Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Intriguing: The Power of the Dog
Netflix and Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion make their bid for 2021 awards glory with this adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel.
The story follows brothers Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons, respectively), a pair of wealthy cattle barons herding cows across the Montana wilderness. Along the drive, the pair meet Rose (Kristen Dunst), a widowed inn owner with a teen son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil has nothing but contempt for Rose and Peter, making fun of the boy’s lisp, artistic inclinations, and effete demeanor. George, however, finds himself smitten with Rose, and quickly marries her without telling Phil. It quickly becomes evident that even George is terrified of Phil’s bullying.
Rose and Peter move into the Burbank mansion, where she quickly begins to drink heavily to quell her Phil-related anxiety. Peter, meanwhile, ships off to boarding school to study medicine. When he returns for the summer, he finds his mother a drunken mess and immediately becomes the target of Phil & his ranch hands’ taunting. Then something strange happens: Phil begins to take an odd interest in Peter. Peter, meanwhile begins to spy on Phil and uncovers his obsession with his former mentor, Bronco Henry.
More than that we’ll not say here, as The Power of the Dog has more than a few shocking twists. We will reveal, however, that much like Brokeback Mountain before it, at its core The Power of the Dog presents a meditation on masculinity. Unlike Brokeback, however, which used masculine identity as a prism through which to view a same-sex romance, Dog sees what happens when masculine identity and same-sex attraction work against one another. For the characters in this movie, gay impulses violate masculinity rather than edify it. Thus, the need to feel masculine becomes both maddening and violent.
Call it the anti-Brokeback Mountain.
In the lead, Cumberbatch gives a white-knuckle, terrifying performance. Phil is a character that relishes the power of his masculinity, and who has no interest in women whatsoever. For Phil, women might as well not exist: he gains his satisfaction from hanging out with his strapping ranch hands, opining for Bronco Henry (one scene shows him packing Bronco’s handkerchief in his crotch), and harassing everyone around him. He even interprets George’s love for Rose as a kind of betrayal, of Geroge surrendering his maleness. For Phil, this masculine obsession is doubly poisonous: not only does he hate women, he hates all forms of affection. Tormenting others just affirms his manhood.
Does this besetting with Bronco Henry and male identity mean Phil is gay? The movie seems to imply as much. Indeed, Phil’s relationship with Peter begins to take on a certain slave/master quality. Watching, we couldn’t help but think of the 2019 Chilean film The Prince, another rumination on masculine identity and sexuality. As with that movie, sex and power roles here become inexorably linked thanks to the need to seem “manly.” The more Peter seems to take Phil’s torment in stride, the more Phil seems attracted to him. Does this make director Campion’s interpretation of Phil a homophobic one? Not at all: the fact is, some gay men have no interest in women, even as friends or co-workers. That obliviousness often becomes a sexist attitude in and of itself.
As the director of Portrait of a Lady and The Piano, Jane Campion has built a career fascinated by male characters that don’t know how to communicate well, especially when it comes to showing affection. The Power of the Dog, however, takes that awkwardness to a new level, and a dark one at that. As before, Campion proves herself a wonderful director of actors, with Cumberbatch and Dunst both doing some of their best work ever. Loaded with sweeping cinematography of the Montana countryside, The Power of the Dog is a gorgeous film to look at, one with a tense story and vibrant characters.
The Power of the Dog will, no doubt, be a major awards contender this year, and one of the most discussed. What Phil’s character says about masculine identity and sex is as intriguing as it is disturbing.
Streams on Netflix.
Excellent movie! It’s a tad long at 122 minutes and it is slow in places, but the plot progression and incredible scenery kept me intrigued. In the last 45 minutes you’ll think you know where the movie is heading, but you’ll be wrong.
Yes, a very interesting movie. Just when you think you know what’s happening it takes a turn and I definitely did not see that ending.
“slow in places”? I agree. Like 120 of the 122 minutes. What a snoozfest. The scenery was nice but not enough to save this movie.
