The Power of the Dog has been directed by Jane Campion and is based on the novel written by Thomas savage. It is an intriguing encounter of fascinating personality traits weaved together in a tense and almost intimidating environment. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank and absorbs the intricacies of the world with such an ease that you forget that he was the same man who played an over-the-top fictional superhero or an overweening and “know it all” detective.
Ari Wegner, the cinematographer, treats you with a visual delight of the never-ending stretches of ranches in Montana of the 1920s. The film never operates in the eccentric wordy style often adapted by Quintin Tarantino; rather, it chooses to move its narrative forward through intense glares that are often domineering and sometimes down-casted. Let’s understand the contradictions inside Phil Burbank and how it eats him up from the inside!
‘The Power of the Dog’ Plot Summary
The film opens, and you see Phil walking obtrusively and almost soaked in the cowboy couvade. This man does not give himself an option to feel anything else than what “a man” is supposed to. His words are harsh and have the potential to pierce anyone who does not have thick skin.
His brother George Burbank is his extreme opposite. He is suave in his approach and gentle in his ways and means. He is often subdued under the influence of his brother. Though George looks after the administration of the ranches and his estate, he is not given as much respect as Phil by the fellow cowboys. There is a clear hierarchy of power that has been established, and George most of the time submits to that without contesting his brother’s authority. But when he sees Rose Gordon for the first time, he dares to oust his brother from his position of power and decides to marry the innkeeper.
Though Phil had felt entrapped by his own emotions before, this was the first time that he felt helpless due to his brother’s actions. He saw this as a carefully maneuvered plan on Rose’s part. George getting married to Rose meant there would be an obstacle in the influence he generally exercised over his brother. So from the word go, Phil declares that he despises the presence of Rose in his brother’s life.
Peter Gordon is Rose’s son and is harrowed by Phil for his effeminate physicality and behavior. It earns him the pseudonym of “Nancy.” But slowly, a change of state happens. An unlikely bond between Phil and Peter makes Rose worried. She doesn’t feel that her son is safe with the hubristic cowboy who wants to be the undisputed master of his domain.
Phil often talks about Bronco Henry, whom he considers as his mentor. With time we realized that Phil shared a bond with Bronco that was more than just a mentor-mentee relationship. Peter somehow, with his inviting gaze, gets Phil to behave with him in a normal manner. They end up talking and developing an intimate bond.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘The Power of the Dog’ Ending, Explained – Did Peter Kill Phil?
After getting bullied, humiliated and domineered by Phil, Peter somehow manages to develop an unlikely bond and have a conversation in a dauntless fashion. Phil agrees to make a lasso from the rawhide that he has. This step towards a brooding friendship comes just after a scene where Peter sees Phil taking a bath and also finds the nude magazine collection with Bronco Henry written on it.
It is a unique situation where ruthless pragmatism met a self-conflicting masculine force. Peter was taken to be a totally different person by Phil. Peter tells him that his late father often considered him to be very cruel. Phil scorns off in his ritualistic cowboy behavior, judging Peter’s physical attributes and characteristics, which were far away from his definition of manlike. But his perception changes. Peter kills a rabbit without flinching an eye. It was not only about the rabbit. The action in itself was so unnerving that it even made an intimidating man like Phil stop for a moment and look into those cold-blooded eyes of Peter.
Peter is well aware that his mother’s health is deteriorating, and he blames Phil for that. He tells his mother that he will find a cure for her. Phil loses his temper completely when Rose gives his rawhide to a native Indian family. A scheming Peter sees it as an opportunity. He gives him the rawhide that he had once skinned from an animal when he went alone in the mountains. That animal was suffering from Anthrax, and Peter knew about it. Phil gets Anthrax and succumbs to it. Peter got what he wanted as he had always blamed Phil for his mother’s alcohol problem. He deceived Phil completely, who was starting to grow fond of him. Phil took Peter in the same spirit as once Bronco Henry took him. He was totally unaware of the conniving nature of the innocent-looking boy.
The Power of the Dog is an in-depth analysis of characters, giving us unfathomable depths and layering without even having any detailed conversations or dialogs. Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil is a formidable force to reckon with. There is a certain affection in his tone whenever he speaks about Bronco Henry, but he never gives himself a choice to dwell in that territory. There is a kind of image that he has imagined in his mind that is perfect according to him, and he swears by that.
Though he belongs to a wealthy family, he never considers himself to be a part of the affluent society. He is that disruptive force that contradicts the established norms of sophistication because spiritually, he had never been a part of this world. He kept the saddle on which Bronco sat and all the things related to him because he knew a part of him went the day Bronco left this world and that no matter how hard he tried would never come back.
The Power of the Dog is a 2021 Period Drama Thriller film written and directed by Jane Campion. It is streaming on Netflix.