Power of the Dog ending explained: What happened to Phil Burbank?
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Jane Campion drama The Power of the Dog. **CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Netflix film The Power of the Dog saw the triumphant return of director Jane Campion with her unsettling Western gothic, which received the most nominations at the 2022 Oscars and won the coveted Best Film Award at the 2022 BAFTAs - but to make sense of its greatness, we have The Power of the Dog ending explained
As well as the film being part of the BAFTA 2022 winners, Campion brought home the Best Director award at the Oscars to mark a truly illustrious run.
In her response to Variety, Campion said: "He’s not a cowboy; he’s an actor. The West is a mythic space and there’s a lot of room on the range."
Set on a ranch in 1925 Montana, The Power of the Dog follows two vastly differently brothers: the controlling and brutalist Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his amiable but quietly ambitious brother George (Jesse Plemons).
The relationship between the pair changes, however, when George falls in love and marries a widowed restauranteur named Rose (Kirsten Dunst), who then comes to live on the ranch
Struggling to accept the existence of Rose in his space, Phil sets out to psychologically torture her.
The dynamic unveils a whole layer of jealousy, repression and anger that only rises further once Rose's bookish teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) also moves to the ranch while on holiday from college.
Events soon turn increasingly unsettling, leading to a surprising climax to the critically acclaimed film.
With all that said, what is it that lies on the mountainside?
**Spoiler warning for The Power of the Dog**
The Power of the Dog ending explained
After initially tormenting and bullying the effeminate Peter on the ranch in front of the employees, Phil begins to take the teenage boy under his wing and they spend more time together.
The closeness of Phil and Peter causes Rose to spiral into alcoholism.
As they take part in the business of the ranch, Peter slowly opens up to Phil, revealing that he found his father’s dead body after committing suicide.
Phil, meanwhile, begins to plait a lasso for Peter - but when Rose sells the cattle hides Phil was using to buy gloves in a move to get back at him, he can’t continue.
Peter produces a hide from dead cattle for Phil to use, and slowly, Phil begins to open up about his closeness to his own late mentor, Bronco Henry, who he still idolises.
Phil also cuts his hand while on a fencing job with Peter.
During one conversation, Peter notices the shadows on the mountainside that appear as a snarling dog, which impresses Phil as only a few tend to notice it.
While working on the lasso into the night at the barn, Phil recalls an occasion when he and Henry huddled together for warmth in freezing weather. Peter asks if they were naked. Phil doesn’t answer, hinting at his repressed homosexuality.
The next morning, Phil does not show up for his breakfast, prompting George to check on him in bed - and he is sick with his wounded hand infected.
A sick Phil is intent on handing the finished lasso to Peter, but is taken away to the hospital.
Phil dies and George buries his brother. At the funeral, a doctor confirms that Phil probably died from anthrax poisoning.
As they are often dealing with and avoiding diseased animals, George notes how careful Phil was with his work.
At home, Peter reads the bible verse Psalm 22:20: "Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog."
We then see Peter - with gloves on - place the completed lasso under his bed.
Watching his now sober mother Rose in a happy embrace with his step-father George, Peter smiles.
The implication here is that Peter poisoned Phil through his open wound and killed Phil to help save his mother.
Earlier in the film, Peter had been caught by servant Lola (Thomas McKenzie) dissecting a dead rabbit and studying diseases.
His peculiar morbid interests and medical studies imply he would have been well-equipped to subtly murder Phil.
His cold-hearted approach to dissection also implies he has the makings of a killer.
How does The Power of the Dog book end?
The film adaptation from Jane Campion is very much a faithful adaptation of Thomas Savage's 1967 novel, and the ending of her movie is, too.
Savage appeared to draw much from his personal experiences growing up in Western rural towns and on ranches, along with his experiences of having a mother who struggled with alcoholism.
He wrote about sexual repression and the boundaries imposed on individuals in rural settings.
Savage was married to novelist Elizabeth Fitzgerald but has been described by The New York Times as "a closeted gay man" who "drew on his formative years living and working on a Montana ranch".
The Power of the Dog alternate end
While the film The Power of the Dog ends with a happy image of George and Rose together, now finally free of Phil, it appears this was not always going to be the final shot.
Speaking to The Wrap, editor Peter Sciberras revealed: "We had a beautifully crafted shot, which would have been the last shot of the film."
He added that it was Campion's decision to ditch the shot, which Sciberra described as: "A slow pan across Peter’s desk in his room, which showed a medical book on his desk.
"And then the camera landed on the definition of anthrax in the book. And that was the last shot of the film."
It is noted to be almost identical to the final passage of the novel which confirms Peter had killed Phil.
What has Jane Campion said about The Power of the Dog?
So, what was director Jane Campion trying to say with The Power of the Dog?
She told IndieWire in regards to the Bible passage and title of the film: "As the title stands, it’s a kind of warning.
"The power of the dog is all those urges, all those deep, uncontrollable urges that can come and destroy us, you know?"
She also told the same publication: "It’s about his presentation of himself as a man and the exhaustion of that. Because it’s difficult for men, especially if you have a secret. The secret is that he loves men. Or, in particular, Bronco Henry. We’re dangling the charismatic aggressive masculine identity and deconstructing that."
This certainly fits with the finished product!
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The Power of the Dog is available now in the UK and US on Netflix.
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