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In a Photoshopped image, Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) conducts an orchestra with fierce gestures while Marcel, a small seashell in tennis shoes and googly eyes, sits by observing on her lectern Graphic: Matt Patches/Polygon | Source images: Focus Features, A24

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Tár and Marcel the Shell With Shoes On are basically the exact same movie

Hi, I’m Tárcel the conductor with shoes on

Tasha Robinson leads Polygon’s movie coverage. She’s covered film, TV, books, and more for 20 years, including at The A.V. Club, The Dissolve, and The Verge.

2022 was a weird year for movies, as best-of-the-year lists show: A lot of those lists highlight strange and idiosyncratic movies, which feel more like the norm than ever in a field that scatters new releases across every platform imaginable. Two particularly odd films that ranked high on a lot of those year-end lists: Todd Field’s 158-minute epic, Tár, about the rise and fall of a fictional conductor (played by Cate Blanchett, who earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role), and Dean Fleischer-Camp’s whimsical little ditty Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, a feature-length expansion of some YouTube oddities that went viral 12 years ago.

One of these movies is a grim, much-analyzed drama about a world-famous, sexually manipulative, morally questionable woman in a career that rarely recognizes women. The other one is about a cute, lonely seashell with googly eyes. But weirdly enough, it turns out that they’re pretty much the same movie, apart from a few minor details like “tone” and “intention” and “scope” and “execution” and all that stuff. Check out the parallels:

Image: A24 and Image: Focus Features
  • Both films center on touchy, fussy, idiosyncratic creators who express their personalities through music, have very precise ways of doing so, and resent any outside opinions or interference in their work.
  • Both protagonists are estranged from their families and trying to move forward with their lives with the help of non-family members.
  • Both Marcel and Lydia Tár turn to assistants for that support, then make the mistake of believing those assistants are more personally invested in them than they actually are. Both assistants wind up rebelling against the protagonists’ emotional needs.
  • Both protagonists spend a lot of on-screen time being interviewed by real-life journalists — The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik in Lydia’s case, 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl in Marcel’s case.
  • Both protagonists need the media’s cooperation and collaboration to achieve their goals, but both find the side effects are overwhelming, problematic, and not easy to control. Both find their fame gains them unwanted attention from opportunistic people.
  • In both cases, their assistants surreptitiously film them and distribute the video online, where it goes viral and causes a huge blowup.
  • Both of them experience devastating loss, and both respond by falling into paralytic depression, withdrawing from everyone they’d previously been connecting with. Both of them look for simplicity by retreating into the basics of their earlier lives.
  • Both eventually reunite with their estranged families.
  • And at the end of their movies, they both express the end of their emotional paralysis by creating music for other people. Both movies end with a performance where the protagonist takes up music again in front of a fairly weird-looking audience.
  • Finally, both movies were heavily praised by critics and wound up in the running at the 2023 Oscars, though strangely, not in the same categories.

So there you have it — absolutely no meaningful difference whatsoever between Tár and Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. To sum it all up, both films have the same fundamental message: Artists are hard to work with, the media is too, and the public is the worst of all. Weird that we needed two movies in one year about the same thing.

But hey, remember the time we got Armageddon and Deep Impact, two action blockbusters about asteroids threatening Earth, in the same year? This is exactly like that. In fact, maybe we should rewatch both those movies to see if they have similarities with Marcel and Tár, too.