In Jane Campion period western drama ‘The Power of the Dog,’ sexual repression manifests in toxic masculinity, which explodes in mockery, emotional cruelty, and threats of violence. ‘The Power of the Dog’ takes place in 1925 in Montana, when the age of Frontier exploration has ended, and people are in pursuit of more civilized life. Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a man out of time. Covered in grime and dirt, he represents an era that has left him behind. In contrast, his brother George (Jesse Plemons) is always impeccably dressed. After George’s marriage to the widow, Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), her son Peter kills Phil with Anthrax. Here is everything you need to know about it. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Why Did Peter Kill Phil with Anthrax in the Power of the Dog?
At the beginning of the film, it’s just Phil and George. Phil’s anger and frustration stemming from his unexplored sexuality find their victim in George and are expressed in insults about his weight and intelligence. They also tend to lash out against anything else that shows weakness. Realizing that both Rose and Peter are seemingly easy targets, Phil attacks them with relentless savagery while visiting Rose’s diner. What he hasn’t foreseen is that his behavior is set to cause his brother to reach out and apologize to Rose. The two of them grow close, and the next thing Phil knows is that his brother telling him about his marriage.
Although the brothers share a massive home, their living arrangement doesn’t go beyond a single room with twin beds. It’s a bizarre form of co-dependence that demonstrates Phil and George’s roles in each other’s lives. Their secluded existence is forever changed when George brings Rose home as his wife. Furious at being left behind, Phil begins emotionally tormenting Rose, constantly pushing her until she attempts to find a way to escape in the bottom of an alcohol bottle.
When Peter comes to visit, he is horrified by his mother’s condition and realizes that he has to do something or otherwise she is heading in the same direction as his father. Throughout the film, everyone, including Rose and the audience, grossly underestimates Peter and his abilities. His tall, painfully thin physical appearance doesn’t particularly inspire either fear or respect. But to be fair, Peter isn’t after those things either. He seeks to make his mother’s life more bearable at her new home so that she wouldn’t be constantly targeted and wouldn’t have to live her life in perpetual fear.
It doesn’t take Peter much time to figure out how Phil operates, and then on that basis, he begins manipulating the older man. Peter sees through Phil’s bravados and realizes that the latter is made up of a series of disappointments. He then finds a carcass that died of Anthrax and delicately skins it. After Rose sells all of the ranch’s cowhide, Peter offers the strips he made to Phil. On the surface, it’s a generous gift from a boy who tells Phil everything he wants to hear, never realizing that he is stepping inside the trap carefully orchestrated for him.
It is after he has been infected that realization starts to dawn on Phil. But by then, it’s too late. He has spent his entire life carefully avoiding Anthrax. Peter knew this and chose it for that reason. It’s also possible that he used Anthrax because it’s the easiest way to avoid culpability.
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