‘Dog’ Days of Winter

Virginia and I kicked off our quarantine (a nephew we saw over the Christmas weekend tested positive Sunday for covid, so we’re sitting and waiting to see what arises, like so many others) by watching an actual movie, The Power of the Dog, on Netflix. It’s set in mid-1920s Montana, where two brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons) share a prosperous ranch.

Shortest version of the plot is, on a cattle drive, George Burbank (Plemons) meets a woman, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and falls for her, provoking the ire of brother Phil (Cumberbatch), for reasons (choose any) familial, nostalgic, economic, erotic … it’s complicated. Or it isn’t. And something needs to give. Until it doesn’t. It’s a good watch.

Cumberbatch is getting a lot of buzz as the year ends, and he is good here, but I thought Kodi Smit-McPhee, as Dunst’s son Peter, is even better. It’s a fun game trying to figure out what Peter’s up to. And director Jane Campion churns out a beautifully filmed, patient, and palpably menacing movie that saves a nice little twist for the end — one subtle and ambiguous enough that it gives you something to chew on and discuss afterward.

(To that end, the movie’s title comes from Psalm 22, ostensibly spoken by King David. Worth a read after seeing the movie, if not before.)

One last thing on the ending: It brought to mind Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, I guess because they are both western as a genre and a lot goes unsaid as both close. That said, BM goes all in on all the violence that Dog only threatens, and has one of the greatest ambiguous endings ever in American literature. It’s also proven impervious to attempts to film it.

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