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The Power of the Dog

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    The Power of the Dog


    dir: Jane Campion Netflix 2021


    What a joy to sit back and watch a film where there is space to breathe, follow characters slowly reveal themselves. No explosions or CGI car chases. Just a cold, expansive landscape and a slow burn psycho-drama that draws you in to care for the characters.

    Now. Let's play a game and guess at which point did Sam Elliot watch it and spit out his chewin'tobaccy in hetero-normative disgust? See recent imbroglio.
    At the sight of so many cowboys, shirtless but with woolly chaps on? Benedict Cumberbatch "rubbing the knob" of the late, revered Bronco Henry's saddle? The sight of Kodi Smit-McPhee's quivering pillow lips?

    A western with a female gaze? Queer gaze?

    Nominated for 12 Oscar's, this is a subtle yet powerful film. It has a cumulative power and tension that is sometimes unbearable. Beautifully shot in muted,golden tones. Shot in NZ's South Island, standing in for Montana. The landscape is a character in itself. At one point Cumberbatch challenges Kodi Smit-McPhee to see something in the mountains. The young fella correctly guesses. After about 12 seconds. In that time I actually panicked, scanning the horizon for clues. I felt personally tested by Jane Campion herself..
    I saw it. Just in time. You don't want to disappoint the maker of The Piano. My favourite film. Another sexual psychodrama with period setting and quirky, unpredictable characters.

    Jonny Greenwood supplies the soundtrack. Not as transcendantally beautiful as Nyman's The Piano score. Effective in ratcheting up suspense and tension. With cello and strings and plaintive piano. And the Banjo scene with the piano duel is breathtaking. Wow. Incredible storytelling without need of a single word.

    Plemons and Dunst share a few very warm and tender scenes as they awkwardly come together. My only criticism of the film is we don't see much of their marital life after she moves in. The film then becomes exploring the strange relationship of Cumberbatch and Kodi. After awhile I started to wonder where they had got to. She drinks and he remains stoic. Don't get the Plemons hype. Seems a dead-eyed Schlub. Spose fits the character.

    All 4 main actors are nominated. Think only 2 will win. They are both amazing performances. Cumberbatch is macho and mean, but never goes over the top. People are mean in quiet,hushed ways they do in real life. This hot mess of a psychodrama is rooted in reality. It earns every payoff. Your intelligence will not be insulted.

    Kodi Smit-McPhee was a great child actor. He has grown into an amazing presence. So subtle. Expressive. A quiet character with amazing inner strength. I want to watch it again just to see his performance with what I know now. Enough said.

    The ending of the film. No. I won't spoil it. If you watch only one revisionist western this year, make it this one.

    Welcome back Jane.
    Last edited by Gilly Goodness; 03-05-2022, 08:47 PM.

    Originally posted by Gilly Goodness View Post
    A western with a female gaze? Queer gaze?
    There are tenets of film theory which would posit that even some "classic" non-revisionist Western films have queer undertones/coding in them on purpose. So I don't know that I would say this is a film made for the female gaze (in the same way as something like, say, Magic Mike is in its way - again, wholly on purpose). It's a film about the repercussions of repression/closeting, just as Brokeback Mountain was, although that film (and its short-story source) is obviously a romance and this is not.

    I will say that in films where the location/landscape is a character itself, you need a slower pace if only to give the sense of how geological time operates.

    my labor of love (and obsessive research)


      Behind the camera look at The Power of the Dog

      If you haven't seen the film, this has no spoilers but a great collection of interviews and comments by the director, the actors, cinematographer, sound designer, makeup, costume, producers.

      Originally a revered Queer novel by Thomas Savage from the Sixties, has fallen into obscurity but now rescued by Campion.
      Based on true life as Savage went to live on a ranch in Montana with his macho uncle. Tempted to read the novel. He married and had 3 children with the writer Elizabeth Savage. He was a closeted gay and once told his daughter he did not want to be labelled bisexual. Complex fella.

      Interesting Luna that you mention Brokeback being a romantic love story. Will watch it. Dog has romance but is more a tense study in performative masculinity.
      Remember back in my High School days knowing some guys from the outlying farmland, sheep and cattle that surround Canberra. They were day students.Nice
      ,polite guys. Tad quieter than us city boys. Anyhoo , eventually went out and socialised with them on their properties, fangin' around on trail bikes, shootin' stuff
      and partayin'. They were different on the farm. Rougher, cockier, language changed. Country talk. Was it performative or were they performing in the city?

      Does shootin' animals alter you or bring you closerto your authentic self? As someone who aspired to go to Art School, never felt threatened as individually most liked my stuff I did at school.
      Lesson I spose is group behaviour can repress character. introverted as I am much prefer one on one interactions. Being the youngest child of a big family may also contribute.

      Anyway,glad I had a semi-rural background as I love bushwalking and camping.
      Last edited by Gilly Goodness; 03-05-2022, 09:45 PM.


        It played long. It was slow. It kinda didn't make sense to me. Not my favorite Campion film. I wish the Academy would go back to five best picture nominees vs. ten. I now sit through a bunch of average films. I've seen this, Nightmare Alley and Don't Look Up. None of them best picture nominees. All three about a 7 out of 10. I look forward to West Side Story very much. Drive My Car sounds like Driving Ms. be honest, I think the pandemic has hurt the industry very much and I expect better nominees to come hopefully this year and next. Do any of these films hold up to films like Nomadland, Lawrence of Arabia, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather part 2, Cuckoos Nest, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, Rain Man, The Silence of the Lambs, Schindler's List, American Beauty, No Country for Old Men, and Spotlight?