The movie is a cross between Brokeback, There will be Blood and The Piano. Watched last night and am still thinking about it today, is that a good thing?
Benedict is powerful. Almost too sexy. I felt the switch was too quick (you’ll understand when you see the film). He saw freedom and non caring in Peter and longed for that.
Frances Conroy had too little screen time but I did enjoy her subtle presence.
Ooh, I have to see this one.
But wouldn’t “the anti-Brokeback Mountain” be “Proper Spinal Alignment Mountain”?
I think it would have to be “valley”.
I love movies that have gay chacters especially when the conflict involves the good vs bad of masculinity. When I find this movie I’ll watch! It seems real interesting with Query’s brief analysis of the plot.
Great movie but I read three reviews and none of them mentioned the gay undertones. We got whitewashed out of the interpretation of the movie.
Written and directed by . . . a female. And no doubt will be enjoyed by males who wish that they were females.
Fortunately for the creators, this streams on Netflix, which doesn’t release most streaming numbers. So no one will ever know how badly it bombs.
What the hell is your problem?
Why does a stupid het boy like you even come to a site like this?
Hank only comments on articles about gender and children. He is very invested in children and in particular that children are very masculine. Per the gender binary that he is so heavily invested in femininity and masculinity are attracted to each other. So the obvious conclusions to be drawn here are that he sees himself at a maternal figure to these kids and given how much he sexualized the children he is a maternal figure with pedophile streak as well. Hope that answers the question about what is wrong with him, it’s a bit to take in.
Quick hank have your other screenames come in to defend your sexist AND bigoted comment.
So, basically this is a documentary about Hank31 masquerading as a fictional narrative. Guess I’ll have to check it out despite my mild disinterest in CumBatch.
Cumberbatch wasn’t man enough to play Khan and he isn’t man enough to play me.
@Hank31 True but unfortunately Rip Taylor passed away so they had to pick someone.
@jayceecook I don’t know who that is, but I assume he is some sort of entertainer popular with Boomers.
@Hank31 He might have been. Dunno, I’m not a boomer.
Hank31 has taken up comedy! There isn’t a person alive that isn’t masculine enough to play you! The challenge in the role would be portraying the extreme overcompensation.
Jaycee, I hurt myself ROFL at your Rip Taylor comment. And Yes, I’m old enough to know who Rip Taylor was.
Just like the right wing anti-LGBTQ Republicans often turn out to be self hating closet cases, your hatred of women, trans, and fem people pretty much make it obvious that your hatred comes from jealousy that they live their lives as they want.
It must make you furious every time you see a transwoman or a fem guy out doing what you aren’t brave enough to do. Be themselves.
Master/servant? Lol. Phil and Bronco Billy had a classical older man/younger man love relationship.
Excellent movie. But Kodi Smit_McPhee is SO skinny it is almost painful to watch him. He is handsome though. Cumberbatch does a great job.
Opposites attract then murder
I enjoyed Jesse Plemons in Friday Night Lights. He´s an excellent actor, who I don´t think gets enough accolades. I will give this one a try.
Looks like a melodrama.
Has anyone talked to Cumberbatch about overacting???
Saw it and loved it so much I rewatched it twice. As I said on my YouTube review of the film, The moral on the story on The Power of the Dog is: “Never judge a book by its cover or the strength of a man by the softness of his lisp.”
My Score: 10 out of 10, watch it!
Excellent movie though I would refer to Phil’s character as indulging in “toxic masculinity.” Healthy masculine culture is different.
Wikipedia edited definition: The concept of toxic masculinity is used in academic and media discussions of masculinity to refer to certain cultural norms that are associated with harm to society and men themselves. Traditional stereotypes of men as socially dominant, along with related traits such as misogyny and homophobia, can be considered “toxic” due in part to their promotion of violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence. The socialization of boys in patriarchal societies often normalizes violence, such as in the saying “boys will be boys” about bullying and aggression.
Fun Fact: Benedict Cumberbatch’s fans are called bitches.