the narrative’s first scene: Sergio and his family at the airport. Only we don’t meet Sergio immediately. The camera searches the crowd as if to take everything in, even capturing children looking into the lens as if Memories is cinema vérité. It isn’t until the camera finds Sergio hugging his family goodbye, do we know the object of Memories’ gaze. Sergio begins to narrate, detached and emotionless, about how they’re never coming back. I’m not like them, he muses.

Thirty-eight years old and living on 600 pesos a month (roughly 6,000 in 2023 U.S. dollars) in a 3,000 square foot penthouse with five toilets and two elevators, Sergio isn’t like them—his family or the communists. He knows this intrinsically as he looks down on the world from his balcony, spying on others through his telescope. Have I changed, or has the city?

Sergio’s family owns at least part of the high-rise he lives in, and like a lot of people who own things, Sergio is oblivious to the suggestion it could be taken from him. In one of the movie’s most telling scenes, a member of the communist party (Juana Alburquerque) interviews Sergio about the living spaces. His questions are rudimentary, his demeanor indifferent. When Sergio asks why he wants to know, the inspector replies, “We’re just verifying.” Taking stock of future assets is more like it—something Cuban audiences watching in 1968 no doubt understood a hell of a lot more than Sergio does.

The same could be said of Lydia’s dismissal of the viral video she’s confronted with by the board of her mentorship foundation (Accordion). In the video, Lydia is heard making disparaging comments and acting combative toward a student, Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist). “A hatchet job,” Lydia calls the cheaply edited production. But in the age of 60-second Instagram reels and 30-second TikToks, does it matter? And though Lydia doesn’t think much of the video, Accordion’s board does. Ditto for the audience. The video, no matter how out of context, no matter how deconstructed and reconstructed, is public and damning. That’s what matters.

Now, About that Scene with Max…

It’s a funny thing about this meaning business, in music anyway. When you say, “What does it mean?” What you’re really saying is: “What is it trying to tell me? What ideas does it make me have?” 

—Leonard Bernstein, Young People’s Concerts: What Does Music Mean?

Tár opens with a lot of talking. There is the onstage discussion between Gopnick and Lydia, lunch with Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), a conductor in his own right and the head of Accordion, and then the Julliard master class directed by Lydia. We’re over 20 minutes into Tár, and the esteemed conductor has yet to pick up a baton. Yet, there is little doubt Lydia isn’t in command, no matter the room. There’s a rehearsed quality to the onstage interview—Field even cuts to a shot of Francesca mouthing the words along with Gopnick’s intro—and a bit of toying at lunch with Eliot. He orders wine, and she declines. He eats lunch, and she snacks on the bread. He tries to get her to reveal her secrets, and she offers him something that sounds more useful than it might be. In every situation, Lydia is the center. Now Field drops her into a very large and hostile space to see how bright she’ll shine.

Here’s how it plays out: Max, a Julliard student, conducts a piece of atonal music written by a contemporary Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir. At the completion of the performance, Lydia quizzes the class about the music. What does it mean? The students’ answers are educated but not satisfying. Lydia then asks Max what the music means to them, and their answer is equally educated but still unsatisfying. Max enjoys—or, at least, is impressed by—what the piece withholds from the audience.

Lydia is not. She talks—lectures, really—about what music is, what music does, and what music provides listeners. It’s the sort of thing Leonard Bernstein was famous for. Lydia’s CV includes a stint as Bernstein’s assistant, Lenny, as she calls him, and carries the torch. It’s a convincing argument, but it falls flat with Max and the students. Especially when Lydia mentions Bach, and Max responds that they’re not a fan.

Who doesn’t dig Bach? Max, that’s who. But Max’s reason isn’t so much the work as it is the man himself: “Didn’t he have, like, 20 children?” True, Lydia responds, but what’s that got to do with The Well-Tempered Clavier? For the rest of the Gen Zers sitting in the class, and probably a lot of people watching Tár: Everything. Much like the housing inspector scene in Memories, the audience is more clued in than the protagonists.

