The Power of the Dog: it's a Jane Campion movie, all right!

The scene felt odd to me in the moment because, while there was no setup, it really did not read to me like he was just stumbling across something while out on a walk or something unrelated. He wasn’t expecting to find what he did, but he was looking for something or someone.

I absolutely need to rewatch this, though. I feel like there’s a lot about all of the characters that will change on a second viewing.

Another bit to chew on: Pete says that his father was worried that he was too strong. Phil scoffs and dismisses this, and certainly pays the price.

This was my favorite film of the year, and it’s precisely because of the ambiguities you’re both describing here. So many of Pete’s actions can be easily read one way before the “turn”; he isn’t behaving inconsistently. Like inspecting the dead cattle. He’s training to be a doctor. Of course he’d be interested in observing the effects of anthrax infection.

Personally, I also interpreted the watering hole scene as one of deliberate discovery — but only in the sense that teenagers tend to poke around, not that he was looking for intel on Phil. Now I’m not so sure.

I’m very tempted to read the novel it’s based on, but I worry that might end up diminishing the impact of this for me. This is such a perfect, special film.

Watched this last week and loved the performances, but I feel it’s been extremely overrated. Now, not having seen many movies this past year, it may very well be the best film of the year. But after the film ended ended, I was left with “ok, what the hell just happened?”. It just didn’t feel very satisfying.

I understood all that had occurred, it just felt like the film was missing some key scenes depicting the why of it. Then I read somewhere that this was adapted from a novel, but that the film skips the first chapter. Why this chapter, which contains certain details that would have made the entire film make more sense, was left out, is baffling to me.

I suppose the director’s choice to do this gave the film a sense of mystery and set up the ending in a way that has more of an impact as far as the element of surprise, but beyond surprise, it just felt flat to me. The last 15 minutes of the film also felt rushed. I do want to watch it again at some point as I really liked the performances and it had some nice cinematography and I have no doubt that it will be a better film knowing what I NOW know. But I’m surprised this is so high on critics’ lists.

I feel like the why’s are there, but they are understated, and like the characters, by the time we put the pieces together it’s already too late. We fall into the same trap as Phil of misjudging and underestimating.

Personally, I love it when a movie feels like a puzzle with missing pieces; where you can get an idea of the overall picture, but not everything fits neatly together. It feels messy, organic, and real.

One of things I like about Power of the Dog is that it reveals itself as something I don’t think I’ve seen before, and not just because of it’s frontier setting. It’s a homme fatale movie, but unlike femme fatale movies which glory in their heroine’s powers of seduction, you don’t know you’re watching an homme fatale until the end of the movie.

And that plays perfectly into the kind of sexual dysfunction that Campion gleefully dissects in her movies.


Something I’ve been wondering about today: did Peter kill his father? I don’t think there’s anything in the film to make it more than speculation, but if the killing of Phil was motivated by the cruelty directed at Peter’s mother, and his father was established as an abusive alcoholic, maybe it’s not the first time he’s followed his fathers advice regarding the removal of obstacles…

May want to spoiler tag that reply.

I was hiding them initially, but as Tom points out, it’s pretty much impossible to discuss this movie in any meaningful way without spoilers. I’ve gone back and blurred things out now.

Also, does this movie have the second most menacing banjo-related duet in film history?

We wondered about this as well. IIRC, Pete tells Phil he found his father’s body. Pete’s father also said Pete was unkind. We saw Pete as a sociopath.

Another question we had was the significance of Phil insisting on burning the hides rather than selling them. was it Phil’s controlling impulse or did he not think anyone else would value them as he did, nor handle them in the old ways taught to him by Bronco Henry?

The other question mark is the parents. Phil and George inherit the ranch, but from whom? His father and mother present as easterners and not ranchers. Perhaps they were merely land speculators?


I was under the impression the ranch belonged to the parents who were wealthy landowners who didn’t actually operate the ranch themselves, and had that hired out to people like Bronco Henry before Phil and George took over.

Makes sense. George certainly didn’t look like he grew up on a ranch

I think George did… Phil mentions that both of them rode with Bronco Henry, and they’ve been making the ride for 25 years now. But George failed out of college and seems stuck there because he’s not capable of much else, despite aspiring to fit in with society and his parents.

I don’t get this movie. Tom description of being literary I understand. I’m surprised it is the favorite for best picture. Why do people love it?

I can think of a number of reasons people love it! Jane Campion is an accomplished director, for starters. It’s a gorgeous movie. The cast seems to me like they’re firing on all cylinders. There’s a lot for Cumberbatch and Dunst to do, and Codi Smit-McPhee finally comes into his own. The subject matter is a rare deconstruction of frontier masculinity, in the same tradition as Brokeback Mountain.

But other than all that, it’s solid Montana noir with a progressive twist on the traditional femme fatale. I suspect that’s what appeals to most folks who enjoyed it.


I just watched it last night, my wife and I are split on it. I loved it. I will say this, it took us watching it, talking about it, sleeping, then talking about it again today before I’ve put it into, “loved it,” category. I can understand the question you’re asking. The movie is more complex in ways that weren’t expected.

It’s not what it presents itself as initially, which is the part that can be confusing. “Oh, a western. Oh, that must be the bad guy. Oh, the damsel that needs saving.” Etc. It is very far from that. To what Tom wrote, it’s a nuanced and suspenseful thriller that uses the viewers take on what they THINK might happen to help drive the misdirection and create suspense. The power dynamic we think we see isn’t what it appears to be, aka surprise ending. It also rides on the book, and subsequently this screenplays presentation of masculinity and sexual orientation at the turn of the century on the prairie.

