Jane Champion's Emmy worthy western is as subtle as it can be. So much that keen eyes are required to grasp the nature of the story in motion, the main character Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), in the spotlight, and the background influencing the domineering yet vulnerable personality the ranchman exhibits all through the 2 hours run time.
‘The Power of the Dog’ ending and bible reference EXPLAINED!
In case you missed it.
After Phil’s brother ‘George’ brings home a new wife and her queer-like son, ‘Peter’ Phil responds with brash hostility. But beneath Phil’s cruelty are layers of repressed sexuality and emotions from the loss of his mentor Bronco Henry. Some viewers may get a kick, while others may be irritated by Phil's personality. However, the true nature behind his blunt exterior unravels throughout the plot’s events, inevitably garnering empathy from the audience.
Sadly, this side of Phil is short-lived as he dies in a mysterious manner which leaves the audience with several questions. But the answers to these questions are strung along with the plot. As earlier stated, this melodrama is as subtle as it can be. It demands perceptive senses to fully comprehend the story being told from the beginning to the end.
So we know in the mid-act, George’s wife learns she’s pregnant, which prompts her to have a conversation with her son. Peter quickly understands where she is coming from, assures her he won't let any harm happen to her, and protects them both from Phil [Seeing George isn’t bold enough to do so].
While this might sound like a harmless statement from a concerned son, that statement is the birth of the unexpected; Killing Phil Burbank!
The coroner informs George that Phil died of an anthrax infection at Phil’s funeral. George responds by saying Phil was specific on handling infected animals, which is true! We see this in the scene where he castrates a cow with gloves. So if Phil never touched any infected animal, how did he contact the virus? It’s obvious! The answer is as clear as day.
Recall that Phil got a cut on his right hand that he left untreated during his time out in the field with Peter, who has now taken under his guard. After the laceration, Phil proceeds to finish the rope he was making for Peter, but the mentally unstable wife gave out the hides he was using to make those ropes, so Peter offered him a new leather, except this new hide is that of an infected cow. Knowing this, Peter refuses to scour it, therefore intentionally infecting Phil to take him out of the picture. This theory is further confirmed by the bible passage shown in the last scene. The scripture revealed is ‘Psalm 22’. One of King David's bitter poems, where he laments about the might of evildoers King David terms as ‘The Power of the Dog’ and ill-treatment, similar to how the ranchmen treated Peter.
Based on a 1967 novel of the same name written by Thomas Savage, The Power of the dog rising action explores facets of masculinity and the sad reality of suppressing emotions some men endure and others like George despise. But its conclusion leaves room for several speculations regarding the possible arcs Phil’s character could have evolved into if fate permitted.
What if people actually saw through Phil and paid close attention enough? Although his cold personality is an automatic blockade, what if someone made an effort as Bronco Henry did? What if Peter was on the path of breaking through that hidden part of Phil? Guess we’ll never know.
But what we know for sure is The Power of the dog proves the MCU under utilizes Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting talent. Perhaps it’s time to bid farewell to the delightful ‘Doctor Strange’ performances and say hello to more villainous characters from the English actor.
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