Lydia’s beside herself: Why anyone would dismiss some of the greatest music crafted by human hands because of the author’s prodigious output between the sheets is beyond her. Is she playing devil’s advocate, or can she not read the room? No matter, Lydia makes her case at the piano, and Max concedes that she “plays really well,” but as a “BIPOC pangender person,” white, cisgender Europeans from long ago just aren’t their thing. Lydia becomes more combative and increases the temperature. But Max will not be moved. So Lydia decides to play by Max’s rules and moves in for the kill. If Max is so concerned with optics, how, then, will the audience accept their interpretation of someone not from a similar background? That’s enough for Max, who exits the class with four words: “You’re a fucking bitch.”

As far as Lydia is concerned, she won the battle. Not because her point was right but because Max broke first. “The narcissism of small differences leads to the most boring kind of conformity,” she says to Max and the rest of the class. 

Is Lydia right? Her tête-à-tête with Max has been playing out in open forums, online, and in-person for some time now. But something about how it plays out in Tár feels different. Filmed in one impressive and almost invisible 10-minute take, Field loads Lydia with plenty of ammunition, particularly when Lydia pronounces that standing face-to-face with the “magnitude” of these long-gone canonized Europeans is what it’s about. To dismiss the work on the grounds of identity is to lose the messy complexities of history. The narcissism of small differences leads to the most boring kind of conformity. But what about Max? Is their reason invalid because Lydia is a renowned professional and Max is still a student? Lydia’s requirements for dismissal hinge on spending time learning the music, reading the biographies, understanding the artists, and having the courage to stand “in front of the public and God, and obliterate yourself.” That takes time. A lot of time. Musical compositions are numerous, and time is finite, and if an atonal piece from Iceland does it for Max and Bach doesn’t, then isn’t that enough?

About All of this Underdevelopment

But is that what this is all about: Time constraints and personal preference? Hardly. Lydia, as you can no doubt guess, is one of those problematic figures. What she produces as an artist is magnificent. But as a person, Lydia is reprehensible. Her actions have ruined lives, maybe even caused a death. Should Lydia be dismissed the way she dismisses Max’s identity politics? The way Max dismisses Bach?

Now seems like a pretty good time to bring back Sergio. With his wife and parents gone, Sergio is free to wander the streets of Havana, looking at women and critiquing them in an ongoing interior monologue. He’s also free to fantasize about them. His first mark is Noemi (Eslinda Núñez), his housekeeper. Once Sergio learns of her religious devotion, specifically her Catholic baptism, he fantasizes about her sexually. About dipping her in the river, her wet white clothes clinging to her body, her nipples protruding… It’s all very pornographic for Sergio, and subservience has a lot to do with it. Not just as his cleaning lady—that already carries a charged fetish—but her religious submission. Sergio, after all, is the one baptizing Noemi in his mind.

Noemi takes Sergio’s interest in the ceremony as a curiosity in the service, not her, and presents him with photos taken during the baptism. It is only here that Sergio sees something incongruous with his fantasy: Other people. “I didn’t think of the people. There are witnesses everywhere.” Lydia knows a thing or two about that.

But Noemi isn’t the only object of Sergio’s fantasies. There is Elena (Granados), a woman Sergio picks up on the street. She’s young. How young Sergio doesn’t know or doesn’t investigate, but she’s certainly younger than him. Nevertheless, he pursues her, sleeps with her—“ruins” her, in her words—and is charged with rape by her family, who only accuse him legally after he refuses to marry her. Daisy seems to like Sergio throughout the whole affair. Sergio, in return, couldn’t care less. In one scene, Sergio takes Elena to a bookstore, narrating: “Suddenly, I discovered Elena didn’t share any of my ideas. I expected more from her. I thought she was more complex and interesting. I tried to live like a European. She makes me feel underdeveloped with every step.” The book Sergio pulls off the shelf while these words echo on the soundtrack: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

What are we to make of these movies, these protagonists? Why do Field and Gutiérrez Alea focus their films on such disagreeable characters? As film scholar Jeff Smith points out in a video essay accompanying The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray release of Memories, Sergio is “elitist,” “violent,” and “a sexual predator.” Gutiérrez Alea uses “Sergio like a litmus test to say: ‘If you’re finding sympathy with this character, perhaps there is prerevolutionary attitudes that linger in yourself.’” You could say the same about Lydia.

