The origin of the phrase “The power of the dog” can be found in the Bible, specifically in Psalm 22:20: Deliver my soul from the sword; my love from the power of the dog. This psalm, spoken by King David, has been interpreted in various ways. Some see the power of the dog as referring to the enemies of Jesus who unite to attack him as a pack of dogs. Others interpret the power of the dog as the power of Satan. In any case, it is this phrase, The Power of the Dog, perhaps because of its multiple interpretations and complexity, that filmmaker Jane Campion has chosen as the title of her latest film. Indeed, in Te power of the Dog (2021) this phrase serves as the central metaphor.
Film “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion
The Power of the Dog is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, published in 1967. When Jane Campion read the novel she was captivated and, after several years thinking about the project, it seems that she has finally taken the plunge with its film adaptation. The director delivers a profoundly beautiful, yet wild and visceral film that delves with great sensitivity into the depths of the human being. In the anguish, fears and broken identities generated by an atmosphere of oppression that is very well portrayed. And in the wild West of 1925 there was only a tolerated masculinity.
This intimate film shows us characters who suffer, who have to restrain themselves and hide, who cannot be free. The director of the acclaimed The Piano ( 1993) returns with an impeccable film. The Power of the Dog is a rather atypical wéstern that ends up becoming a thriller with a twist at the end. A twist that, perhaps for the most attentive, is summed up in the first sentence of the film. The triumph of intelligence over brute force and cruelty: David versus Goliath?
The Power of the Dog is set on a Montana ranch in the 1920s. Phil and George are two wealthy brothers who own a huge ranch where they keep cattle. Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is visceral, intelligent and cruel; George (Jesse Plemons), on the other hand, is gentle and calm. One day they meet the owner of an inn, the fragile and complacent Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a widow who lives with her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a sensitive and mannered young man. When George marries Rose, Phil is locked in a bitter struggle with his sister-in-law and her son, whom he refuses to accept from the start. Both, completely subjugated to Phil, who continually harasses them, are unable to achieve peace and happiness despite the efforts of the faint-hearted George.
This is a great and thought-provoking film. A tough story, full of immense shots and admirable photography. The Power of the Dog reflects the social reality of an era with characters forced to play their roles without being allowed freedom.
In short: Jane Campion’s excellent adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel with superb performances that explores masculinity with tremendous depth as well as feelings of love, loss and revenge. A real gem.
Benedict Cumberbatch in one of the best roles of his career
Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank a hypermasculinised, brilliant but immensely sadistic and cruel cattle rancher. It is in this character that the great paradox of the film takes place, showing the viewer a cruel and mean-spirited yet fragile and tormented protagonist. Phil is an immensely complex, powerful, moving and mysterious character. However, he is also a damaged character. Victim or executioner? This character will make the viewer rethink his or her scale of values. Don’t expect a mere “Western novelist”.
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