The Power of the Dog

A heroic female director lobs a polite grenade into the middle of, or maybe a bit after the middle of, a climate of recrimination about sexual misbehaviour. Is the work championing a cause, or is the cause appropriating and filtering the work? The answer might be clearer, or perhaps different, if the work’s messages were clearer.

If the antagonist isn’t clear, then neither is the moral clarity around his undoing. The Power of the Dog might be trying on too many things. It labours the message that the antagonist’s desires and regrets are of a particular kind, yet underbakes the domino effects of this clearly central cause. Some ideas have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer (or a monogrammed handkerchief), while key plot points may elude viewers.  

The notion that fetishised masculinity is homoerotic seems to and does come from somewhere earlier than this century, perhaps the era of the novel on which this movie based (published 1967) and earlier than the current, storm in which predatory hetero-masculinity is the problem. Maybe The Power of the Dog is a worthy, complex story but maybe it’s rendered too much so by the frames people want to apply to it.

Underneath all this context lies a classic western query: what do we do about sociopathic arseholes? 

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