But sex from a position of power isn’t the only thing driving Sergio or Lydia. They also want respect on the world stage. For Lydia, that means commanding the Berlin Philharmonic, not as a guest conductor, but as the maestro. Her Mahler cycle is a way of inserting herself into the canon. Those who follow will have to reconcile her interpretation of Mahler the way she reconciled Claudio Abbado and Bernstein’s interpretations of Mahler.

For Sergio, it’s the desire to shake off the feeling of “underdevelopment.” To be seen, intellectually at least, on par with centers of European thought. He would join the revolution—if only he could believe in it. While attending a political discussion, Sergio becomes disinterested in the intellectual prospects of the communists. He agrees with the American audience member who wants to know why a revolutionary group can think of nothing more inventive than a typical roundtable debate.

Make Way for Tomorrow

Can Sergio really not see the future coming? He seems oblivious when the communist inspector interviews him about his property. He is relieved when the court acquits him of raping Daisy—though his facial expression isn’t one of vindication, more a relief at the delay of execution. He leaves the revolutionary roundtable dejected, and Gutiérrez Alea zooms so close into Sergio’s face as to obliterate the character into blurry film grain. You’re nothing, Sergio thinks to himself. You’re dead. Your destruction starts now. When he visits his filmmaking friend, played by Gutiérrez Alea, Sergio looks at a collection of documentary images of the revolution without context. Gutiérrez Alea sees something, but Sergio can’t.

“What will you do with that?” Sergio asks.
“I want it for a film,” Gutiérrez Alea says.
“A film?”
“Yes. A kind of collage, a mix of everything.”
“But it must have a meaning.”
“It will,” Gutiérrez Alea says. “You’ll see.”

How about Lydia? What does she see? In the faces of Krista and Francesca, does she see two rising talents coming for her place at the podium? Is that why she destroys their careers? Lydia is rarely surrounded by anyone like her. There’s only room for one Lydia Tár in this world. But if she stopped every so often to see who else was in the room, say at the Julliard master class, who might she see looking back at her? Maybe the poster plastered to the side of the Lincoln Center in New York City? Lydia is riding in the backseat of a cab, looking out the window as the camera focuses from her to the poster on the passing building. On the poster, a face unlike Lydia’s with the words: “We Belong Here.” The focus shift from Lydia to the poster holds long enough for the audience to catch the meaning. Does Lydia?

Probably not. Lydia is too focused on the past. Too focused on carving a place in the history books that she fails to see a world shifting, changing, and transforming beneath her feet. Field includes many shots of Lydia in subterranean environments—running and driving along empty underpasses in New York and Berlin—to further emphasize the suppression at work. But the past will never stay suppressed long, and Lydia, haunted by dreams, is forced to face them. In one of Tár’s more explanatory moments, Lydia is being transported via a small boat down a river in Southeast Asia (the country goes unnamed in the narrative, but a peek at the credits puts this section of the movie in Thailand.) Lydia drags her hand in the water and expresses a desire to go for a swim. We can’t, the guide tells her: There are crocodiles in the water, “Brought in for a Marlon Brando movie.” 

“Oh,” Lydia responds, pulling her hand up from the water. “That was a long time ago.” 
“They survive,” the guide responds.

The name of that Marlon Brando movie: 1963’s The Ugly American. Field is having fun.

“Didn’t You Feel Triumphant?”

