The Power of the Dog ┃ Explanation and Review ┃ 2021 Movie
Summary of the post
The following summary includes the list of the topics we will cover in our post related to “The Power of the Dog.”
- Masks and Masculinities
- What is the Power of the Dog?
- The End Explained
- The Conspiracy Hypothesis
- Pros and Cons. Best Scene and Final Rating
- Where you can watch the movie
Have you watched the movie yet? (Spoiler Alert)
If you haven’t watched the movie yet, read our introduction to the film and watch the trailer. If you already watched The Power of the Dog, then enjoy our explanation. We have a couple of interesting insights that we want to share with you, so that you can enjoy and appreciate the most of this masterpiece.
The Power of the Dog – Introduction
The Power of the Dog is a masterpiece. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, we suggest reading our spoiler-free introduction to the film, as we mentioned above. This article explains the movie and goes deeper into the story. We hope that our analysis will help you understand more and appreciate this complex movie. As we mentioned in our introduction, The Power of the Dog won 99 awards and received 134 nominations. And it will be protagonists at the 2022 Golden Globe in the U.S.A.
Let’s start our analysis because there are a lot of interesting facts to discover. The director Jane Campion delivered a fine piece of art.
1. Masks and masculinities.
Masks played an essential role in the history of theatre, dance and entertainment. Since the Greek tragedies and Roman comedies, masks are part of the show business, as well as the Japanese and Chinese cultures. Perhaps you are more familiar with “La Commedia dell’Arte” and the most famous masks, such as Pulcinella, Arlecchino, Pantalone e il Dottore.
A mask allows the actor to disconnect from his personality and become a new character. It helps the spectators in identifying them and know more about their personalities. And masks became part of the cinema world, with characters such as Batman, Spiderman or Plague Doctor, for instance.
A mask introduces someone new. And, considering what the great Pirandello wrote for us, we are “one, none and one hundred thousand”. Constantly, we adapt and act with the person in front of us or in the situation we are trying to enjoy or escape in our real lives.
We adapt and evolve to survive, stay alive and connected to other people as humans. But, sometimes, we build barriers and wear masks to protect our vulnerabilities.
The above introduction is necessary to understand the play of masks within The Power of the Dog.
Phil Burbank vs Peter Gordon. David against Goliath.
When we first meet Phil, we discover a brute man, full of masculinities and desire to appear strong and the house leader. He dominates the dinner table, leads the other boys, refuses to take a bath and calls his brother “Fatso.” But often, we uncover his human’s side.
If, for instance, Phil burns the paper flowers made by Pete, on the other hand, he wants to help Peter become a man, teaching him everything “Bronco” Henry introduced him.
Peter reads Psalm 20 from the Bible at the end of the movie. It’s the pray of king David, asking God for help. He prays to free his soul from his enemies’ authority and power. We will touch on this chapter in the following sections. But what matters to us is that he is the same David who defeated Goliath, the giant.
It’s a powerful parallelism with our case, where the skinny and delicate Peter needs to face the brutality of Phil. The underdog wins in both cases, thanks to the help of God or… Dog.
But what do we discover about Phil?
Phil is gay. Not the ideal model of masculinity he tries to play. Phil physically loved Bronco Henry. When he lies down on the lawn with a Bronco Henry cloth, it appears clear to us. But also, when all the boys are enjoying the company of the beautiful ladies in a bar, and, instead, he stands alone and then leaves the place.
Phil is a delicate soul and plays the brute to protect himself from the stupid judgements of society.
What is the difference between Phil and Peter?
Physically they are obviously different. Phil is strong, tall, stinky and dirty. Peter is skinny, delicate, and the opposite definition of masculinity, enough to win the nickname of “Nancy.” We don’t know if Peter is gay, but the story about the new “friend” he tells to his mum and his style let us think in this direction.
The fundamental difference between them is the ability Peter has to stand the criticism of society. He learned it by observing Phil and doing the opposite of what he would do. The evident proof is when Peter walks, ignoring the bullies around him. It’s when Phil understands Peter’s potential, and he starts to open himself to him. Peter can do what Phil can’t: ignoring other people’s opinions and focusing on himself.
It’s the real strength that changes a boy into a man. In the end, Phil is broken inside, while Peter is disturbingly strong. Pete strength is knowledge and the ability to adapt.
Peter seems to have Schizoid Personality Disorder.
People who suffer from this condition usually :
- Prefer being alone and choose to do activities alone;
- Don’t want or enjoy close relationships;
- Feel little if any desire for sexual relationships;
- Have difficulty expressing emotions and reacting appropriately to situations;
- May seem humourless, indifferent or emotionally cold to others;
- Don’t react to praise or critical remarks from others;
It describes a lot about Pete. Let’s think about the way he kills the rabbits. At first, he cuddles them and plays with them, but he doesn’t hesitate to kill them. In the end, he needs to practice to become a doctor, even if his mum and the waitress’s reactions speak more than our words.
The same coldness reveals how he had to handle his father’s suicide. But we also have an opposite reaction to the alcoholic response from his mother. If George poured the alcohol to save her, Peter instead pushed the bottle into the bed. Peter wants to remove the obstacle to his mother happiness, not only temporary fix the issue.
