“The Power of the Dog” takes a look at toxic masculinity

By Annette Quijada

Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” is exceptional.
A dark western film is filled with toxic masculinity along with childhood trauma and this is topped off with outstanding cinematography.
The film is an adaptation from the novel by Thomas Savage.
It takes place in Montana in 1925.
A cruel rancher Phil Burbank, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is angry when his brother George, played by Jesse Plemons, brings his new wife and her son to live with them on their family ranch.
Then the unexpected happens.
Phil is seen sitting at the head of the table alongside cowboys and his brother George. The restaurant inn owned by Rose, played by Kirsten Dunst.
Her son Peter, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, waits on them.
When we meet Peter, he’s making table centerpiece flowers out of paper.
Those flowers are later turned into ash when Phil decides to taunt Peter by burning them.
This moment shows the beginning of the bullying Phil would have in store for Rose and her son.
The biggest theme in the film is toxic masculinity.
When Phil isn’t smoking cigarettes or running the ranch, he uses his intelligence to mock and belittle everyone else.
He lives to be at the head of the table and draws strength from the fear he brings out of Rose.
Soon enough he becomes infatuated with the idea of taking Peter under his wing to torture Rose.
He seems to want to turn Peter into a version of himself, by teaching him to ride horses or making simple rope.
Western films can be dull, therefore they need actors who can hold their own.
Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee are those actors.
Cumberbatch manages to bring a darkness to the role of Phil.
He is also good at showing the hidden pain the character has from not being his true self.
Smit-McPhee captures the fragility of young Peter who just wants to protect his mother.
Together their relationship makes for a complicated one, it keeps the audience questioning it till the very end.
“The Power of the Dog” is not for those who crave action in films.
This one is slow and requires a great amount of attention to be able to understand the ending.

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