What of Lydia and Sergio? Do they also survive? In Memories, Sergio is acquitted of rape and exits the court as a free man. In Tár, Lydia’s position at the podium is taken from her, her memoir joins the publishing ash heap, Accordion moves on without her, and Sharon (Nina Hoss) refuses to let Lydia see their daughter. Kicked out of Berlin, Lydia meets with a PR team in New York to discuss rehabilitating her image—they suggest lying low for some time and waiting for a new narrative to develop. An echo of the advice Lydia gets from the doctor inspecting her pained shoulder: “It eventually goes away.” Adding, with the same knowing casualness as the riverboat guide, “An adjustment might help; you’re somewhat crooked.”

Here, our two movies diverge. While Sergio is judicially exonerated, Gutiérrez Alea tightens the noose of privilege and condemns Sergio to wander his home as a prisoner. The date is Oct. 22, 1962, and the revolution is in full swing. On the radio, U.S. President John F. Kennedy gives a speech while Gutiérrez Alea cuts to documentary footage of tanks unloading, revolutionaries lining the streets, and Fidel Castro speaking. Meanwhile, Sergio paces his darkened flat—perhaps the power has been cut—fiddles with a lighter, destroys one of his wife’s glass figurines, and watches as figures in dark clothes lower weapons from one building to the next. Fade to white; roll credits.

We don’t see it happen, but it’s all over for Sergio. Not so for Lydia. Like Memories, Field also sends Lydia home, but not to her brutalists home in Berlin she shares/shared with her wife and daughter, nor to her turn-of-the-century flat downtown she uses for work and seduction, but back to Long Island, to the clapboard house she grew up in with the wood-paneled walls and shag carpet—a blue-collar home in a blue-collar borough befitting her real name: Linda. Here, she rummages through her childhood room, still perfectly preserved, dons one of her junior conducting medals, and pulls out a black and white VHS tape from a closet full of VHS tapes: Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

Bernstein’s program, filmed in 1958, provides one of the best introductions to classical music a novice could ask for. It’s probably not a stretch to suggest this is how the young Linda came to discover classical music. It also lays the foundation for Lydia’s approach to art, not as an expression of identity or politics but as a form of pure emotional and artistic expression. Notes, as Bernstein tells the audience, don’t mean anything: “It’s the way it makes you feel when you hear it.”

As Lydia watches the black-and-white image, tears roll down her cheeks. The music crescendos, and Bernstein turns to the audience and asks, “Didn’t that make you feel triumphant?”

What an odd question to ask at a moment like this. Is there anything triumphant about Lydia’s life at this moment? Not really, but the music Bernstein conducts isn’t just any old thing; it’s Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony—the five again—where minor chords, “sad and depressed,” as Bernstein calls them, are transformed into major chords: exalting, bombastic, triumphant. Might this be the moment that Lydia’s minor chords become major?

Without telling a lot, Field then takes Lydia across the globe to Thailand, where she rehearses and works with a youth orchestra to perform Capcom’s Monster Hunter for a cosplay audience. Many have interpreted this final shot, a tracking camera along kids in gamer garb, as a joke. Why? Is there a difference between conducting popular pieces for a young audience in costumes and conducting canonical works for Berliners in pearls and tails? Who is the real audience: The attendees of Gopnick’s New Yorker seminar lapping up and laughing at all the right moments during Lydia’s well-rehearsed theories or the hall of young adults sitting in rapt attention as they experience a beloved art form outside of its original box?

Gender Dynamics

Let no one judge you.

Monster Hunter narration and the last line of Tár

What do Field and Gutiérrez Alea think of Lydia and Sergio? What do they hope to achieve by placing these characters in the foreground? Film critic B. Ruby Rich has an idea, at least as it relates to Memories of Underdevelopment:

By the end of the movie, when we as viewers, if we have given in—I think it’s harder for women, I think male viewers are much more likely to have identified with Sergio and perhaps a little less troubled by his gender dynamics—but by the end of the film, if we think that he’s the hero, then we are left stranded. We are left stranded much the way he is because we’ve been deceived by the certain perseverance of class trappings, of education, of a world view that, in the end, leaves him not in a superior position but in an outsider position, an abandoned position, a disconnected position. And we are left in that kind of vacuum of a man who belongs to a world that doesn’t exist anymore and is yet unable or unwilling to enter the world that’s outside his building.