But is Peter wearing a mask?
That’s a crucial part that will help us in another point of our analysis. So keep focusing and reading, please. In the beginning, Peter is afraid of Phil. So he locked himself into his room to avoid any contact. But after he understands the danger Phil is to his mum, he changes and adapts until he becomes his best friend.
Peter starts to “wear” his mask and follows Phil instructions. He learned how to ride, engaged in intimate conversations with his hated Phil until he confessed when Peter found his father dead, hanged at home, and how he had to handle the situation like a real man. And, most crucially, when Peter asked Phils if Bronco Henry was naked on him, pointing the “knife” of the truth into the most vulnerable Phil’s side.
But he doesn’t stop there; then he rolls a cigarette, he smokes first and then forces Phil to smoke from his hand. He leads the dance between them now and leaves us confused about who really is Peter? Incredible character.
2 . What is the Power of the Dog?
Phil brings his guys, us and then Peter, in front of a mountain behind his ranch. Have you spotted anything unusual? Let us help you.
Now we know where is the famous dog. Yes, because it’s not easy to see it; only Phil, Peter and “Bronco” Henry spotted it. And what do they have in common? They have to hide something about themselves in a hypocritical society. All of them need to resist the pressure of the other people, to confirm to behave like real men.
The barking dog in the mountain seems to represent the pain generated by their repressed souls.
Peter Gordon: Did Bronco Henry teach you to ride, Phil?
Phil Burbank: Yep. He taught me to use my eyes in ways that other people can’t. Take that hill over there. Most people look at it and just see a hill. Where Bronco looked at it, what do you suppose he saw?
Peter Gordon: A barking dog.
Phil Burbank: What the hell? You just saw that now?
Peter Gordon: No. When I first came here. See, it looks like a dog with its jaw wide open.
The Power of the Dog is the ability to see what others can’t see; then, unfortunately, it is like barking because other people can’t understand it, even if you tell them.
But there is something more.
The ranch dog enjoys Peter’s company and fears Phil. When Phil whistles, the dog run away, scared of him. It looks like Peter is the one chosen by the Dog, perhaps because he is the one who learnt how to deal with his secrets and society. Peter is the only one who gets over his hidden secrets and stands for his freedom.
Peter must be a real man.
The director tells us immediately the core of the story at the beginning of the movie. Then, as a voice-over on the film’s titles, he says:
“When my father passed, I wanted nothing more than my mother’s happiness. For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her? “Peter Gordon
And with another metaphor, the director shows us two bulls fighting each other (Phil and Rose) till a third one intervenes (Peter) to help and clear the messy situation.
Even with very discussable methodologies, Peter is the “dog” who succeeds. And in our parallelism with Phil, the director spoils something more to us in one of their dialogue.
Phil says that Bronco Henry told him that:
“a man was made by patience and the odds against him.”
But then Peter replies and says:
“My father said obstacles, and you had to try and remove them.”
Then Phil tells him:
“Another way to put it. Well, you’ve certainly got obstacles. That’s a fact, Pete.”
Peter has an obstacle to remove to restore the balance in the ranch, and he did it.
Phil vs Rose
Phil hates Rose, probably, because he spotted her desire for George’s money and, believe it or not, Phil acted cruelly with Rose to protect his brother. And, of course, because he understood that he would lose his “power” in the house and relationship with his brother.
We can’t ignore Phil’s desire to go camping with his George, how Bronco Henry taught them. Feelings and emotions are essential to the “brute” Phil’s personality. Phil bullies her, especially when she tries to practice with the new piano, and Phil instead shows her how to play an instrument.
He scares Rose until she can’t even perform a note during the dinner with the governor. And when his time arrived, the last sight they exchanged still show how Rose fears him and how he despises Rose.
Phil says to George:
“Give her half a chance, and she’ll be after some dollar for Miss Nancy’s college fee“. At the same time, George thinks instead that his mother will welcome Rose into the family. Who was right? Let’s continue our analysis because the movie’s ending opens different scenarios.
03. Let’s explain the end(s). The calm after the storm.
We mentioned how Peter adapted to Phil to study him and learn his weaknesses. First, Pete learns how to ride, then discovers the effect of anthrax, and, finally, he explores to see how to take advantage of it. Peter kills Phil, tricking him with his hides covered with anthrax. Precisely at the moment when Phil open himself to vulnerabilities, revealing to someone about his sexuality and story with Bronco Henry, Peter kills him.
He doesn’t go to Phil’s funeral, but instead, he remains in his room, touching the rope Phil made for him and reading Psalm 22, perhaps in search of forgiveness from God. Maybe, Pete didn’t want to kill Phil at that moment, but it’s something he needed to do for his mum’s happiness.
The last frames show Peter looking at the window and seeing his mum finally free from his enemy. She kisses George, then Peter smiles, and we discover the crime.
- It’s the end. But is it just that simple?
- Or there is something more, maybe more cruel and sad?
The disturbing end. The conspiracy hypothesis.
