With a lead of 12 nominations, The Power of the Dog is the clear frontrunner at next month’s Oscars. All those who have watched it will not be surprised by the Academy’s praise and those who haven’t will hopefully be motivated to watch the Netflix film that has been the subject of much discussion ever since its December 2021 debut.
The setting for The Power of the Dog, a film based on the novel by Thomas Savage of the same name, is the 1920s American frontier. George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) and Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) are brothers with a difficult but not alienated relationship; George looks to the future while Phil seems caught in the past.
Soon after, George and Rose, the innkeeper, and her weird but sweet son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), get married. Rose moves in with the brothers at their ranch, but no one is prepared for what happens next.
This article will analyze the film’s ideas and motifs in-depth, thus it will inevitably include major spoilers, so be warned.
The Power of The Dog Ending Explained
Phil takes the effeminate teenage Peter under his wing and starts spending more time with him after first harassing and tormenting Peter in front of the ranch workers.
Phil and Peter’s friendship is directly responsible for Rose’s descent into alcoholism.
Peter gradually opens up to Phil about the time he discovered his father’s body after he had committed himself while they go about the daily ranch activities together.
Meanwhile, Phil starts plaiting a lasso for Peter but is forced to stop when Rose sells the cattle skins he was planning to use to buy gloves as a revenge strategy.
Peter makes Phil a hideout of a dead cow, and the two men begin talking about Phil’s late mentor, Bronco Henry, whom Phil still looks up to.
While working with Peter as a fencer, Phil suffered a cut to his hand. When Peter mentions that the shadows on the mountainside make it look like a snarling dog, Phil is impressed because so few people actually do.
Peter asks Phil and Henry if they were naked when they cuddled together for warmth in the chilly weather while working on the lasso late into the night in the barn. Phil’s silence suggests that he is hiding his homosexuality.
The following morning, George becomes concerned when Phil does not show up for breakfast and checks on him in bed, where he discovers that Phil has been ill due to an infection in his wounded hand.
An ill Phil wants to give Peter the finished lasso, but he ends himself in the hospital instead. George burys his brother Phil when Phil passes away. A physician testifies at Phil’s funeral that the likely cause of death was anthrax poisoning.
George observes Phil’s cautiousness on the job and reflects on how they regularly deal with and avoid ill animals. While relaxing at home, Peter reflects on Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the hound.”
After finishing the lasso, Peter, wearing gloves, hides it beneath his bed. Peter grins as he sees his mother, Rose, who is now sober, embrace his stepfather, George.
Peter, in an effort to save his mother, presumably poisoned Phil through his open wound and killed him. Peter had previously been discovered by servant Lola (Thomas McKenzie) dissecting a dead rabbit in order to learn more about diseases.
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His odd fascination with death and medical training suggests he would have been prepared to stealthily eliminate Phil. His clinical manner of dissection is indicative of his potential as a murderer.