- Words Colette Fountain
With the success of Tár making it a frontrunner in Oscar nominations, here's five films that explore the psychological price of the pursuit of musical excellence.
Tár was a frontrunner in this year’s Oscar nominations this year, sparking us to take a dive into films that also ask the question: what is the cost of genius?
Cate Blanchett has already won a BAFTA for her performance as Lydia Tár as it seems audiences can’t get enough of characters that test the limits of human endurance. As they descend into isolation, insanity and destruction, these characters serve to remind us that, perhaps, sometimes it’s ok to be mediocre.
It was a common theme among this year’s award winners, with the feud between Colm and Pádraic in Banshees of Inisherin getting existential with their debate over being nice or being remembered, as Colm says: ‘Niceness doesn’t last. Music lasts.’
Released in 2014 and directed by Damien Chazelle (currently nominated for his film Babylon), Whiplash depicts the life of drummer Andrew Neiman as he desperately seeks the approval of ruthless conductor Fletcher. Neiman’s determination to be the next best jazz drummer takes a physical and emotional toll on him, drastically affecting his relationships with his girlfriend and father, and yet none of that seems to matter to him as long as he gets to perform ‘Caravan’, an incredibly challenging piece that will be stuck in viewer’s heads for weeks.
For those looking for more of a historical drama, look no further than Amadeus. Even 300 years after his death, rumours still persist that Mozart was in fact murdered by rival composer Antonio Salieri. Taking the idea that Salieri poisoned Mozart in a fit of jealous rage over his musical success and running with it, Amadeus explores the moral limits of the pursuit of genius, suggesting that if you can’t be a genius, murder your opponents. Despite the sinister themes, the costumes and 18th century decadence make for a stunning exploration of the cutthroat world of classical music.
Sound of Metal
Riz Ahmed stuns in a performance where he plays Ruben Stone, a successful drummer whose career takes a hit after he goes deaf in a plot that feels reminiscent of Beethoven’s struggles with deafness. Ruben is left to grapple with the grief caused by a catastrophe outside his control. Where other characters only have their own egotism to blame for their downfall, Ruben’s story instead explores the pain that comes when musical successful is such an integral part of your identity.
Elton John’s biopic starring Taron Egerton does an exceptional job of presenting a life in which musical success is the only option. Coming from a family that in-still low self-esteem and self-confidence in a young Reggie Dwight, music becomes a means of escapism. Unlike the other characters who sacrifice their moral integrity, Rocketman instead depicts a more uplifting outcome, one where finding musical success offers psychological reprieve from internal struggle.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Closing out the list is the hilarious satire that is Lonely Island’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. With a stacked celebrity cast and a track list which has been stuck in my head since I saw the film, Andy Samberg does a great job of mocking the late 90s and early 2000s boy band type celebrities whose status elevated them to the point of narcissism.