Warning: The following article contains spoilers for The Power of the Dog‘s ending.
One of the reasons The Power of the Dog is so, well, powerful, is because of its ending. Director Jane Campion found a way to adapt the novel to make the ending a tad more mysterious, while still hitting all of the major plot points.
The ending involves Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Phil giving a hand-crafted rope to Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Peter in a touching moment, but what Phil doesn’t know, is something that Peter does: the rope itself is diseased.
The murder is underplayed in the movie, so it’s not completely obvious what’s happening. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, editor Peter Sciberras talked about how they shaped that particular ending, and what choices were made.
“The last act has been heading to this moment where these men are finally together, and there’s a lot of crafting their relationship to get to that moment in a way that was hopefully incredibly tense, both dangerously and sexually.”
The editor said the dichotomy between the tenderness of the scene and the murder was important to get right.
“It was important that it felt really sensual. It’s an ‘extending the moment before the first kiss’ idea,” he said.
Also, the way the braiding of the rope was shot was very intentional as well. Then the camera pulls to a shot of horses, instead of letting the scene between the two play out. This, again, was intentional and, per Sciberras,
“…important for the audience to not see too much of how that scene actually ends. These horses are knowing creatures that were nearby and have more information than the audience, but also it gives the audience space to wonder [how the night ended] and transition us into the next morning. That wasn’t in the script; that was something Jane and I felt we needed.”
The next scene takes place the following morning, and Sciberras said two different versions of the scene were shot – one where Phil comes downstairs, and one where he does not.
“It was far more interesting to not see [Phil and Peter] and wonder where they are and what’s happening,” he said.
There was another big change at the very end; the filmmakers almost included a scene after Peter’s mother, played by Kirsten Dunst, returns from the memorial, wherein the camera would slowly pan over Peter’s desk to a medical dictionary left open to an entry on anthrax, Sciberras said.
“That was the last shot, which is the same way the novel ends. It was so clear that it was the only thing you would think about when we cut to black. [But] Jane’s such a layered filmmaker that she really wanted to leave the audience with much bigger questions. … It was a really brave call to make.”
The Power of the Dog is now streaming on Netflix.