Tag Archives: Jane Campion

The Power of the Dog: The Book vs The Movie

Believe it or not, it has been about six months since I last talked about the novel and Netflix Oscar Nominee The Power of the Dog. While I had a few ideas for possible posts, motivation and ideas had stagnated. However, if there was one thing I hadn’t considered doing at the time, despite having read the book not long after seeing the movie, was doing a comparison between the book and movie. Because while the movie did keep pretty close to the book, there were a few differences between the two.

Similarities

Starting off with similarities between the two, as an adaptation, the movie does hold true to elements of the book its based on. There’s the story, characters, and the relationship between said characters.

As for story, it does follow the book pretty faithfully, save for the events behind the death of Rose’s husband and Peter’s father, which I will get to momentarily. It still tells the story of two brothers who are quite different and how George ends up marrying Rose after the death of her husband. And Phil’s torment her throughout is still a prevalent factor.

There’s also how Phil treats Peter throughout the movie. Starting out with picking on/tormenting Peter to the slight shift where he decides to take Peter under his wing (which to some degree was kind of a ploy to isolate Rose). Then it gets to where Phil seems to see a lot of Bronco Henry, a man Phil looked up to and was close to, in Peter.

The characters were pretty consistent from the novel to the movie. How opposing Phil and George are is still there. As is how Rose and Peter react to them.

The focus put on the mountain range, how Phil views Bronco Henry, and the eccentricities of Peter that were pretty accurate. And while the movie has some areas where it has quiet pauses, I think that body language could be used in place of some of the introspective the book had.

Overall, The Power of the Dog as a movie was a pretty faithful adaptation. It kept the characters consistent from the book to the movie, kept the interactions and relationships intact, and it followed the story pretty faithfully minus one or two scenes. However, for how faithful it was, I do feel that it had one or two key differences between the two.

Differences

The main differences would be the details behind the death of Rose’s husband, how that might effect Peter from the viewer’s perspective, and how it uses the third person perspective the novel.

When it comes to the overarching perspective from Phil’s point of view, there are a few instances in the book where it feels like there is more of a focus from Phil’s point of view. Now, the book is written in the third person, so it can lend itself to not having to worry about focusing one character. However, there are a few instances of Third Person Limited perspective, which is where it feels like it focuses mostly on one character.

It does this in two different ways. The first few chapters, where it focuses on Rose’s family and her husband. There it sets up what readers will come to expect with Rose’s family. There’s also a period where it focuses on everybody, or who the scene may call for, like when Rose is moving in with George. Then, at some point, it does feel like this limited third perspective falls on Phil, later on in the book. An example being towards the climax when Peter and Phil are in the farm working on the rope, where it has him reflecting on the last time he was close with anyone (excluding his brother).

In the movie, viewers get a general third person perspective. Some scenes will focus on George and Phil, George and Rose, Rose and Peter, and Phil and Peter, depending on what the scene calls for. If I had to give the movie a character it might have given more of an overarching focus on, it would be Phil. Because, regardless of the fact that Phil is inherently the antagonist of the story, it seems like he is a driving force and focus of what goes on as the story progresses.

Also worth mentioning is the Native American family. If I recall correctly, it was a father and son or grandfather and grandson duo. In the movie, they do have a few scenes, the one where Rose gives them the leather, which Phil was adamant about not selling to them, being the important one. This family does have a few more scenes in the book, with this aforementioned exchange happening as well. I thought I should include that, because while this Native American family does show up, they did have a little more development in the book.

The biggest difference does come in the form of Peter’s father and how that might affect how people perceive Peter in the movie. In the movie, viewers will learn that Peter’s father took his own life. This event shown and is only mentioned in a conversation he and Phil have.

This conversation still happens in the novel. However, the novel addressed this within the first few chapters of it. It sets up who his father is and how he was a doctor and what the motive behind his death was. In the novel, we learn that he does worry about Peter, who at the time wasn’t as healthy as he could be, and was a target of Phil’s jokes. Which was something that had been prevalent in the book later on as well as in the movie when Peter and Rose are living with George.

Without spoiling too much, Peter’s father was worried about Peter, and comments about Peter being a “sissy” were something that really bothered him. And like it was referenced in the later scene in the book and movie, Peter was the one to find his body.

