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‘Maestro’: Bernstein’s complexities artfully unveiled

Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) participate in a television interview after his successful debut performance led him to fame. Netflix’s new biographical movie “Maestro” focuses on the relationship between the two, capturing Bernstein’s various musical talents and career aspirations that lead him in different directions throughout his life. (Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix)

“A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.” — Leonard Bernstein

“Maestro” — nominated in seven categories at this year’s Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress — revolves around this tension.

Leonard Bernstein, the first American-born conductor who gained international fame, was a man with an assortment of talents and desires that led him in seemingly contrary directions. Netflix’s biographical movie, released on Sept. 2, 2023, follows the story of the intricate relationship between conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) as Bernstein explores his multifaceted nature.

The film navigates through Bernstein’s ambiguous sexuality and conflicting desires, revealing how it becomes deeply intertwined with his career and personal relationships. 

Throughout the film, Cooper and Mulligan do everything to immerse themselves in the characters, from prosthetic noses to key screenplay choices. The two main leads have a convincing chemistry that perfectly conveys the love at first sight between Bernstein and Montealegre. The details of the lead actors provide a more thorough understanding of the characters and help the audience gain a more realistic insight into their relationship. In many scenes, the characters talk simultaneously and speak over each other to imitate realistic conversation between two people. The strategy makes the dialogue feel captivating, but the characters’ words can be harder to discern without subtitles.

While Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein was natural and realistic, Mulligan steals the show as Montealegre, a complex character who craves for a kind of love from Bernstein that she eventually realizes will never be received. Yet, she’s still tethered to him and relies on him after her diagnosis of cancer, and at the same time ignores the weight of Bernstein’s affairs to save their family. Mulligan’s facial expressions and body language depict Montealegre’s myriad of emotions perfectly during the scenes of her affection when she first meets Bernstein, her frustration with her husband’s confusing identity and her frail health towards the end of her life. 

The film is slow-paced, focusing on Bernstein’s life outside of the public. The charisma of “Maestro” doesn’t come from an action-packed plot that keeps the audience engaged, but rather the eye-opening details diving into his personality: moments in his daily life, spending time with his children and tender interactions with his wife. 

While the movie successfully touches on many of Bernstein’s relationships throughout his life, the overall timeline of the story isn’t completely clear. A major clue was Cooper’s decision to switch from black-and-white to colored scenes throughout the movie, which emphasizes the contrasting periods in Bernstein’s relationship. In addition, the director’s use of aspect ratio changes highlights the various time periods in the story. In Bernstein’s later years, the movie uses a wider screen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and during his earlier years, the movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 4:3, which was used in classic Hollywood. 

“Maestro” provides a meaningful and fascinating story behind the contradicting desires of Bernstein’s intricate character. It’s a worthwhile movie deserving of seven Oscar nominations. 


2 hours, 9 minutes

Rated R

Starring Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, and Matt Bomer

Directed by Bradley Cooper

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About the Contributor
Veronica Qiu
Veronica Qiu, News Editor, Webmaster
Veronica Qiu (Class of 2026) joined The Voice in her sophomore year. Outside of journalism she enjoys crocheting and listening to K-pop.

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