Some elements at the end of the film brought us to another conclusion. Peter is clever and showed us his courage and sense of duty in protecting his mum. But let’s proceed step by step because we want to suggest another explanation.
Rose and the Indians.
At first, Rose gets nervous when the Indians can’t get Phil’s hides. And we know from the beginning of the movie how Phil doesn’t want Indians around and that he needs his hides. By the way, Rose becomes nervous until exhausted felt on the ground. Then, finally, she insists and gives them to the Indians.
What she received back? A pair of gloves. Our mind went to the importance of gloves because those saved Peter’s life when he was working with anthrax, and Rose’s life because of what will happen to Phil due to the rope and hides. And what Peter was supposed to do with his contaminated hides? How could he offer those to Phil without removing Phil’s one? But there is more.
George and the weird funeral.
The day after Phil’s poisoning, George goes to check on him. Surprisingly, he is not worried about Phil’s health and doesn’t even ask him what happened. Instead, he just wants to bring him to the doctor, like someone who knows what makes his strong brother sick. George doesn’t touch the infected rope, and what we see later is Phil death. What happens later is even more suspicious.
The funeral’s question.
At the funeral, George’s mother gives some jewels to Rose and kisses her. His mum is not afraid to open herself to Rose now that Phil is dead. However, George’s father and mother don’t ask any questions about the mysterious death of their son.
On the contrary, his father accepts joining George’s house for dinner with Rose. The family is finally united and happy, free from the fears of the unpredictable Phil. And when the doctor explains to George his hypothesis about anthrax, George doesn’t ask any other questions and keep the conversation short.
Probably if your beloved brother died in such mysterious circumstances, you would ask some more questions and try to understand more. Instead, George doesn’t discuss it further and tries to close the chapter saying that it’s almost impossible because Phil never dealt with animals victims of anthrax. What matters now is that the family is together and free from Phil.
The dog and Peter.
Now that the family is happy, without tears for their “beloved” Phil, we notice that the dog who feared Phil’s whistle is happy and playing with Peter. So it looks like Phil death was necessary to restore happiness and balance in the life of everyone.
The last look and a malicious smile.
Where the suspects become something more is at the end. Peter reads the Bible, almost thanking God for the courage received. Now they are free, and like in Psalm 22, God doesn’t abandon his children.
“Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.”Psalm 22:20 from the Bible.
Peter then touches the infected rope with his gloves, looking a bit curious about what it could be, being around a better version of Phil. Then he looks at the window. His mum and George are back from the funeral, and there is a specific moment when George seems to look at the window and Peter.
The feeling is that they are exchanging a sign of satisfaction for their successful plan. George kisses Rose, almost proving the good results of their actions to Peter. However, Peter instead turned to the camera and made a guilty smile full of sins for a successful and painful murder.
Murder because this is what they did, at least according to our analysis and those few clues that seem to magnify the case. What’s your opinion? Do you think it was only Peter’s plan, or our thesis may have some foundation?
The Excellent Cinematography
We mentioned about the excellent cinematography and photography within the movie. We collected some pictures to let you appreciate the beauty of the shots.
Pros and Cons. Best Scene and Analysis.
The Golden Globe nominations say a lot about the high quality of this movie. The cinematography is perfect, while the music is perfectly designed around the film. The strings and guitars increase tension and pace, enriching the western atmosphere. Jonny Greenwood delivered the perfect soundtracks to the film.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smith-McPhee sublimely played their characters. We feel that they will achieve at least one Oscar. The opened ending is a nice touch, and we can clearly notice that the dialogues and the scenes are part of an excellent job of planning and storyboarding. And we have to mention the beautiful landscapes “painted” by the camera on our screens.
We think that the movie is perfect, and it deserves its place in our Masterpieces section.
The moment when Phil and Peter are talking together, smoking the cigarette rolled by Pete, is the most intense and beautiful scene. It’s a moment of death, but where love is the protagonist. So, we have memories about Bronco Henry; Phil opens himself to someone for the first time, even if, unfortunately, it’s the last one.
The air’s tension is high and keeps us engaged in front of beautiful moments. The three dogs are finally together, and it’s a vital moment of the film. And what do you think? Let us know in the comment section.
A masterpiece usually doesn’t have any cons. So it’s the case of The Power of the Dog. As we mentioned, it’s the result of a careful analysis, where every dialogue and scene have a precise meaning in the context of the film. That is what makes a masterpiece in the end and why we will deliver our first 10/10 in the history of Spotamovie.
Our final rating is
Where you can watch The Power of the Dog
The movie is currently available on Netflix, but check this link to see where you can watch it in your country.
Have you watched the movie? Let us know your opinion.
Right after the sharing of the cigarette scene they show the horses scene. One has sort of violent eyes, and then a shot looking down the back of another horse and the hips. A pulsating in the horses neck. Does this mean Phil and Peter had sex??
Hi Elizabeth, that’s a good point. It’s a movie that leaves us interpretation. We think it’s possible, because Peter was able to capture Phil’s mind, and it’s likely that he admired the Phil’s exterior strength. The scene is so delicate that your interpretation may be the truth. Thanks for sharing it with us.