The reason I say that this can effect how viewers might breakdown Peter’s character. I had seen a case made that Peter might have been something of a sociopath and/or having a hand in his father’s death. In the case of him being a sociopath, I’m not entirely sure if that was the case, since I feel like what he did later on in the story could have been a form of trauma response and wanting to protect his mother, who didn’t really stand much of a chance when it came to Phil’s torment. However, that may depend on who you talk to.

As far as Peter having a hand in his father’s death, I can see how that could have been assumed or considered in the movie. Because of how his father’s death is addressed and Peter’s actions later on, along with the theory that Peter might be a sociopath, I could see why some viewers might have deduced that he could have been responsible. That’s not necessarily the fault of the movie, but because viewers never got to see what happened to his father, it could leave itself up to interpretation. Had the movie included a scene addressing his father, be it a scene at the beginning with a time jump to when the movie actually starts or a flashback, I think it might have helped explain things just a little more.

In conclusion, the major differences in the film include how the third person perspective seems to be used and the scene expanding on what happened to Peter’s father. As well as a scene or two more with the Native American family.

Conclusion

Overall, as an adaptation, I would say 2021’s The Power of the Dog Netflix adaptation was a solid and faithful adaptation. It followed a lot of the core elements of the novel it was based on. And though it might not have included some of the context behind the death of Peter’s father, I don’t think that hurt the movie. Though it could lead to some differing interpretations of Peter. All in all, though, I would say it was a pretty faithful adaptation.

Peter Gordon, Trauma, and Psychology: The Power of the Dog Introspective

Trauma. It can have an array of effects on people including nightmares, fear, and depression, among other responses. In media, it can be used to explore a type of trauma and/or to help the character grow. It’s not uncommon, yet not an everyday occurrence.

In The Power of the Dog, both the book and movie, it’s something Peter Gordon, one of the main characters is familiar with. The death of his father. Having seen his father’s lifeless body after he killed himself, which the book goes into more detail on, to say that Peter was effected by it might be an understatement.

Then comes the Burbank brothers. While George is a wonderful gentleman, it’s his brother Phil who makes the home a bit more hostile.

They way his father’s death not only effected him personally, but how he perceives his duty. Because he never really had a father figure in between his father’s death and Rose’s marriage to George, he in some ways had to grow up and take care of his family. And though not as expressive or emotional, readers and viewers never really get to see how he grieved. If he did.

Through various quotes and moments, I wanted to take a deep dive into Peter Gordon as a character. Mainly how things like his father’s death, alcoholism in the family, and Phil may have contributed to some form of trauma.

“When my father passed, I wanted nothing more than my mother’s happiness. For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her?”

-Peter Gordon (The Power of the Dog)

The movie starts off with this quote. Because of the death of his father, Peter essentially was the “man of the house” and was in charge of making sure his mother was safe. This also foreshadows how he approaches Phil later on in the story, specifically more towards the end, giving what he did more motive.

He has to worry about his mother, since he is all she had until she marries George Burbank. And when she does get married, he still worries about her.

While Peter did become independent, his relationship with Rose could be seen as a form of parentification. He genuinely loves his mother and wants to protect her, because of his father’s death. However, in some ways, Peter had essentially become a caretaker for Rose.

Parentification is defined as a child taking on the role of parent for other children and/or parents. There are two main subsections in parentification: instrumental and emotional parentification. Instrumental is where the child performs duties that might normally fall on parents, like making dinner for the household, taking care of sick family members, and taking other children to and from school. Emotional parentification is when the child takes on the role of emotional confidant/counselor/caretaker to their parents.

I would say that Peter could suffer from a combination of both. Because while he does care for his mother and had cause to confront Phil on her behalf, he shouldn’t have been required to. And while Peter was mature for his age, he was still a sixteen year old who was dealing with the lose of his father with his mother. He shouldn’t have had to with him being sixteen, but he did. Things were also much different in the 1920’s too.

While I am not a psychologist, I can’t say that he does exhibit that behavior. However, I could see how Peter could have developed a sense of parentification after his father’s death. The trauma of losing his father and how Phil treated her could have culminated into something along those lines.

“…Yeah, your father. I guess he hit the bottle pretty hard. The booze.

Until right at the very end, then he hung himself. I found him, cut him down. … He used to worry I wasn’t kind enough. Then I was too strong.

You, too strong? Huh! He got that wrong. Poor kid. Things will work out for you yet.”

