Warning: Major SPOILERS for The power of the dog forward!
The power of the dog the meaning of the title becomes clear in the film’s final moments, in which Peter is seen reading a verse from the Bible. Written and directed by Jane Campion, The power of the dog has been the darling of the film festival circuit, collecting awards at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival and already gaining a lot of buzz at the Oscars. However, despite the cheers, there remains a sense of mystery surrounding what exactly The power of the dog actually means.
The power of the dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch (recent star of Louis Wain’s electric life), as Phil Burbank, a charismatic and super-macho rancher living in the sprawling Montana landscape in 1925. Phil is upset by his brother’s marriage to a local widow, Rose (played by Kirsten Dunst), and his disapproval The union weighs heavily on Rose and Phil’s brother George, but the biggest victim of Phil’s wrath is Rose’s son, Peter. A paper flower maker and gentle wit, Peter becomes Phil’s whipped boy and suffers Phil’s greatest outpouring of torment until Peter uncovers Phil’s biggest secret and their relationship changes dramatically. After its theatrical release in mid-November, the film is now available to stream on Netflix.
After Phil’s death, Peter (played by the X Men Kodi Smit-McPhee from the movies) is seen sitting on his bed reading the Bible. There in the text is the title of the film, found in the book of Psalms, chapter 22 (via Biblical Gateway): “Deliver my soul from the sword; my dog power darling. “While the implication is that Phil is the dog and the rest of the characters are saved from his power by his death, there are many more correlations to be made from the context of the verse and the surrounding Bible chapter that give more of insight into The power of the dog.
What Does “the Power of the Dog” Mean: Bible Verse Explained
While the verse seen in the movie may seem simple, the “Powerful” referenced in Psalm 22:20 remains largely a mystery. It is understood that the text dog is the character of Benedict Cumberbatch in The power of the dog, but its power remains elusive and subject to interpretation by the beholder, yet it is undoubtedly present. George walks on eggshells around him, unable to reveal his true feelings or thoughts for fear of ridicule; The rose fades like a thirsty flower in The power of the dog, descending into a dreary alcoholism, and gentle and artistic Peter becomes a murderer at the end of the film. The “dog” has the power – yet the power is simply suggested, never executed.
In The power of the dog, Phil is calm, delivering a few stoic lines at a time in true classic western style. Phil is non-confrontational, hides in rooms with his banjo and lets his absence speak more than his presence, but he exerts an intense psychological force on the other characters in the film that is both sweet and vicious. This leads to the conclusion that the power referred to in The power of the dog is a psychological force rather than a physical one.
Phil’s power comes from humbling people, an idea which is reinforced by the previous verses of Psalms chapter 22: 6-7, “But I am a worm, and not a man; the reproach of men and contempt of the people. Everyone who sees me laughs at me: they pull their lips, they shake their heads … “ Phil burns Peter’s paper flowers and hisses from a window as he hides in his bedroom to let Rose know he’s looking at her. He perfectly plays Rose’s piano piece on his banjo without ever saying a word and calls out his brother George (played by Jesse Plemons from the recent Wood film), “fat, “ emotionally abusing others until their self-esteem is their biggest enemy. It is Phil’s ability to exploit the shortcomings and insecurities of others, making them question their worth and feel like “toward”– it’s that of the dog “Powerful” from The power of the dog.
What Power From The Dog’s Bible Verse Means To Peter
Interestingly, the verse behind The power of the dog is a prayer spoken by Jesus. Psalm 22 begins with the verse “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – The famous words of Jesus at his crucifixion. In verse 16 he says: “For dogs have surrounded me; the congregation of the wicked has locked me up; they pierced my hands and my feet. This leads to the idea that The power of the dog projects the character played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (who also stars alongside Dopesick’s Peter Sarsgaard in the series Examination) like a Christ figure.
Like the heckling in verse 7 and the reference in verse 16 to bullying by “dogs,” the chapter further correlates Phil’s treatment of Peter in The power of the dog in verses 12-13: “Many bulls surrounded me: mighty bulls of Bashan assailed me. They opened my mouths with their jaws, like a roaring and roaring lion.This verse ties in with the scene in which the cowboys circle around Peter and taunt him at Phil’s request. Yet while there may be similarities between Peter in The power of the dog and Jesus, like the idea that both were outcasts, the Christ-like projection of the murderer Peter seems a bit ambitious.
Who is the “darling” in power at the end of the dog?
If Phil is the “dog” of the Bible verse, which is the “Dear?” Peter’s mother, Kirsten Dunst’s Rose, is the most obvious answer as Peter is the one in possession of the Bible when the verse is shown and he says at the start of the movie that he is looking to save her. This idea is reinforced by the final scene in which Peter watches Rose and George from his bedroom after reading the verse and watches his mother and George kiss lovingly.
Alternatively, Peter himself can be the “Dear.” Although Peter is the one holding the Bible in the scene at the end of the movie, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the speaker of the verse in the context of the movie. Referring to the idea that he is projected as a figure similar to Christ, one could conclude that Peter is the “Dear,” as Christ was the beloved child of God and that at the end of The power of the dog, Peter is free from Phil’s power, however, Christ was set free by sacrifice, not by murder.
In the most interesting option by far, it may also be that the “Dear” referred to is actually Phil. In a previous scene, Phil seems struck by the gentle and caring way Peter breaks the neck of an injured rabbit they find together. This scene may have been a foreshadowing of Phil’s murder, as Peter felt like he was saving Phil from a life of longing and pain. Whatever the real answer, it is clear that The power of the dog leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
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