MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The Power of the Dog - Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Jane Campion
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons
It’s rare to discover a film that reveals most of its strengths only after a second viewing, but such is the case with writer-director Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, based on a 1969 novel by Thomas Savage. In fact, the film discloses the meaning behind its title just minutes before its startling conclusion. Knowing how the story ends then becomes a lens in which to observe its characters with an enlightened awareness the next time around.
(I would like to remind my Christian audience that this is precisely how we read the New Testament. We could not be people of hope without knowing first how God’s story ends.)
The Power of the Dog is – alas – not particularly hopeful, but it is mysterious and suspenseful before it becomes melancholy and sad. In telling the story of Phil and George Burbank (Cumberbatch and Plemons), two middle-aged brothers who run a cattle ranch in 1920s Montana, the movie observes and questions the ways in which we calculate the measure of a man.
Phil is the older brother and he is the authority figure on the ranch. He is the one who relates to the cowboys who work for him. He can go days without a bath; when he decides to clean off in the lake, he covers himself first with mud. He can ride a horse, castrate a bull, and crack a whip. He idolizes the memory of “Bronco” Henry, his mentor, whose saddle rests beneath a commemorative plaque.
George is quiet and lonely. He wears a suit when he rides around the ranch. George handles the books and pays the staff.
Everything seems to be running smoothly until George becomes attracted to Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a young widow and restaurant owner who is catering a chicken dinner for the staff. She is assisted by her teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose gentle demeanor is ridiculed by the cowboys and dramatically humiliated by Phil, As Rose listens through the doorway, she is driven to tears. George comforts Rose and eventually decides to marry her.
When George and Rose return to the estate from their honeymoon, they receive a chilly reception from Phil, who decides to make life miserable for both Rose and Peter. And, in the process, things do become miserable for everyone, as everyday torments and taunts conjure forth other traumas from the past.
The Power of the Dog depicts male characters who are saddled with a variety of identities that just don’t quite fit. In attempting to satisfy the expectations of others, everyone in the film suffers. Their pain cries out for a peaceable kingdom in which all persons might find themselves to be beautiful in God’s sight and valued for their unique individuality. If you can allow this film to get under your skin, you might be provoked to create safe spaces for others. More power to you.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A slow-paced Western tale haunted by masculinity.
Four pitchforks: Cruel language, including sexual slurs; diabolical acts; a scene of bull castration; brief scenes of male nudity; alcohol drinking and abuse; prostitutes.
Do you have comments about this movie or movie review? E-mail your comments. (Your name and UM affiliation must be supplied in order for your comments to be posted.)
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH,
near Akron-Canton Airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW
North Canton, OH 44720
Local: (330) 499-3972
Toll Free: (800) 831-3972
Fax: (330) 499-3279
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
© EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.