‘When my father died, all I ever wanted to do was protect my mother. And what kind of man would I be if I didn’t protect my mother?’ This is how The Power of the Dog begins and you almost miss its import, till…
At the outset, let it be said: This slow burn is a tough watch. Its pace is ruminative, demanding and the story doesn’t reveal itself till the very end. And even then, it is opaque and you wonder: What would you do if the mountain appears to you like a barking dog? Would you embrace the dog or even become one?
The Power of the Dog is a minimalist, almost reticent, allegorical, nay Biblical, rendition of loss, grief, toxic masculinity, jealousy, revenge and redemption, set in the stark and sprawling lands of Montana in 1925 (shot in New Zealand), where cowhands abound and two brothers with differing personalities manage a ranch. And live in the shadow of a looming dog!
Written and directed by Jane Campion and adapted from Thomas Savage’s 1967 eponymous novel, this cerebral, psychological drama traces the transformation of a maker of paper flowers, a gentle spirit, an effeminate whipping boy, a surgeon in the making and a protector of his mother into a top dog.
Benedict Cumberbatch is hauntingly intense, Kodi Smit-McPhee is endearingly diabolical and Campion is stunningly brilliant in her intellectual enquiry into what ails the human condition, subverting the traditionally macho western to tell a sad, sensitive and searing tale of a desolate, closeted world gone wrong.
The Power of the Dog rises beyond its cinematic canvas. It is a deep, psychological exploration of our basic underpinnings, our raw, unrequited desires and our inability to deal with them, and our seeking of deliverance. The film is profoundly nuanced and richly deserving of its 3 Golden Globes.
As Campion says:
“The power of the dog is all those urges, all those deep, uncontrollable urges that can come and destroy us.”
Destroy and deliver. ‘Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.’
Where to Watch: Netflix