But also what to Tom mentioned, it is a gorgeous setting that was also extremely well shot. The characters leapt out out of the film they were so well cast. More was said in moment of silence than we get in 20 minutes of dialog from another movie. The point of view of the camera told its own story at times. We view through the window into what happens to other characters many times in the movie. The director was showing us both what we thought we saw, but also was showing us the realism of some of the characters. We saw Phil as a wary cowboy, watching and wary of everyone and everything. We saw young Peter as a young man more secure with who he was and wanted to be, but also the motives for each character. And what the director handled so well was showing us the scenes and giving us the dialog to see the ending, but misdirecting us with our mind, with things we thought we knew would happen. “He’s going to kill that kid. No, he’s going to beat him. No, he’s going to rape him. Wait, he’s opening up to him.” All of those were our perceptions. And they were all wrong, and I think the director reveled in pulling the rug out from under you at the end.

I’m tempted to re-watch it now just to catch more of what happened that I vaguely remember afterward as I piece it together. Now the question on if this is Best Picture? Maybe, I dunno, I’ve seen some of the other nominees and … it’s not a really strong group in a lot of ways. I suspect this will win on at least some of its nominations due to that. Honestly I think Best Picture might go elsewhere, but we’ll see. Never count out Spielberg.

This DESERVES some awards for acting though. For sure, Cumberbatch, the others, I have a hard time picking which ones I liked more. Cinematography, editing and direction should be short list items for this movie too.

This was definitely my favorite movie of the year. Just masterful the way it subtly builds toward something completely unexpected yet deeply satisfying and organic. And the craft of the thing in every department was just superb. Jonny Greenwood had a hell of a year with Spencer and Licorice Pizza and this.

Homme fatale is pretty hilarious and apt.


On second viewing, that moment @anonymgeist referred to really hit different…

It made me sympathetic to Pete’s father trying to reckon with what kind of son popped out of him… not kind enough and too strong. Yep, that’s a pretty spot-on concern there, Pete’s dad!

And speaking of hits different, how about that opening voiceover narration from Pete? “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.” What kind of man, indeed! Just awesome how subtly and succinctly this tells us the whole movie before it starts.

I agree that the moment when Phil calls Pete over at the picnic is a really meaningful turning point. What on first viewing reads as vaguely sinister on Phil’s part later appears to be a genuine attempt to give the boy a Bronco Henry father figure, mentor, and perhaps lover. It’s tragic and forces us to interrogate our interpretation of Phil’s nature and intent. And I love the dolly shot of Pete that precedes this turning point as he walks, seemingly uncaring or oblivious, past all the ranchers with their cat calls and mockery, as if he’s on a cat walk at a fashion show.

I also read it as though Pete genuinely stumbled on Phil’s little stash of Physical Culture magazines (God, those photos!) rather than following or stalking him.

I think the moment where Pete decides to take action and save his mother comes later, right after he sees her drunkenly slurring about a teacher who gave her stars and drawing one in sugar on the table. Pete forcefully tells her, “Mother, you don’t have to do this. I’ll see you don’t have to do it.” Then, cut to–

Doing his own research. This moment didn’t really register as anything the first time I watched the film but it’s hugely significant if you know what’s coming.

Also amazing in this script is how the only dialogue between Phil and Rose is when she moves in after the marriage and tries to talk to him, “Well, it’s good to have arrived Brother Phil.” He shoots back, “I’m not your brother and you’re not my sister. You’re a schemer.” That’s it for them. After that, they only communicate via piano, banjo, whistling, and the cruelty/fear in their eyes.

And man, all those braided ropes and gloves! Talk about meaningful symbolism.

The first time I saw the film, I thought the title simply referred to the Bible quote but then on second viewing, it was my daughter who pointed out that Pete seeing the dog silhouette in the shadows on the mountain was the title as well. Pretty obvious in hindsight but I didn’t make the connection right away.

Another favorite detail was the repetition and difference in the dolly shot from inside the house as we see Phil through the windows strutting in those chaps at the beginning and then his final shot, dead man walking, limping, wanting so badly to give the boy his rope.

Love this burial or kill shot also…

I still don’t know if my heart breaks for Phil or if he got exactly what he deserved.

The direction and cinematography of the shots was AMAZING. For sure if not award winning, then it’s getting robbed. Those framing shots also told stories within each one. Through the window, through the door, through the trees, looking down, looking across, etc. The were masterful. And your comments make me want to watch it again because I missed a ton.

Don’t forget we never actually see Pete feel sorry for himself at all, in any way. Pete knows himself and knows what matters to him. Don’t forget he even tells Phil this akin to, “I promised my Father I would protect her.” Indeed he does.

I’m going to relink some of the pics from various sources because they are what I think is masterful composition, each a picture story within themselves.

This shot early on of Phil:

Camera generally pointing up towards Phil. Phil represents the power in this picture and we see him as powerful, controlling, in charge.

Later we see this:

And this is a purposeful skew of an over-the-shoulder shot wherein we see Pete nearly as though he’s above Phil in stature. This is intentional, in my opinion. It’s the director choosing a camera shot of the changing dynamic here. Pete isn’t helpless and frail. He has relative power within his character here. As you mentioned, he walked, damn near danced across that path with the others making fun of him. It affected him so little it was almost as if he could care less as he kneels in front of Phil.

There were a number of things like this I missed but only semi-remembered after watching. Excellent directing though.

EDIT: I almost forgot my wife mentioned the changing of Pete from old shoes to the new white tennis-looking shoes, to boots, back to the white tennis shoes. That’s symbolic as well but without seeing the scenes, I’m not 100% sure what it’s projecting.