Benedict Cumberbatch stars in another excellent power play movie portraying the realities of the Western side. In his film the Power of the Dog, the million-dollar question is, who has the true power? The film’s climax reveals that it isn’t who we might expect. The most significant character for most of the plot is the ruthless rancher Phil, who terrorizes Rose, his new sister-in-law, and her vulnerable son Peter. Yet the conclusion reveals that Peter has been in charge since he carefully planned how to use anthrax-infected skins to kill Phil.
The 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, on which Jane Campion’s film is based, questions the traditional “cowboy myth,” bringing out hidden homoeroticism in the Western genre. And ultimately, The Power of the Dog is a tale about how toxic masculinity is a destructive force that rots individuals inside out because men like Phil, who strive so hard to create an image of a man, eventually end up becoming their enemies.
While caught up in this act, Phil’s unable to see Peter or himself. The title of the film is a reference to our hidden, dark selves and what happens when they come to the surface.
The Power of Dog Themes
The Power of the Dog is a philosophically dense movie that addresses toxic masculinity and the insecurities that go along with it. The Power of the Dog’s most complicated character, Phil, is a great example. Phil initially presents himself as a fearsome leader; he is sarcastic and not exactly kind to people around him, but in his heart, he only wants to connect with someone the same way he did with Bronco.
Phil cannot express his true self to anyone because of the time and place of The Power of the Dog, as well as the people he keeps around him, which is also one of the reasons he insults Peter and Rose throughout the movie. At first, Phil considers Peter a weakling and a pansy, but as time passes, Phil starts to admire Peter since he is more honest and open about his feminine traits while still being self-assured and harsh in his way. This certainly causes Phil to like Peter as the movie goes toward the end.
The Power of Dog: Peter’s Intentions towards Phil
In the first scene of The Power of the Dog, Peter provides important narration in which he discusses the son’s love for their mother and the necessity to uphold their rights at all costs. This significantly affects how the movie ends. Peter’s sexual orientation is subtly hinted at throughout, consistent with the sources of The Power of the Dog. Peter soon discovers Phil’s past romantic involvement with a different man.
Phil hesitates to directly declare his romantic relationship with Bronco Henry to Peter because he wants to maintain the façade of a hypermasculine cowboy. The two were more than buddies, though, as indicated by his silence.
Peter is around when Phil cuts his hand when the two of them are working on a fencing project, so he starts formulating his strategy. Peter wants to get rid of Phil because he believes Phil threatens the other characters in The Power of the Dog, especially himself and his mother.
As Phil detects a growing relationship between himself and Peter, Peter is actually manipulating Phil and hatching a scheme to permanently get rid of him, keeping the vow he makes in the opening narration to do the right thing and protect his mother. He ultimately succeeds in becoming the alpha dog, as a result, giving the movie its name.
The Power of the Dog Peter Kills Phil
When Rose, Peter’s mother, requests that the Native Americans living on their property remove all the cowhide that Phil has been using to create Peter a rope, Phil finally hits his breaking point in the last scene of The Power of the Dog. In Phil’s eyes, making this rope and becoming close to Peter is a method to recreate the connection he once had with Bronco Henry before his death; it’s a chance for Phil to feel connected and happy yet again.
It is indicated that the plot may take a Call Me By Your Name-style turn in this regard. Still, eventually, The Power of the Dog’s conclusion rejects Phil’s Bronco Henry recreation and takes a totally different course.
Peter responds that he has some cowhide he’s collected to finish the rope when Phil rants about Rose and her drinking problem. Undisclosed to Phil, Peter had earlier in the movie removed the hide from a dead, sick cow. Phil then begins working while wearing no gloves, a wide open cut on his hand, and dipping his hands in the same solution the sick cowhide is in. He becomes ill the following day, and George rushes him to the hospital, but he passes away due to his infection.
It is proposed to George at Phil’s burial that he contracted anthrax, but George rejects this idea because Phil has always been quite specific about not interacting with sick animals. The Power of the Dog ends with Peter in his room, handling the rope Phil had prepared while wearing gloves. However, as soon as he hears George and Rose returning from the burial, Peter pushes the rope under the bed and leaves it behind.
The movie’s complicated plot is wrapped when Peter peeks out of his bedroom window and notices the two sharing a kiss. He then smiles and turns to leave, indicating that he has more sinister plans than was previously suggested. In no way is the conclusion of The Power of Dog typical Western, but the movie it sends is unlike any other Western film.
The Book’s Ending
The 1967 novel by Thomas Savage was faithfully adapted for the screen by Jane Campion, and the same can be said for the film’s conclusion. Savage appears to have drawn heavily from his personal experiences as a child growing up in Western rural communities and on ranches, as well as his memories of growing up with an alcoholic mother. He wrote about boundaries placed on people in rural areas and sexual repression.
The New York Times describes Savage as a closeted gay guy who drew on his early years while working and living on a Montana ranch, even though he was married to author Elizabeth Fitzgerald.
The Power of the Dog Movie Ending
Perhaps one of Benedict Cumberbatch’s best films, The Power of the Dog, is a tale of toxic masculinity and how it may finally result in someone’s downfall. Phil continues to act tough and brutally rude towards Rose and Peter, which causes Peter to plot against him just as Phil is beginning to warm up to him. In the tragic tale of The Power of the Dog, a character is fooled into maintaining a highly toxic environment that would have condemned him for his aspirations.
Despite being perceived as masculine, Peter gradually establishes his control over Phil in this alpha dog story. The Power of the Dog presents a complicated story with complex characters and has the finest narration.
Now you know what The Power of Dog is about and how dark the movie gets towards the end. Phil and Peter might reach a point in the film where they feel towards each other, but Phil’s initial persona of being a man gets to Peter and pushes him towards the dark side, and he ends up taking a decision he might regret later in life.
The movie is much more than it shows; it discusses the Western culture and how tough it is towards homosexuality and doesn’t adapt to change.