-Phil Burbank and Peter Gordon (Power of the Dog)

At this point of the movie, Peter is back home for the summer and finds himself essentially under Phil Burbank’s guidance. The man, who for the most part, was belligerent to his mother and picked on Peter, wants to start over by helping Peter and get to know him. During a moment of peace, the two end up discussing Rose, Peter’s mother, and her alcoholism. This discussion takes a turn when Phil asks about his father, resulting in the excerpt above.

The alcoholism is discussed, but rather it being a tale of abusive alcoholics, it’s more a tale of how depression and distress can lead to it. While his parents’ alcoholism might not have effected Peter in the way of physical or emotional abuse, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t effect him in the long run. Whether that be in the form of inheriting their alcoholic tendencies or being completely turned off by drinking entirely.

Essentially, while not being abused due to a drunken rage, it could have caused Peter to be turned off from it. Seeing what happened to his father and how his mother fell into a drunken state because of Phil, he could have hated how it effected the people close to him. And seeing the spiral it caused, it could have made him hate it and maybe fear losing people because of it.

Antisocial Personality Disorder as a Result of Trauma

Antisocial Personality Disorder, also commonly referred to as sociopathy, can be defined as someone who has a hard time in social settings, may have a hard time caring for right and wrong, and can be seen as manipulative. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is a term that was used to describe sociopathy, however ASPD is a bit more complex than that.

While I am not a psychology major, I do like to look into psychology from time to time. Especially if I want to better understand a condition. When it comes to ASPD, I’ve found that there doesn’t seem to be one set definition or ruling on the condition. DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental defines it as

Do I Think Peter is a Sociopath?

Yes and No

I feel this really comes down to how the character is interpreted. Some might say that he was a sociopath given the nature of his plan and/or sympathizing a bit with Phil given where his character ended up. Some might say no, because of Peter’s motivation and Phil’s antagonistic behavior towards Rose.

One thing that could add to a viewer’s interpretation of Peter is Peter’s father. While the movie addresses that he dies, viewers are never really shown what lead up to it. As such, it could be easier to infer that Peter had no qualms with killing Phil and how he could have been behind his father’s death.

I have also seen the case made that Peter could have autism, and how the director, Jane Campion, may have brought that to the foreground of his character. ASPD, Autism, and Psychopathy, while all different conditions, do have some overlap in symptoms. Similar to how ADHD and autism may have similar or overlapping traits. Yet, despite the similarities, an individual can have one or both.

In the case of Peter Gordon, I think he has ASPD, but isn’t a sociopath. Because while his actions may have been manipulative, may not be as empathetic, and crosses a line of morality, his motives weren’t out of indifference. Rather out of love.

Because while he nay have a hard time expressing emotion, it was out of love and a sense of duty to keep his mother safe. Based on my interpretation of the character, and with the general research I did, I would say that Peter has a comorbid (two or more conditions diagnosed in an individual) diagnosis of autism and anti-social personality disorder.

Autism would help explain things like areas of his interest in becoming a doctor and the repeated behavior with running his thumb through the teeth of the comb in a repetitive and relaxing way (stimming). The manipulative tactic he used and disregard for whether it was right or wrong could be explained by anti-social personality disorder. While both could explain why he seems emotionless, not particularly social, and seen as awkward in social interact.

It might not be a perfect diagnosis, but it is a reasonable explanation. With Campion putting it to the foreground according to some sources and some of his behaviors being associated with it, it’s not hard to see why he would have autism. And with the movie taking place in the 1920’s, it wouldn’t have been diagnosed and could have been a factor in people making fun of him. Not because he should have been made fun of for it, but because understanding of autism wasn’t as understood back then as it is today.

As for anti-social personality disorder, I believe the death of his father is what triggered it. While the movie doesn’t show what happened to his father, it’s understandable if people would see Peter as more of a sociopath and possibly killed his father. However, if someone has read the book, it does state that his father took his own life. Whether he had autism or not, seeing that at a young age would have effected him negatively. I suspect that seeing this was what pushed him into the quiet, introverted state readers and viewers got to see. I also think it could have been what caused him to feel it was his duty to go as far as he did to protect his mother. conclusion

Conclusion

With everything Peter has been through, I believe he has had his fair share if trauma and struggles. From the death of his father to the way Phil treated Rose, he probably had some baggage. He felt like it was his duty to keep his mother safe, he probably had animosity towards alcohol, and due to seeing how his father died probably contributed to an ASPD diagnosis on top of a possible autism diagnosis.

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