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‘The Power of the Dog’ | Anatomy of a Scene


Hello. I’m Jane Campion. I’m the screenwriter and director of ‘The Power of the Dog.’ This is the scene I call the love scene. It’s a scene that happens in the barn at night with Phil, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and Peter, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. It’s really a scene I love very much, because it’s a culmination of their relationship. And so many different parts of the film that really have been seeded right from the very beginning coming together, like the completion of the rope with all its freighted meanings, the change of the relationship between Peter and Phil towards intimacy, and then the surprising power shift from Phil to Peter as Peter boldly holds out the cigarette to Phil’s lips, then to his own, and the laying out of the murder scene. The aim for me in directing the scene was to find a way to really build tension as Peter watches Phil finishing the rope. And this is something Phil has actually asked him to do. Will you watch me finish the rope? It’s a kind of vulnerability that, actually, Phil shows towards him. Here, we’re seeing the moment where the actual murder scene has been hinted at, when Phil’s wound pinks the water. And it’s also a scene where I added a lot, a lot of details during the filming of it and later. But this shot here was the one that made me really excited, like, just doing this move of focus pulls between Peter, the rope, Phil’s hands played in it at his crotch. And pulling back to Peter as he’s watching it. And then, he goes over to Bronco Henry’s saddle and begins to fiddle with that, which is actually a way of Peter subversively flirting with Phil, because anybody touching Bronco’s saddle, especially Peter, is probably eroticizing for Phil. And you know, it’s interesting that these saddles, they have so many— all the spurs actually, kind of little romantic aspects inside the little silver heart and the actual spurs themselves. You know? “How old were you when you met Bronco Henry?” “About the age you are now.” Phil and Peter are really sensing each other out here. Phil’s not really sure, I don’t think, whether Peter is aware of the atmosphere, because Peter’s really hard to read. And he starts a story about Bronco Henry and himself when they got caught out in a storm to illustrate how their friendship actually was not only the most important friendship in his life, but the one that saved his life. And he talks about lying body to body in a body roll together. And you know, meanwhile, fingering the rope and all the other erotic objects in this scene. And Peter asks— “Naked?” Which is the really important moment for me and especially the way these great actors work with the lines and with what’s happening. Here, we just see the rope that Peter has made being inserted into the main rope. And so it becomes a rope that they both made together. And initially, the scene didn’t have dialogue in it. In fact, it wasn’t even in the book. But Benedict really resisted the idea of the dialogue. And actually, initially, I had thought it shouldn’t have dialogue too. I thought it should just have Jonny Greenwood’s beautiful music and it would kind of be a moment where it would be really strong. However, Benedict and I came to a kind of compromise, where we just used the most innocent of the dialogue. You know, nothing really suggestive, but just something simple, like innocent questions. And the scene is setting out a lot of complicated things. But the most important, I think, is that it’s erotic and tense. And this moment, when they are actually sharing the cigarette, Peter gives him this little smile, where we know that he knows he has Phil. And we move on here to the horses, with the horns still playing. And these are raw animals. I think they’re very sexy in a way, because of just how natural they are and seeing them in these details and their strength and beauty and the intimacy that they have with each other is, I think, incredibly important as well.



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MD Abdullah
Abdullah is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson. She is the author of four books, including End Financial Stress Now and The Five Years Before You Retire.
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