Power of the Dog, The: Narrative Structure (Detailed Plot) (Masculinity) (LGBTQ, Gay)

Jane Campion’s Psychological Western

Narrative Structure:

Tale belongs to the classical structure of a narrative about the impact of the arrival of an outsider (in this case a young widow, now newly married and her young, effeminate son.

In 1925 Montana, the wealthy ranch-owning brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) Burbank meet widow and inn owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) during a cattle drive.

The kind-hearted George is quickly taken with Rose, while the volatile Phil, much influenced by his late mentor Bronco Henry, mocks Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for his lisp and effeminate manner. (“Don’t make your mama make a sissy out of you”).

George and Rose get married, and she moves into the Burbank ranch house. She is using George’s money to send Peter to college so that he can study medicine and surgery.

Phil takes an immediate dislike to Rose, holding that she had married George for his money–“a schemer” he calls her.

For her part, Phil’s rough ways and taunting manner unnerve Rose, and she is worried about her son.

One evening, George organizes a dinner party with his parents and the governor; George intends to introduce his guests to Rose so that they can meet and hear her play their new piano, an instrument Rose can barely play.

Radetzky March

During the party, Rose, rattled by Phil’s earlier belittling of her skills, is unable to play more than a few notes of the “Radetzky March” and is further humiliated when Phil mocks her about her practicing. She begins drinking alcohol, something she was previously opposed to doing.

By the time Peter comes to stay at the ranch for the summer break, Rose has become an alcoholic. Phil and his men taunt Peter, and he sequesters himself in his room.

He brings home a rabbit he has caught, delighting his mother, but she later discovers that Peter has killed and dissected it.


In a secluded clearing, Phil masturbates with Bronco Henry’s scarf. Peter enters the clearing and finds a stash of magazines with Bronco Henry’s name on them depicting nude men. He observes Phil bathing in a pond with the handkerchief around his neck; Phil notices him and chases him off.

Gradually, Phil begins to show decency to Peter, offering to plait him a lasso from rawhide and teach him how to ride a horse.  Peter then willingly accompanies him.

Peter heads out on his own one day and finds a dead cow, from which he cuts off pieces of its hide. While working on a fencing job, Phil injures his hand clearing the wood.

Afterward, Peter tells Phil about finding the body of his alcoholic father, who had hanged himself, and how he cut the corpse down by himself. He mentions that his father had told him he was not kind enough, and Phil scoffs.

Rose’s alcoholism worsens after she starts seeing how much time her son spends with Phil. Upon learning about Phil’s policy of burning the hides that he does not need, Rose defiantly gives the hides to local Native American traders who thank her with a pair of gloves.

When Rose collapses from her rapid alcohol consumption, and George tends to her, throwing out a bottle of Bourbon that he had found in the sheets.

Phil is enraged over not having the hides needed to finish Peter’s lasso, and he attempts to lash out at Rose before being stopped by George.

Peter calms Phil down by offering him the hide that he had cut from the dead cow, without mentioning that the animal was already deceased when he encountered it. Phil is touched by Peter’s gesture and promises a much better relationship in the future. The pair spend the night in the barn finishing the rope, Phil’s open wound and the hide mixing together in the solution used to soften the hide.

As the two share a cigarette, Phil tells Peter how Bronco Henry had saved his life by lying body-to-body with him in bedroll during freezing weather. Phil does not answer when Peter asks if they were naked.

When Phil does not show up for breakfast the following day, George finds him sickened in bed, his wound now severely infected. A delirious Phil looks for Peter to give him the finished lasso, but George takes Phil away to the doctor before Phil can hand the lasso over.

George is seen picking out a coffin for his brother while his body is prepared for burial.

At the funeral, the doctor tells George that Phil had died from anthrax; this puzzles George, as Phil was always careful to avoid diseased cattle.

Peter, having skipped Phil’s funeral, opens a Book of Common Prayer to a passage on burial rites. He then reads Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.”

Later, he puts his finished lasso under his bed with gloved hands. As Peter walks down the hall, he stops at a window and watches George and a now-sober Rose return home and embrace. He turns away and smiles.

Oscar record: 4 Acting nominations

The film’s cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, all of whom received Oscar nominations for their performances.



Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank
Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon
Jesse Plemons as George Burbank
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon
Thomasin McKenzie as Lola
Genevieve Lemon as Mrs. Lewis
Keith Carradine as Governor Edward
Frances Conroy as Old Lady Burbank
Peter Carroll as Old Gent Burbank
Alison Bruce as Governor Edward’s wife
Alistair Sewell as Jock
Cohen Holloway as Bobby
Sean Keenan as Sven
Adam Beach as Edward Nappo
Maeson Stone Skuggedal as Edward Nappo’s son
Alice Englert as Buster