The Power of the Dog — Deliver My Darling

by Diana Ushkar


The Power of the Dog (2021) has recently been released on Netflix but has already made some noise. This is a new work of an Oscar winning director Jane Campion that has brought her another award — a Silver Lion for the best Director at Venice Film Festival (2021).

The movie is shot in the setting of 1920s Wild West but is more of a psychological drama than a western. The story focuses on the connection of two families, where there's two completely different brothers on one side and a widow and her peculiar son on the other. George, one of the brothers, marries Rose and from this moment on their families have to live together on a ranch. Though George's brother Phil is not really happy about it, as he suspects Rose to be a gold digger. He constantly snaps at her and her son and makes them feel uncomfortable at their new place. A total psychological tyranny would be ruined the moment Phil realizes Peter (Rose's son) is not that hopeless,but a rather clever boy and aspires to make him a true western man. The rest of the film they would spend together learning from each other and through these relationships a vulnerable side of Phil's nature would express.
This movie is interesting in the aspect of director's decisions. One of those is a slow narrative and brevity. The dramatic side seems to be unfolded out of the screen, we can only see some aspects of conflicts, stories and characters. Everything that is shown is not completely revealed that turns the whole movie to a blend of hints, sometimes we can only guess the feeling of a character by an emotion or a phrase. The main instrument the director uses to tell the story and acquaint us with characters is detail — everything important is shown through details. For example, a string Phil makes for Peter symbolizes their connection. It is so important for Phil to finish the work as soon as possible, because he understands he's a dead man walking, but he badly wants to save that connection with Peter. That's why Phil became mad when Rose sold the skin he had intended to use for the work.
Let's focus on the episode when Peter finds Phil's secret place full of incriminating stuff, including a magazine full of naked men pictures. Peter seems to find out a secret about Phil's sexual orientation, but they never openly discuss this later. This topic in general may be guessed only by emotions — no direct actions or questions in the whole movie.

Details are also used to show contrast between characters. Let's take Phil and Peter again: Phil is a rough man, who denies personal hygiene — so he works with animals without gloves, while Peter is neat at everything and thus he is shown only in gloves while working. Phil and Peter are connected by the craft — but while Phil's making a tough string out of skin, Peter's into making fragile paper flowers.
Eventually, everyone is involved in this ruthless business game: starting from Patrizia scheming against "the trash" of the family and her short-lived alliance with Paolo and ending with Maurizio abandoning all his conscientious principles. Even being on the same side of the barricade, Patrizia and Maurizio are even more alienated than before — and Gucci finally sees his father's rightfulness which will consequently lead to the tragedy.
There is one of the most important details in the name of the movie — 'the dog'. The dog is a metaphoric image of Phil, who's supposed to be someone cruel and terrifying for everyone around them, which is shown through the scenes of him humiliating Rose and Peter in the beginning of the movie. He's also a guardian like a dog, he's watching his house and intends to protect his brother from lying women. "Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of a dog" — these words read out Peter after Phil's passed away. The dog is gone and he doesn't have any power anymore. The metaphor of a dog also symbolizes the ability to see what is hidden. It is shown in the episode of Peter recognizing the image of a dog in the shadows on a hill — he was the only one apart from Phill who managed to do it. In the movie Peter and Phill are the only characters who can see what no one else does, thus Peter finds out Phil's secret passion and Phil mentions Rose's alcoholism.
However this approach also brings confusion to the story. Sometimes it is hard to understand the motivation of the characters, as there's no deep development shown on the screen. After watching this film you may wonder "Why did George and Rose fall in love?" or "Why does Phil suspect Rose to be a gold digger, if there's no hints for that in her behavior?" or finally "Why does Phil change his attitude towards Peter at this particular moment?" Those questions are essential to understand the story and the characters, but the director doesn't give you the answers, you can only guess. And this might be an advantage — as many people love to dig into interpretation and analysis, but for some others it might also be the main disadvantage — no clear story makes a movie boring to watch.
Concluding all this, The Power of the Dog is an interesting and extraordinary movie, with many director's tricks, amazing views and mind blowing music — which is sometimes so touching and dramatic that can give you chills — but with no clear story. If you like analyzing every piece of a film — give this one a try.
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