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Why Jane Campion Deserves an Oscar for The Power of the Dog

If I see a piano, I think of Jane Campion. If I think of Jane Campion, I think of wind whistling through a wide-open space carrying “tangible” ominosity. Campion’s 8th feature, The Power of the Dogis exquisitely crafted and framed, executed by a filmmaker at her fiercest, most razor-sharp, and unforgiving.

Champion (The Piano, Bright Star, Top of the Lake) was 16, traveling much with her family when her father got them a 16 mm camera one day. She was instantly fascinated by it and borrowed the little machine as much as possible. At art school, Campion was making super 8 mm movies following chapters in a textbook, and due to having had the “training” with 16 mm, she immediately felt she had confidence and an edge to her work.


The filmmaker is a great example of why believing in yourself and freeing yourself from creative – or any – fear are essential. She learned her craft by doing and by never ceasing to be playful. Campion is currently raising money for a tuition-free, pop-up film school in New Zealand. As she says, she is desperate to give back and make film schools affordable again.

Her most recent work, The Power of the Dog, is a touching, tragic portrayal of a man who is not understood and accepted by himself. Above all, it is a story about the importance of authenticity. After making Oscars history by becoming the first woman nominated twice for Best Director, here is why Jane Campion deserves the award.

About The Power of the Dog

Sill Frame from The Power of the Dog

The film is set in 1925 somewhere out in Montana (New Zealand steps in as a double for the location). Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) stands like a mirage in the center of the film. He is one of the last ones from the faded times of pre-Census Bureau when the Frontier was still open and cowboys were breaking horses and running ranches. He has built a classical cowboy image for himself throughout his life. He barely takes baths, castrates bull calves with a blade and his bare hands, bullies all creatures, constantly “plays the macho card” or his banjo, drinks anyone under the table, and recounts an endless number of fantastic stories about cowboy adventures filled old -school Frontier sentiments.

Phil and his brother George (Jesse Plemons) live on the farm their parents gave them. The two of them represent two different worlds. One is a modest well-educated man who drives a car and would help old ladies across the street, while the other makes us squirm with every one of his moves and would push old ladies down the stairs in the subway even if he was not in a hurry.

Campion masters at building such an intense atmosphere that we, as viewers, feel the sun beating down on us, the dust, and the smell of unbathed bodies swirling up in our noses and hear herds of galloping horses. The plot catapults once George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), who owns a small restaurant, struggling to make ends meet with her teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Rose moves into the Burbank house, where she is soon troubled by Phil’s haunting presence, jealousy, and unseen ghosts from the past. Her slow sinking into a world of inner conflicts, isolation, paranoia, and fear resemble schemes of classics such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) or Cukor’s Gaslight (1944).

Related: Best Benedict Cumberbatch Movies, RankedThe Power of the Dog is an exciting ride, which is kept on its track by the tension between opposing characters, especially Peter and Phil. One is deeply vulnerable on the surface, covering his many strengths, courage, and confidence. At the same time, the other seems to be the toughest guy around whom, in reality, suppresses his authenticity and true emotional self. Phil is a sadist trying to compensate for his own “weakness” by being brutal to others. However, this way of living only works for a certain period of time. All projections come to an end.

The film is based on the novel by the uncrowned king of Western literature, Thomas Savage, who lived out on a ranch in Montana with his mother, her second husband, and the husband’s gruesome brother. This sounds like a familiar setup, right? Savage was a closeted gay man with a poetic soul who, in this fictionalized but highly personal story, set out to explore machoism, masculinity, femininity, and the danger of suppressing any emotion.

All Hail the Queen


Campion is fascinated by literature. Her first feature, Sweetie (1989), was based on a novel by Gerard Lee, and Bright Star (2009) was adapted to the screen from a Keats biography written by Andrew Motion. As a matter of fact, Campion claims it was the Brontë Sisters who had the most influence on her as an artist.

This time, Campion made a movie that goes way beyond the “boundaries” of its genre. She managed to turn it into a fascinating study on gender, patriarchy, identity, and characters. The Power of the Dog is outstanding as a movie in its own right and as a piece that redefines Westerns and slams the door on all prejudices that audiences may have against the genre.

Campion opened up about her struggles while preparing for her Oscar-worthy new project. She has recently told a reporter of the Stockholm International Film Festival with refreshing honesty, “I found the pre-production actually really difficult because there was so much stress about parts of the project I really did not have much control on. For instance, the weather. If the weather was like this then we might have a river that we could not use. If there was too much rain, the river would be a torrent, and he could not swim in it. If we got too much sun, the river would dry out. I mean, there were just so many variables, and we did not have much wriggle room for making adjustments… I just remember feeling really anxious all the time about what the weather was going to be like. “

Related: These Are the Best New Movies Netflix Made in 2021She added, “We also had to build this really huge ranch house. We chose a place to build cause its landscape. The place got the highest wind of anywhere in the whole of the country, so we had to build it super strong. It was very, very hard to build because, you know, they would be trying to carry a big piece of ply, and it would literally just fly off. And I would visit that place sometimes, and it was so bitter and so cold and so windy I did not even want to get out of the van. Actually, they had to push me out … And I was just thinking, ‘I do not see how this is going to happen, I do not see how they are going to get finished. ‘ I remember talking to the head carpenter and saying, ‘Are we going to make this?’ and he’d say, ‘I do not know. I do not know if it’s going to get done.’ And so I just went and reported back to production saying, ‘Guys, are you sure we’re on schedule for this? I think we need more people.’ “

“It was like carrying all the weight of those stresses. It was difficult and made me a bit sick. I felt like I could not sleep very well and things like that. It was stressful. And when the shoot begins, it’s like, you can unload some of your burden. But on this film, the part I really enjoyed was the editing. I think it was such a relief from all the worries and concerns and the pandemic, just everything. In the edit, I was just there with one-two people in a scummy room, feeling like, ‘Oh, now we can be just gently quietly creative’ and think about yummy lunches we were going to get. “

Campion’s latest work is an uncompromising, towering piece made through sweat and tears. She never fails to create much melancholy, malevolence, and solitude with outstanding elegance, sensuality, and poeticism. The Power of the Dog and her vision is supported by a wonderful cast and crew, from Grant Major’s set design to Ari Wegner’s visuals. Through light, texture, and elements of nature, she invites us into a world where her fantastic actors are all so submerged that they explore the depths of their characters effortlessly.

Campion is the clear champion of this awards season. All Hail the Queen.

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