The Power of the Dog is a western drama directed by Jane Campion and based on a novel of the same name written by Thomas Savage. The film is now available for streaming on Netflix.
In 1825, Montana, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) are two brothers who own a ranch of their own. Phil is a charismatic ranch hand while George is a more reserved person.
While making a long ride along with their cattle, they spend the night at an inn which Mrs Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) runs with the help of her son, Peter (Kodi Smith-McPhee). Phil and his fellow ranch hands behave quite rudely with Peter and this hurts Rose’s feelings.
George consoles her later and then brings up the matter with his brother, asking him to try and be more civil at times. After their initial encounter, George continues to meet Rose and the two of them form a bond. Phil is not too thrilled about their budding friendship and even writes a letter to their mother about it.
The relationship is eventually taken to the next level when Rose and George get married. Rose sells her property and moves in with George and Phil at their ranch while Peter goes off to medical school and stays at the student boarding.
Phil continues to be very and cold and stand-offish with Rose, making her very uncomfortable around the house. George plans to have a dinner party at their home to commemorate his marriage and invites his parents as well as the governor and his wife over for the occasion.
He asks Rose to play the piano on that night and even arranges for a baby grand piano to be brought home for that very purpose. Rose is unsure about playing and tries to practice at home alone, but Phil comes in and unsettles her by playing his own banjo to the same tune that she’s practising.
Come the day of the dinner, George asks Phil to have a proper bath before attending, something he despises doing. He ends up avoiding the gathering altogether. The guests ask Rose to play a few notes on the piano but she turns out to be extremely nervous and refuses to play for them.
Come the summer, Peter arrives at the ranch to spend his holidays. Phil immediately makes life difficult for Peter to fulfil some sort of sadistic craving. He constantly berates him and strives to make his stay as uncomfortable as possible. Things change, however, when Peter comes across Phil’s secret lake in the woods.
Almost immediately, Phil begins to behave kindly towards Peter and shows him a fresh rope that he’s braiding and tells him that it will be a gift to Peter once it’s complete. From that day onwards, Phil starts showing Peter the tricks of the trade when it comes to living on a ranch.
Rose becomes extremely uneasy by how suddenly her son is getting along with Phil and she’s driven to drinking to calm herself. She starts hiding bottles around the house and takes a sip every moment that she can. When she talks to Peter about this, and how Phil makes her nervous, Peter replies saying that he’ll make sure that she doesn’t have to turn towards drinking soon.
One day, Peter goes out on his own across the hills and keeps on riding until he finds a dead cow ridden with anthrax. He skins the animal and takes back the hide, keeping a secret from everybody else. Rose continues to drink while Phil and Peter get closer to each other.
Will Rose recover from her “illness”? Does Phil genuinely care about Peter? What is going on in Peter’s mind throughout all this?
Here is the ending of ‘The Power of the Dog’ explained in detail:
A ride out into the hills
Phil decides to take Peter out to the edge of their farm to fix up the fence over there. Rose does not want him to go but George lets him go anyway and tries to convince her that he’s fine.
While there, Phil tells Peter stories about Bronco Henry, the man who taught him everything there is to know about being a real cowboy. Peter talks about his father and how he had to deal with his suicide. While working on the fence, Peter points out a cut on Phil’s hand, but Phil waves it away saying that it’s nothing.
Back at the ranch, some Indians arrive asking for the hides that are lying about. The housekeeper sends them away because Phil does not like anyone else getting the hides and usually burns them. Rose runs out and calls the Indians back and asks them to take the hides, and they gift a pair of gloves in return.
When she’s headed back inside, she collapses to the ground.
Can cut the tension with a knife
George takes Rose back into the house and lays her down on the bed. By then, Phil and Peter return and Phil becomes absolutely livid when he sees that the hides have been taken away. He gets into an argument with his brother about the hides and George apologises for his wife’s actions but says that she’s too ill right now.
Peter brings up the raw hide he collected earlier and says that Phil can use that to complete the rope. He brings it over that night and Phil gets to work on the rope, exposing his cut hand to the hide from the diseased cow. While he’s working, he tells Peter about the time Bronco Henry saved his life when they were out in the mountains and the weather was unbearably cold.
Peter and Phil share an intimate moment together while he’s braiding the rope. The next morning, Phil has trouble waking up and George offers to take him to the doctor.
An untimely yet suspicious demise
George is seen picking out a coffin for his brother, who seems to have passed away during the last visit to the doctor. Several people show up at the funeral, including his parents and fellow ranch hands. The doctor walks up to George and claims that he’s stumped on what actually killed Phil.
He makes an educated guess that it is anthrax, but George states that Phil was very particular when it came to dealing with diseased animals.
Later that night, George and Rose arrive back home and embrace for a moment. Peter watches over them from up in the house, safe with the knowledge that he conspired to expose Phil’s cut to anthrax from the sick cow thanks to his medical knowledge. He can live the rest of his life in content, now that he’s gone to all lengths to protect his mother, because that’s what a son does.