The Power of the Dog Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

USA, Montana, 1925. The wealthy Burbank family owns the largest ranch in the state. For forty years now, brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) have been living in the family mansion and running the ranch. Their parents, whom they call the Old Gentleman and the Old Lady, left the ranch and settled in the best hotel in Salt Lake City: the Old Gentleman there plays the stock market, and the Old Lady entertains herself with mahjong solitaire.

Phil and George are completely different. Phil has a sharp mind, reads a lot, makes various useful things from wood, plays various musical instruments, loves to talk about this and that. George is a taciturn slow-witted man, interested in little in this life, and reads only the illustrated weekly The Saturday Evening Post.

Once they both studied at the University of California. Phil graduated from the institution with excellent marks, and George was kicked out of there for poor progress. All roads were open before Phil, and he could devote himself to anything, but he preferred to take up the ranch, and he chose for himself the most difficult part of the work: Phil manages cowboys, deals with cattle, dressage, and so on. And George is mainly engaged in accounting, purchasing and various paperwork.

The brothers practically do not communicate with their parents, they have no families, and Phil and George are very close – they even still sleep in their children’s room in neighboring beds. Nevertheless, Phil is very fond of calling his brother names and mocking him, but this is his usual manner in communicating with many other people.

One day, when the brothers and henchmen once again drove cattle for sale to the city of Beach, they dined at an establishment at an inn owned by a certain Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst): a thirty-eight-year-old widow with a twenty-year-old son, Peter (Cody Smith-McPhee ).

Peter worked as a waiter during dinner, and since he is a very strange, awkward and awkward guy, the cowboys began to mock him, and in mockery, as usual, Phil set the tone.

This offended Rose very much, she burst into tears, George began to comfort her, and after a while it somehow happened that George, without saying a word to his brother, married Rose, she sold the inn and moved with her husband to the Burbank family ranch.

At the same time, Phil is terribly jealous of his brother for Rose, besides, Phil believes that Rose married George only to become part of a rich family, and Phil will do everything possible to poison Rose’s existence. And then for the summer, this Peter, whom Phil can’t stand, came to the ranch, as a result of which the atmosphere at the ranch will become completely red-hot.


New Zealand director Jane Campion, winner of the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Campion’s 1992 film The Piano, was about to retire from her previous film Bright Star in 2009 when she Thomas Savage’s novel “The Power of the Dog”, written already in 1967, came across, after which she set about trying to put on a picture based on this novel.

Benedict Cumberbatch was originally going to play Phil, Campion’s Elisabeth Moss was going to play Rose, and Paul Dano was going to play George. However, Moss was unable to act because she was busy in the new Taika Waititi film, Paul Dano also dropped out due to work on the role of the Riddler in the new Batman, and as a result, the role of Rose went to Kirsten Dunst, and the role of George went to Jesse Plemons, who already played the husband of Kirsten Dunst in the second season of the series “Fargo”, and in life they are husband and wife: in fact, after “Fargo” they got married.

Filming in Montana was too expensive, so all the shooting took place in Jane Campion’s homeland – in New Zealand.

From the actors, the director demanded complete immersion in the role, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who is known for trying to get used to his character as much as possible, succeeded in this.

Before filming began, Jane is said to have introduced Cumberbatch to the crew, stating, “This is Phil. You will work with him. Benedict himself is very nice, but you don’t meet him until the end of the movie.”

And Cumberbatch did everything to stay in the image of Phil Burbank. At first, he even decided not to wash for a whole month, like his character. (Phil had his own troubles with washing. He believed that he should be like a real cowboy – dirty and smelly. Therefore, he washed a maximum of once a month, and no one was supposed to see how he does it.) However, against SUCH immersion in the role was actively protested by the entire film crew, so Benedict still had to wash, but he forbade washing his clothes.

Cumberbatch also continuously pitched cigarettes, like his character, and since Phil often smoked in the frame, and there were a lot of takes, Benedict got nicotine poisoning three times.

But this was not enough. Before filming, the actor worked for almost a month at a cattle ranch, where he learned to castrate steers (the corresponding scene in the film was the most natural: they were filming in New Zealand, where you can turn such things for filming, but in America you would have to do with dummies of bovine personal belongings), weave rawhide ropes and mastered the banjo.

Outside of filming, Cumberbatch avoided communication with Kirsten Dunst (the actress also did not burn with the desire to communicate with him), and Jesse Plemons admitted that it was difficult for him to separate Benedict from Phil outside of filming, Phil was so skillfully mocking his brother in the film.

But, by the way, these are all background stories, and let’s talk about what came out of all this, especially since the picture received a wild number of nominations and a bunch of awards at the most prestigious film awards: twelve Oscar nominations, of which one win was for directing ; seven Golden Globe nominations, three wins – best film, best director, best supporting actor; eight BAFTA nominations, two wins – best film, best director; three nominations at the Venice Film Festival, one victory for directing.

All this is staged monumentally, solidly and effectively. The majestic and downright impressive plans for Montana, played by New Zealand, the excellent recreation of the Burbank Ranch (its design is based on Sagamore Hill, the summer home of former President Theodore Roosevelt on Long Island in New York), excellent acting – smart , insightful, at the same time bilious Phil, in whose behavior some kind of internal breakdown is felt, forcing him to behave this way, and leisurely slow-witted George, who, however, will not let his brother completely sit on his neck for anything. At the same time, George, unlike his brother, dresses not just well, but even smartly.