Rich’s point that Sergio’s gender sympathizes him to some highlights what many have found difficult about Lydia. If Lydia’s real-world analogs are mostly male, why make Lydia female and, to use her terminology, a “U-HAL lesbian?” Field’s answer to this question might simply be that he wrote Tár for Blanchett—who repaid Field tenfold with one of her most engaging and dynamic performances in a long and lustrous career.

But simple answers are never that satisfying. As Rich points out, by making Sergio male, Gutiérrez Alea capitalizes on the audiences’ ability to identify with problematic males without asking too many questions—questions that likely would have gone unasked if Field had written Tár for a male protagonist.

In an interview with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW’s The Treatment, Field explains that Lydia had been percolating in his mind for 10 years. “Never in this content, just as an entity,” Field says. “She could have been anything. She could have been sitting at the head of a major corporation, a major company, anything.”

Had she, Lydia might have been easier to dismiss. But, as the conversations that have cropped up around Tár since its premiere in September 2022, that’s not the case.

“The audience is the final filmmaker, and they get to bring whatever they have to finish the film,” Field continues. “And that’s confusing for some people. And they don’t want to do it because it requires a very different kind of attention. But I think if you do, then your interpretation of the film is all that matters.”

Sympathy for the Devil

Does Field have sympathy for Lydia? Does Gutiérrez Alea have sympathy for Sergio? Both directors save their protagonists in the end: Gutiérrez Alea with a fade out and Field with a change of location. But that doesn’t let them off the hook. As Max says: “Bach’s misogynistic life makes it impossible for me to take his music seriously.” Though many hope our actions will be contextualized by the world around us, the past will always be interpreted by the attitudes of the present. In 1968, Gutiérrez Alea’s fade to white of the revolutionaries taking over while the imprisoned bourgeois look on was probably a moment of triumph for the audience. In 2022, the image of the mighty Lydia Tár conducting for gamers made audiences snicker. But do audiences today see Gutiérrez Alea’s fade to white as a triumph? What will audiences in 50-plus years make of Tár’s final tracking shot and narration? Both require historical context for a full appreciation. 

Back to that onstage interview with Gopnick: “The five is a mystery,” Lydia says with a knowing glance. Knowing because her research, context, and experience have allowed her to pull something out of the piece that her forebears could not. History, and her distance from it, gave her more than it gave those who came before.

The five isn’t a mystery to Field. Not only did he choose that specific piece to build his narrative, he peppers his entire movie with reminders of the number—the unnamed narrator from Monster Hunter is from the fifth fleet, for crying out loud. Nor was the five a mystery to real-life conductor Seiji Ozawa (also one of Bernstein’s assistants). In the 2011 book-length interview with author Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music, Ozawa gives his read of Mahler:

When you look at the art of the time, you understand something about the music. Take Mahler’s music: it comes from the breakdown of traditional German music. You get a real sense of that breakdown from the art, and you can tell it was not some half-baked thing. … There’s something about it, I don’t know, that tells you about the importance of madness, or that transcends things like morality. And in fact, at the time, morality really was breaking down, and there was a lot of sickness going around.

That “sickness going around?” Syphilis.

The world has always been crumbling. Infected with this disease or that—be it physical, mental, spiritual, or political. But it always comes back. New regimes replace old guards, and the devils cast out are replaced in kind with the new villains of the time. There are many points where Memories of Underdevelopment and Tár intersect, but it is here where their bond is strongest. Though this moment is ending, it is not The End. The new will start again right where the old left off. And it isn’t always polite.

Tár images and screenshots courtesy Focus Features. Memories of the Underdevelopment images and screenshots courtesy The Criterion Collection.