The Power of the Dog
Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Jane Campion
Based on: Thomas Savage‘s book
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Thomasin McKenzie, Alice Englert, Peter Carroll, Frances Conroy, Keith Carradine, Alison Bruce
Seen on: 6.3.2022
Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia, misogyny
Rose (Kirsten Dunst) is a widow who runs a restaurant with the help of her son Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Their restaurant lies on the herding trail of brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). When they stop at Rose’s restaurant, Phil starts making fun of Pete’s softness, while George starts courting Rose. After they actually marry, and move to the brothers’ farm, Phil is taken aback and does his best to make Rose feel utterly uncomfortable. When Pete joins them during the summer break from school, things start to shift, though.
The Power of the Dog both ambles through a sprawling landscape taking its time, and it is a sharp analysis of power when it comes to gender and sexual orientation. I thought it was really interesting.
The Power of the Dog is an expertly crafted film that doesn’t need much dialogue to establish its characters – through glances, through their actions.You understand where they are coming from, even when very little of their past is verbalized. It is so finely drawn that it nevertheless seems explicit.
The film focuses on Phil: his harshness and the way he makes sure that he is always the toughest guy around hints at a vulnerability that we later find out: he is into men. Once Pete gets close to him and his secret, Phil becomes much softer. Pete, on the other hand, is a mirror image of Phil. He appears to be all softness, but there is a ruthlessness to him that doesn’t shrink from violence in the slightest. The film perfectly examines how masculinity is tied together with questions of power – and how Rose is left behind as a woman, an object to fight over for Phil, George and Pete.
I wasn’t completely happy with Phil’s “secret” as it seems to feed into this trope that the biggest abusers of (presumed) gay people are closeted gay people. But I will admit that it wasn’t a lazy reproduction of a stereotype in this case, but a thoughtful examination of a complex and difficult character, so I will let it slide this time.
The film takes its time to tell its story, and sometimes I wished that it would have picked up its pace a little bit. But it is worth the time and effort it demands as you watch it.