The Power of the Dog: The Rope as a Metaphor for Freedom

The rope, usually associated with bondage, brings freedom into the lives of the characters
The Power of the Dog: The Rope as a Metaphor for Freedom

The Power of the Dog by Jane Campion is not what you would expect from a traditional western narrative. Based on the novel by the same name, the film changes its setting but does not let it affect the way it tells the story.

The most interesting thing about The Power of the Dog is its subtlety. The film questions the traditional norms regarding what being a man really means ingeniously. The three primary male figures in the movie, Phil, George and Peter, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee respectively, bring forth distinctly different kinds of masculinity and their own understanding of being a man. Phil's character appears as a representation of the textbook masculine man who has no time for emotions and lives by his work, who likes to drink and unnecessarily make fun of boys who seem 'effeminate' — in this case, Peter. George on the other hand allows himself more leeway; he is someone who would like to have a family and settle down in the embrace of gentle comfort. Peter seems to be innocent and weak but there is something about his character that tells us, from the very beginning, that he is not exactly who he appears to be.

The film uses various inanimate objects to deliver important details about the story to its viewers. The obvious ones were, of course, the handkerchief of Bronco Henry that Phil cannot let go of and the nude male pictures in Phil's box that give away his homosexuality. Amid these, the usage of the rope was particularly interesting. The film, being the subversive piece of art that it is, uses the rope, something that is generally associated with bondage, as a symbol of freedom. Peter mentions to Phil that his father had hanged himself. His father, an alcoholic, died by suicide by hanging himself and it was Peter who had cut him down. The rope that had killed his father freed his mother from a marriage to an alcoholic and she eventually ended up with George, a good man who intended to take good care of her. However, Phil's presence in the house drives Rose to alcohol, something she had never touched before. This concerns Peter and he promises his mother that he will make sure she does not have to be the way she is now.

It is quite symbolic how Peter does that. He starts bonding with Phil as they gradually begin to understand each other, only to kill him with anthrax through a rope that Phil was crafting for him. In both the cases with his father and Phil, it is the involvement of the ropes that kills them and makes life easier for Rose. And in both cases, Peter takes a part in that; in the former case as someone who arrives after everything has been done and in the second one, as the one who orchestrates everything. The rope remains a constant in both situations; ensuring the death of the men who stood in the way of Rose's happiness.

The rope here brings freedom into the lives of the characters instead of causing them suffocating bondage. After Phil's death, everyone in the family, including his own parents heave a sigh of relief, as they finally start bonding with Rose and things seem to fall into their place. The rope here neatly ties the relationships up and makes way for a life of freedom.

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