If I was asked at some dinner party “Why does The Power of the Dog have to win Best Picture?”, my most immediate, honest response would be “well, because The Worst Person in the World is not in the same category.” However, this does not mean, under any circumstance, that Jane Campion’s exquisite adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel is not worth the highest recognitions and praises it can possibly get.
My very much respected colleague Ignacio García disagrees with me on this one (which is heartbreaking, having his beloved Spain been so important in the history of westerns). In an at-least-shocking-to-me article, García seems to suggest that the only reason to like Campion’s dainty, powerful drama is to pass as “woke.” He even goes so far as to state that Campion is trying to “deconstruct” the genre, which is rather far-fetched and unfair.
Firstly, The Power of the Dog can’t be reduced to one single tag, as it is much more than a western (implying that every film with cowboys is a western is like thinking that every movie with Italians is a “mafia movie”). The Power of the Dog is a poignant depiction of jealousy, estrangement, bonding, and family.
The Power of the Dog addresses (and explores) extremely complex, yet common, contradictions of the human soul and our so often petty nature. I’m not saying that a western cannot achieve this, I’m just adding a humble “not this way.”
If García, then, chose the Sam Elliott side of life, he should consider the fact that he might be missing the point.
García later goes on to say that The Power of the Dog is a film “made by and for women.” Wow. The Power of the Dog was, yes, adapted and directed by Jane Campion (whose credentials as a filmmaker need no introduction) and its DP is the masterful Ari Wegner (García, sadly, doesn’t mention Wegner, but in all fairness, he does admit that the film’s photography is “excellent”). Now, how come these two facts mean that The Power of the Dog’s main target is women? My favorite movies in history were made by men, is he implying this shouldn’t have been the case because I don’t have a penis? I fail to see the correlation here.
As a woman (there, there: I said it), I couldn’t care less if a film is written or directed by a fellow girl, a man, or a cactus: I want it to be good because time is my most precious possession and I can’t afford to waste it on minutiae.
García’s snobbism fears, nonetheless, may be well-founded. Too often we have heard the good, old, and lame “you didn’t like it because you didn’t get it.” I don’t think García has comprehension issues, I won’t explain the movie to him.
I sense that García, like me, appreciated the film’s wonderful circular structure, with its mirroring opening and closing shots; its majestic portrayal of country life (and you’re reading someone who has actually witnessed a bull’s castration, so I should know) and its impeccable performances.
Further, I know García is not a “cinema misogynist.” I know for a fact that he loves Mary Harron’s American Psycho, and he defended Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart when I fiercely criticized it. I ignore what kind of strange wasp stung him with The Power of the Dog, but as it is a film for the decades to come, I hope it will somehow grow in him.
Now, to answer my initial question, The Power of the Dog has to win Best Picture on Sunday (I don’t watch the Oscars, but as I love cinema, of course, I’ll read the results first thing in the morning) simply because it’s a superb movie; it’s everything filmmaking should be. Is it the best film of the year? No, that is — in my opinion— The Worst Person in the World, which, being Norwegian, won’t be properly awarded by the Academy. But other than Trier’s work, there’s no real competitor.
And I, unlike García, can negotiate for less than perfect.