It would seem that all the components of a good film are there. But no! For the entire first half of the film, I didn’t understand at all what kind of story they were telling us, and most importantly, why some characters behave this way. Like the richest family, a mansion that the governor of the state will visit without hesitation (there will be such a scene), smart Phil, a university graduate, a well-read and educated person, but at the same time he works the hardest jobs, dresses like a cowboy, behaves like a cowboy and stinks like a cowboy. Why, why? Unclear. At the same time, Phil constantly tells stories about some – apparently, long dead – Bronco Henry, who was the best rider, threw the lasso best of all – and who he was for Phil – whether a mentor, a closer friend, or someone else – is also completely incomprehensible.

In the picture, Phil’s versatility is shown in small strokes, but what makes an aristocrat – and this, of course, an aristocratic family – behave this way, is still unclear. And half the movie has almost no story. Two brothers – one obviously slightly shifted, and the second brake – a rich ranch, landscapes, cattle, well, cowboys somewhere in the back.

Then George got married, Rose appeared in the mansion on the ranch, Phil began to harass her – and again it is not very clear why we are shown all this. Well, except that the story of the piano, which George brought into the mansion so that Rose could delight the ears of the guests with music, and she plays quite badly, enlivened the situation a little.

And the really noteworthy story began from the moment when this ridiculous Peter arrived at the ranch and Phil decided to get close to him in order to annoy Rose properly. That’s where it got interesting. But it started after the first hour of the movie.

I watched the picture in two steps (I don’t have enough time to watch a two-hour film at once) and after watching the first half point-blank I couldn’t understand why I was watching all this at all, and most importantly, why did this picture suddenly grab such a bunch of awards and nominations. No, the work of the operator (Australian Eri Wegner), scenery, acting, entourage – everything seems to be very worthy, but there is no story and it is absolutely incomprehensible why Phil is like that.

And only the second half more or less reconciled me with this film. But I decided to definitely read this novel in order to understand what was in the original and what was wrong with the film adaptation.

So, the novel is good, I read it with great interest. Everything is told there in great detail, and the reader does not have any questions about who Phil is, why he became like that, why he behaves this way, and so on. Even better, the character of Peter is revealed there, which is the brightest, most interesting and ambiguous here.

And after reading the novel, it became clear to me why the film turned out the way it did. Yes, because the novel is not too cinematic. It is very difficult to translate it into a movie screen, because it explains in detail many things that cannot be shown. Director Jane Campion apparently understands this, so she uses various visual solutions to the maximum and with great skill, there is also a really outstanding soundtrack from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood (he also wrote the music for the masterpiece “Oil” by Paul Thomas Anderson) – well that is, it tries to fill with visual and audio components what cannot be explained by cinematic means. Not to let her off-screen voice, which would explain all sorts of subtleties – then he would have to mutter almost the entire film.

Well, in the end it turns out that as an illustration of the novel, the film is very good. You look at it with completely different eyes when you have the whole story, the whole logic of development and the motivation of the characters. But if you haven’t read the novel (and probably only a few of all viewers actually read it), then with the understanding that, generally speaking, they are showing us, everything is much worse. But it shouldn’t be like that! Viewers are not required to read a literary work before watching a film.

Perhaps, on this literary basis, a worthy series could be made – namely, a mini-series of several hour-long episodes. Somewhere in six or seven episodes, this story could be told in detail so that it becomes much more understandable.

But, by the way, we know that some directors managed to put even such epic works as “Gone with the Wind” and “War and Peace” into one full-length film, albeit a very long one.

Here, in my opinion, it did not work out very well. At the same time, visually and in terms of scenery – brilliant! The acting is excellent, and Benedict Cumberbatch did his best under the circumstances, and you can clearly see how carefully he worked on this image, but the opening of this picture is the young Australian actor Cody Smith-McPhee, who played Peter. This is just some kind of masterpiece: it seems to be a completely ridiculous character, a pariah and an outcast, but how much inner strength he has and how great it all is shown. The only character who fully revealed for me in this film, and when I later read the novel, I realized that it was Cody Smith-McPhee who somehow managed to show it all.

Well, Kirsten Dunst played Rose perfectly. Not everything was explained with her character either (in the novel they told in detail why she started drinking like that, they also omitted a whole line with her previous life with her previous husband, Peter’s father), but Kirsten squeezed everything she could out of her role, she is an excellent actress : anxiety for her son, fear of Phil, the piano is idiotic, which Rose hates, but she does not want to argue with George, so as not to offend him – all this is played with great skill.

What is the result? The picture, of course, has the right to exist, and it has many advantages. But as a film adaptation of an interesting and vivid literary work – in my opinion, they could not and did not hold out. And this, of course, is the problem of the script and staging, and the screenwriter and director of this film is Jane Campion. And that’s why “The Power of the Dog” received the most prestigious awards for directing – that’s what I can’t understand at close range. Yes, and two awards for the best film – well, I don’t know. By the way, “Oil” does not have a single award as “Best Film”. And these two paintings are simply incomparable in terms of level. Well, it happens, yes.

That’s it. Sorry if I offended anyone again.

Vlast’ psa /
The Power of the Dog


Jane Campion


Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Cody Smith-McPhee, Genevieve Lemon, Thomasin McKenzie, Ken Radley, Sean Keenan, George Mason, Keith Carradine

126 min.



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