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The Power of the Dog is a challenging game of appearances

Phil (Cumberbatch) is the rude, unstable, and authoritative white man in The Power of the Dog.

The Power of the Dog is the newest film by New Zealand director Jane Campion. The cast features stars like Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange), Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia), and Jesse Plemons (Jesus and the Black Messiah).

It has received good reviews and appeared on numerous international lists of the best films of 2021, thus becoming a serious candidate for Oscar nominations. The film deserves this attention for its approach to contemporary identity morality.

The plot tells the story of brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and George (Plemons), owners of a large farm in Montana, United States, in the 1920s, where they raise cattle. The story takes place before the 1929 crisis of capitalism.

The brothers are very different. George is introspective, but he's the brain and takes care of the family's business and money. He contacts the high society and the governor, revealing political ambition.

He's submissive to Phil, the tough and authoritative cowboy who handles production, employees, and the work routine. He is presented as the dirty, nasty, macho white man who enjoys camping in the mountains and hunting animals.

From the start, the tension between the siblings intensifies when George announces his engagement to Rose (Dunst), a widow, mother of a teenage son, and owner of the only inn in the remote location where they live.

The beautiful countryside, still wild, and the hard work of the cowboys make the film akin to the western genre. However, it is not with weapons and fight scenes that The Power of the Dog imposes itself. There is even a duel scene, but its weapons are music.

Without revealing much more about the plot, we believe that the great merit of this film is to present a game of appearances, built subtly and consistently.

The civilized George (Plemons) and Rose (Dunst) drink tea in the wild landscape.

Jane Campion offers a meticulous formal, based on excellent actors and exquisite editing. Narrative choices select what we should see, hear, or guess: it is as if the film invited viewers to participate in this game of perception.

It all depends on how the spectator lets himself adhere to situations or identifies with one of the characters who, let us remember, are very rich, as shown by the magnificent farmhouse, or in need, like Rose and her son.

The conflicts discuss who heroes or villains are. Cumberbatch's sure-fire casting to play Phil clashes with his role in the world of action-movie superheroes.

From a political point of view, these form issues question the false moralism of the so-called 21st-century identity culture and how this moralism is manipulated for very petty ends.

Rich and authoritarian white men, poor and defenseless women, indigenous people in situations of vulnerability and prejudice against homosexuals are there and challenge our gaze. After all, who is the dog in power? Stereotypes are at the service of the economic relations of dependence, domination, and ambition between the characters.

The complexity of The Power of the Dog is an encouragement given the superficiality presented in films, series, and soap operas that practice the goodness of social inclusion.

Rather than placing itself as a paradigm of politically correct morality, the film, in its essence, questions the individual interests in a capitalist society, which fosters fights as its raison d'être.


The Power of the Dog is on Netflix.


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