Spoilers for The Power of the Dog will be found below.
Oscar nominations abounded for Jane Campion’s new Netflix movie, The Power Of The Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a sinister rancher (who’s fueled by toxic masculinity). Phil ended up coming around to a more civilized stance later in the film, but he still continued to terrorize his sister in law (Kirsten Dunst), and Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) kept his word to protect his mom. As the film shows, however, there’s a lack of definitive clarity in how Phil dies, and the realization of what happened came a surprise not only to his brother (Jesse Plemons) but the audience.
Peter, a bookish lad wise on the ways of pathogens, had hatched the idea of tainting a rope while noting that Phil had an open wound on his hands. That rope carried the Anthrax bacterium, which sealed Phil’s fate, as theorized by the medical examiner who attended his funeral.
Phil’s brother had a hard time believing that his generally careful brother (when it came to dealing with potentially infected animals) had fallen prey to Anthrax, and his cause of death was not technically confirmed in the movie. Instead, Campion and her editor (Peter Sciberras, who’s Oscar-nominated for his work on the movie) told The Wrap how he and Campion decided to scrap the final shot of the movie, which went like this:
“It was a slow pan across Peter’s desk in his room, which showed a medical book on his desk,” revealed Sciberras. “And then the camera landed on the definition of anthrax in the book. And that was the last shot of the film.”
For the audience, this would have explicitly connected Phil’s untimely death to Peter’s knowledge and cunning of how to use anthrax as a poison. “That’s the exact thing that the novel does,” Sciberras pointed out.
The final open-ended note certainly generated discussion, and as Sciberras noted, he wrestled with the idea of removing that shot, but Campion pushed for the subtler ending. In the end, Sciberras came around while noting that the book’s ending worked in a less visual medium, but onscreen, “it felt kind of like a really basic idea.” And the Academy responded positively while showering the movie, including Campion and Sciberras with nods ahead of the March 27 ceremony.
The Power of the Dog is currently streaming on Netflix.
(Via The Wrap)