The Power of the Dog Movie Ending Explained… oh, and a prediction. Easiest prediction I’ve ever made. Benedict Cumberbatch will win an Oscar for his role as Phil Burbank in The Power of the Dog. Guaranteed. It ticks all the boxes. Lights up all the measures and there are electronic fireworks going off in the sky above his head. Yeah, I guarantee you, Benedict Cumberbatch will win the best actor Oscar this year. Nothing else even comes close to holding a candle to him this year.
But wait, what is the movie, Power of the Dog again? It is a western, set in the 20’s of Montana… the rough and tumble, dusty, hard knocks world of cattle, and an impending modern society soon to change everything. It’s a film written and directed by Jane Campion, based on a novel by Thomas Savage. It’s a movie that will obviously get comparisons to Brokeback Mountain. But I sort of put more in the genre of No Country For Old Men and maybe There Will Be Blood? However, there is no denying the glorious cinematography of this movie. Where would you film a glorious western that depicts the 1920’s America? Yup, New Zealand, I agree. Wait, what? This movie was filmed in New Zealand? Yeah… Dunedin and Otago specifically. Huh. Anyway, The Power of the Dog will be released on Netflix the beginning of December.
The Power of the Dog Walkthrough
Now, I’m going to say this again – just to be super clear – you should wait until you’ve seen this movie, The Power of the Dog, before you read through this discussion and my ideas about the inner workings of the film, and ESPECIALLY the ending explanation details!! So, scouts honor… don’t read any further if you haven’t seen this movie yet.
The movie opens telling us that it is Montana 1925. Rose is working at a hotel and restaurant, four years after her husband passed away. We get the feeling that Rose is a bit at the end of her rope (sorry for the pun… oh, we’ll get to the rope later, trust me) but even so, she’s doing okay for herself… even if life is hard. Her son, Peter Gordon, is trying to help out as best as he can. But finds himself making paper flowers, and interested in the more genteel things of this life. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I can imagine he stands out a bit here in Montana.
Meanwhile, Phil and George (Jesse Plemons) are driving their massive herd of cattle into town. And they need a place to stay while there. Which is what brings them to Rose’s place. During dinner, Phil burns one of Pete’s paper flowers, and what he says about him ends up breaking Rose’s heart. Later, George learns that Rose is crying in the kitchen as a result. George tells Phil what he did, and how it hurt Rose, and Phil’s response is, “I said he should snap out of it and be human. I just pointed it out, she should damn well know.” The epitome of kindness right there. I WAS JUST STATING FACTS!! WHAT ARE YOU CRYING ABOUT?!?!
But it is this interaction between George and Rose that actually starts off a romance. George begins visiting Rose regularly, and even though Phil tries to get their parents involved, George marries Rose. And soon enough, Rose is being invited to dinners with her in-laws as well as the governor of the state. These are really important people that she has suddenly been thrown in with. She’s even expected to play the piano, which seems to be her one redeeming quality. But when she fails at that during the dinner, things go from bad to much worse.
Now, one thing that you might not have caught, but when the Governor chats with George and Rose about Phil, and how exceptionally proud of him they are it really gets to Rose. “He was Phi-Beta-Kappa at Yale wasn’t it?” “Yup, in Classics.” “So he swears at the cattle in Greek, or Latin?” Now, for the record, I was Phi Beta Kappa… it doesn’t take much. But college for Rose was a stretch, let alone Yale, let alone Phi Beta Kappa… and the look on Rose’s face during this conversation says absolutely everything you need to know about that particular encounter:
Rose absolutely knows that her new in-laws, and the company that her in-laws keep (specifically the governor and his wife), are letting her know that she is absolutely no one. That they are powerful, that they come from rarefied air, and that she will never be considered a part of this circle. Why? Because she isn’t good enough. She comes from the dirt of the frontier, and they come from the civilized world. Which, is the beginning of her drinking problems and her downward spiral. George’s love for her, and how she makes him not feel alone anymore, just isn’t enough. Cementing her demise, she not only doesn’t play the piano, but Phil makes it clear that he can play anything on his banjo after only hearing it once.
Pete comes back to the ranch after having been at school and we learn that he is studying to become a physician. He’s interested in dissecting things, making traps, he’s a clever young man. But he is roundly ridiculed as before. Then later, Pete accidentally stumbles upon Phil’s hidden pond, and secret hide out. He discovers a magazine of photos of men, hinting strongly that Phil is probably gay. Phil spends time in the sun, playing with a silk scarf. But when Pete runs for it, realizing what he’s uncovered, it pisses Phil off.
