The Power of the Dog ending explained: does Peter kill Phil?

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This article reveals the explained plot and the detailed events in the Jane Campion’s movie The Power of the Dog, revealing its meaning, symbols and storyline. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

The Power of the Dog was released in 2021, based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, but the gestation was complicated: the shooting was interrupted when the pandemic exploded in early 2020 and New Zealand entered a lockdown without exception. In a symbolic battle against all odds, the film managed to be nominated for all major competitions, winning, among other things, the Academy Award for Best Director and the Golden Globe for Best Picture.

The biblical meaning

Under the setting of a western in which each character hides a shadow, the film represents a hidden story of revenge against human wickedness. The title of the film comes from the biblical Psalm 22:20, read by the son Peter at the end of the film:

“Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.”

The passage is a reference to the evil forces that threaten life and represents a request to God for protection from wickedness. The message therefore represents a clear key to the film, revealing the answer to the doubt that remains after the vision, namely: does Phil, the cowboy played by Benedict Cumberbatch, dies of an accident, or the death was actually caused by Peter in an intentional manner?

The ending explained

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The ending shows through several elements how Peter actually killed Phil. At the funeral, the doctor explains to George that Phil most likely died of anthrax poisoning, which sounds strange to George, who knows how careful Phil was. In the final scene, Peter wields gloves on the rope that Phil made for him. Then he watches his mother getting out of the carriage with George. The two embrace. Peter turns and smiles, satisfied with the idea that from now on his mother will be fine, no longer subjugated by the presence of Phil, who with her presence put great psychological pressure on the woman.

The plan by which Peter kills Phil slowly takes effect. Peter is studying medicine and therefore has all the necessary knowledge to carry out a poisoning without anyone suspecting him. The relationship of confidence that is created in the second part of the film, sincerely wanted by Phil, is the ideal precondition for allowing him to implement the plan. It is Peter who collects the blood of dead cattle, in a separate scene of the film. And it is Peter who offers Phil the skins that he himself had prepared. In the night scene where Phil ends the rope, he dips his hand with the open wound in the water in which the ropes were soaked, and in that way the wound becomes infected.

Throughout the film there are elements where it is clear that Peter would go out of his way to see his mother happy. It is clear to him that his mother suffers terribly from Phil’s presence, and his alcoholism problem is associated with his relationship with Phil (Peter explains to Phil that his first mother did not drink earlier). In order to do something for her mother, following the statement at the beginning of the film in which Peter explains that every action has always been aimed at making her feel good, Peter slowly puts his plan into action.

The removed scene

There is an additional scene that had been shot and then discarded by the director, a scene that made the explanation of the ending even more explicit: in that scene the camera paused on one of the study books on Peter’s desk, until it highlights the definition of anthrax on an open page. The scene reflects a similar reference in the book and makes explicit the link between the way Phil died (anthrax poisoning) and the insights made by the young Peter.

The Power of the Dog therefore becomes a double point of view on human wickedness, which can take on both the appearance of a rough and aggressive cowboy, and those of a boy with innocent appearances able to plan a murder so cunningly and precisely.