January 15, 2022

The Power of the Dog

This movie has been getting a lot of attention recently. It was already on my radar. It is a western. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch. It is easily available on Netflix. There weren’t any reasons for me not to watch it.

Right from the beginning it was clear this movie was going to be a thinker. I strapped in and got ready to absorb all of the meaning. I watched…. I kept watching… it was completely nonsensical. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t understand what was going on… it was just that it didn’t seem to matter. I couldn’t figure where this story was going, or even who the main character was.

It is a beautiful movie. New Zealand is standing in for Montana, and it looks great. The acting is great. I loved Cumberbatch’s surly Phil Burbank character. It has a methodical pace that forces you to keep your horse at a slow trot… we aren’t going to gallop. I like all that. I like being led through a world at a leisurely pace. But, I want to feel like I have some idea where we are going.

This movie wants you to be uncomfortable. It forces you to sit in uncomfortable situations where people don’t really want to play the piano. It constantly creates this vibe where you are not in a safe place. It is not a place where you can be yourself. It is a place you kinda want to get away from, and you might feel trapped there.

This all makes little sense until the very end of the movie. It all sets the stage, but it takes a very long time to get us to the point where something actually happens. I guess it could be up for debate how everything goes down at the end. I am going to (SPOILER ALERT) do my best to describe the ending of the movie and the sequence of the events that occurred.

I’d be very interested to know you if you agree. At first it came across more like a series of fortunate (or unfortunate) events… but I definitely ascribe malicious intent to everything that went down.

Okay… so definitely going to spoil the end of the movie with the rest of the post. I mean, I’m going to spoil the whole movie by describing the sense I made of it after it was over.

  • Phil Burbank is…
    • an asshole that likes to make everybody else miserable. He especially likes to mess with Rose and her awkward son Peter.
    • a college educated fancy boy who likes to act like a tough cowboy and exhibit toxic masculinity.
    • never going to wear gloves, even when handling bloody cow testicles.
    • gay
  • Phil’s brother George marries Rose so he doesn’t have to feel alone anymore. They all live together on a ranch.
  • Rose gets so stressed out by the whole situation that she becomes an alcoholic.
  • Peter moves back home for summer and Phil commences tormenting him.
  • Peter finds Phil’s hideout with dirty mags and maybe witnesses Phil getting handsy with a hanky? I’m not sure about that part. Anyway, Phil becomes concerned with what Peter might know about him and decides to befriend the boy. Phil is determined to make Peter a hand-woven rope as a gift to be completed before he returns to school at the end of summer.
  • Phil teaches Peter how to ride a horse and they generally start spending a lot of time together. Rose doesn’t like it one bit.
  • Peter finds a diseased cow laying dead when he is out for a solo ride. He skins it and takes the hide, though we never see that part on screen.
  • Rose gives away all of Phil’s healthy cow hides to the Native Americans even though Phil has been adamant from the beginning of the movie that they will not get his hides. Phil is super pissed because he doesn’t have the leather he needs to complete the rope for Peter.
  • Peter steps in and gives Phil strips of hide as a gift.
  • Things get really homo-erotic between Phil and Peter. Peter is leaning into this because he knows that Phil has a cut on his hand from when they were trying to scare a rabbit, and Phil is using diseased cow hide to make the rope. This is going to be fatal for Phil because he never wears gloves. Peter is getting pretty jazzed that his plan is coming together and wants to give Phil a boner before he dies.
  • It works… Phil dies.
  • George and Rose are happy to be rid of the terrible brother and will now live happily ever after.

So that is is. In my mind that is what happened. I don’t know if Peter’s plan was meticulously orchestrated, or if he just got really lucky. I don’t know if Peter had been thinking about this all summer long or if he just seized an opportunity.

Regardless, this is a movie where very little happens for the first 80%. It lulled me into a sense that this is going to be one of those artsy films that doesn’t really have a plot or a clear direction… just enjoy the acting and the beautiful cinematography. Then all this stuff happens right at the end and I was like… what the hell?

It was weird, but it was pretty good.

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