But, surprisingly, Phil offers to teach Pete how to ride a horse. And they start to spend some time together, as Phil tells Pete that he has started to make him a rope. Huh. What is going on here? How is it that Pete is suddenly okay with all of this? Personally? I was pretty sure that Pete would take the rope, given to him by Phil, and that he would hang himself with it. I would have bet you my car (which, for the record, is useless, and in fact, I just promised to a dealer… so this bet is pretty useless right now. But whatever.) that he would commit suicide with this rope. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The night before Pete leaves, Phil and Pete spend the evening together as Pete tries to finish up the rope. The next day, Phil has taken ill, and when he is taken to the doctor, he apparently has a terrible fit of shakes and convulsion. He ultimately dies of anthrax… which, gotta say, is weird, seeing as though he avoided cows with anthrax like the plague (forgive the pun). The family has a funeral for him in the city, and all of society’s well to do all come and tsk tsk about how sad they are that Phil died this way. And with that, we cut back to the ranch where Pete is flipping through the Bible and the passage about being saved from the power of the dog.
Psalm 22:19-20 “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of wild dogs.”
And then Pete watches from the window as his mother, and his new father arrive back at the ranch house…
The Power of the Dog Movie Ending Explained???
So, let’s start back at that beginning assumption that this movie is analogous to Brokeback Mountain. Was it a movie about two guys, who happen to be gay, and find themself in a burgeoning relationship? No. Did we think that that was where this movie might have been going? Maybe. Minus the fact that Phil was horrible to Pete. So then, what the heck!? What did we just watch? Two guys who hate each other sort of hang out a little bit, and then one of them accidentally comes down with Anthrax?!? Dies? What is this movie?
Let’s start over shall we? Rose is a pretty recent widow. Her husband died four years prior. Pete, has had to grow up too fast as he helps his mother keep their family hotel and restaurant afloat. And in the middle of that chaos arrives a real jerk… Phil and his crew. And he lays down enough pain on Pete that it causes Rose to cry. George is touched, and intercedes on Rose’s behalf. He makes overtures in her direction in spite of the fact that his family wouldn’t like it. Worse, he even marries Rose without his family’s consent. Pete is happy for his mother, but probably knows in advance that there are going to be issues. And sure enough, Phil exceeds expectations. He continues the hatred, and the hurtful actions, even after Rose and Pete are family.
Now Pete is no slouch. He’s whip smart. He’s wicked clever. His thing is the long con, not the immediate. But he also knows that Phil is smart too. So smart that he has to use Phil’s weaknesses against him without him realizing. And although Phil won’t admit it, it’s EXTRAORDINARILY obvious to him that Phil is gay. (It’s clear to the audience. It’s clear to Pete.) So Pete sidles up close to Phil, and rolls with Phil and the things that matter to him. And, apparently, Phil has decided he’s going to make Pete a rope. Um, okay. I guess. But to make a rope you need two things… you need strips of cow hide, and water. Pete gives him both things. We watch as after his mother gives away the hides that Phil comes completely unglued. Why? He needs the hides for the rope. But Pete has already cut strips for Phil to use. Huh. Interesting. And the second thing, Pete brings Phil the water that he needs in order to soften the strips in order make it pliable. Oh, there is one other thing that Pete brought Phil. Anthrax.
Flashback to his solo horse ride. He heads out to the hills in order to do one thing, scoop bits of dead cow. Why? To collect the anthrax virus. Why did he need the anthrax virus? Well, because he wanted to put it in the water that Phil would use in his making of the rope. Why? Because Pete wanted to kill Phil. He wanted to kill Phil for being a right jerk to him and his mother. He wanted to murder the selfish bastard in cold blood. He hated him so much he wanted the man dead. So was this a Brokeback Mountain movie? No. It was not. We don’t even know whether or not Pete was even gay, and I would argue, 100%, that he wasn’t. Just because the kid was different doesn’t make him gay. Better yet, I would argue that he was probably on the spectrum, and as a result these “gay symptoms” were literally nothing. And I sort of laugh that you think these stereotypical flatulence’s would even be valuable to modern movie goers. We seen none of these tropes in Phil anyway!
So the movie is actually a revenge/murder movie. Pete was wronged, and as a result, he outmaneuvered his chief nemesis. End of story. I’d give you another theory… but it’s literally the only one that makes any sense. Unless you want me to cart out the lame, “Budding romance goes bad when one of the lovers to be catches anthrax” theory. But no. I’m not going to embarrass either of us be even trying it out.
Final Thoughts on Power of the Dog
Loved this movie. And I’m sure that Cumberbatch is going to win best actor. Oh, did I say that already? Yeah, the acting is absolutely amazing in this movie. The cinematography is off the chain. (I don’t ever include so many photos in my walk-throughs.) I’d be surprised if Ari Wegner doesn’t also win for cinematography. The story is unbelievable too, in that it doesn’t peddle blacks or whites. It only deals in grays. (Rose is a drunk. George is an enabler. The Governor seems to be a jingoistic pedant. Phil is a closeted cowboy. And Pete is an on the spectrum murderer.) I loved it. But maybe not everyone did. What did you think of it?