As a nominee for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar’s, The Power of the Dog immediately became an intriguing prospect to view for me. I tend to like these slow-burn, “artsy-fartsy” films about gradually rising tensions and symbolic gobbledygook. After sitting down to watch this—shoddy internet and all—I can see what all the hub-bub is about!
To be transparent, this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Much of the first half was somewhat hard to get through; like watching The Office without any affection for its characters. Uncomfortable and hostile, it takes its time to show its true colors. Well, “true” may be misleading; it’s certainly something that’s up for debate. Nevertheless, those fond of psychological dissection are in for a treat.
Short and Lazy Summary
Phil and George are ranch men, but the two aren’t much alike. Phil likes his lifestyle and the responsibilities that come with it. George is more clean-cut, wishing for life yonder and perhaps away from the stinginess of his brother. Personalities clash, especially when George takes up a wife in the form of Rose and her “different” son.
As time goes on, will they end up mending the disconnect? Where exactly does the disconnect come from? Hostility must be rooted in something… right?
In the interest of not being super spoiler-y (definitely not because I’m lazy), I’m going to be pretty vague about the details of the film. This is something one needs to chew on, to pay close attention to to get the finer details lying in the foreground. I’ll attempt to make it both informative and non-specific.
For the first hour, I watched attentively, though also lethargically. Bits and pieces of information entered my head during, thinking the various interactions between characters was meant to embody some sort of message. Nothing made all that much sense, other than some non-committal theories of power and abandonment. Nothing… until one scene.
About halfway through, a single scene occurred that blew the film wide open. One moment that made all that came before suddenly rich in metaphorical value. The point is that the film is one to be patient for. Whatever commentary you may take from the film will only be achieved upon the opening of a box. Maybe literally? Hmm?
Still, the question arises: Should one be willing to excuse the slowness of the prior if it means a more fulfilling after? There was a point where I thought to myself, “Wow, this is slow.” Now, I would be willing to watch it once again, to see what else I may have missed without the “proper” mindset. Does the end justify the means? It’s certainly something to consider should you choose to watch this.
What immediately shot out to me was The Power of the Dog‘s insistence on hiding. Words, actions, motivations; everything is clammed up and restricted. Characters don’t communicate and their actions seem nonsensical without proper context. It’s a puzzle in need of being solved.
I’m not familiar with director Jane Campion’s other works, but it seems they have a penchant for delving into human psyches. If this film is any indication, their comfort is in telling a story through environments and seemingly empty dialogue. Emphasis on “seemingly.”
For example, Phil has a clear idea of what a “man” should be. Who did he learn that ideal from? Bronco Henry, his hero and mentor. Bronco Henry, Bronco Henry; the name leaves his mouth seemingly every ten minutes. Why does he mean so much to him, though? How much does it affect his everyday life? Such idolization is bound to be rooted to some inborn desire for… something.
Parallels with his relationships with others also drive the events of the film forward. What of Rose and her desires. The way the story is framed from her perspective paints things of a tumultuous past, slowly pieced together by comments from her son, Peter. And Peter—my, what an intriguing character. The catalyst to many different themes and secrets coming to light. His behavior creates many conflicts and, by consequence, eventful unravelings.
The Power of the Dog is a film of characters, ripped to shreds by temptation and stressful situations. My comparison to The Office, while odd on the surface, is in that it’s horribly uncomfortable to watch at times. Expectations are placed almost by default, with the pressure to abide by those standards sure to eat people inside. I suppose if that sounds like a “fun” time, this will suit that craving.
I’d like to re-watch this at some point, now that I know how things come to play out. Further dissection of the characters with context would mean more to take out and more to (try to) understand. As stated previously, it’s a puzzle waiting to be solved; an artsy-fartsy thing of understanding people and why they are how they are.
If that is what you’re after, The Power of the Dog would be valuable viewing experience. If not, it might just be a tad too slow… perhaps too aimless. Really pins down the whole “people” aspect.
Final Score: 8/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.