Power of the Dog, The: What You Need to Know

The Power of the Dog is Jane Campion’s first feature in over a decade.
The movie, a Netflix production, world-premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Fest (the 78th edition), where Campion earned the Best Directing kudo.
It is Camption’s 8th film in over a three-decade career, which began with some shorts and a feature debut in 1989.
The Power of the Dog is one of Campion’s two best films; the other being The Piano, which won the top award at the 1993 Cannes Film Fest and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Film’s Title
The title of the movie derives from Psalms 22:20, in which it is written: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.”In the era of King David, the “dog” was a bitter enemy rather than man’s best friend.

The setting is the rugged wilds of Montana (even though the movie was shot in New Zealand).

The characters are kitted out in chaps and cowboy hats.

Beyond these colorful props lies a dark, claustrophobic psychodrama. The tale unfolds as a classic, existentialist western in which life on the frontier drives its characters to the extremities of spiritual desolation.

The Power of the Dog is a slow-building tragedy driven by an evocative score by Jonny Greenwood.

Ambiguity

There’s a side to this story that defies any easy resolution.

Campion’s first feature in 12 years is a departure from her forensic studies of the female psyche, delving instead with equal perspicacity into corrosive masculinity and repressed sexuality.

A Big Sky Western like no other, it is an adaptation of the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name. (Savage was a closeted or latent homosexual).

A transfixing Benedict Cumberbatch, in the most fully realized performance of his career, plays the rugged Montana cattle rancher Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as his gentlemanly brother George.

George upsets the loose the household’s equilibrium when he brings home his fragile wife Rose, played with aching delicacy by Kirsten Dunst.

Queer Revenge Thriller

Rose becomes the prey in Phil’s cruel games, but her sensitive beanpole son Peter, in a knockout performance from Kodi Smit-McPhee, defies expectations by shifting the power balance, turning the chamber drama into a startling queer revenge thriller.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).