'The Power of the Dog' Story And Ending, Explained: Spoiler Alert

The Power of the Dog Benedict Cumberbatch Phil Burbank Netflix

So, you have heard about “The Power of the Dog,” and you have questions. If you are wondering about the story or want to get the ending explained, you have come to the right place. Before getting into any spoilers, it is important to begin by stating that the movie is an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name.

Cut to 2021, and “The Power of the Dog” is one of the movies currently burning up the charts on Netflix (review here). Directed by Jane Campion, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil, a hard-nosed rancher whose close relationship with his brother is tested when said brother gets married. Faced with integrating his brother’s new wife, Rose, into their life, Phil instead wages a campaign of psychological warfare against her.

It all escalates when Rose’s teenage son, Peter, comes back home from school for the summer. Earlier on in “The Power of the Dog,” Phil derides Peter to the point that he brings the young man to tears. Upon re-meeting his step-uncle, Peter and Phil’s relationship takes a surprising turn.

(Whoa there, cowboy. Spoilers for the story and the ending of “The Power of the Dog” gets explained beyond this point.)

The Power of the Dog Peter Gordon Kodi Smit-McPhee Phil Burbank Benedict Cumberbatch Netflix
Kirsty Griffin / Netflix

The Main Story, Revealed

In a scene, “The Power of the Dog” reveals that the late Bronco Henry was more than a mentor to Phil. The pair were lovers, and Phil is still heartbroken over the loss of his love. He still remembers Bronco Henry by virtue of his handkerchief, which Phil keeps hidden in a clandestine part of his person at all times.

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It is on this fateful day that “Power of the Dog” reveals that Peter also finds a hidey-hole and decides to explore further. He eventually comes upon Phil’s stash of magazines with pictures of male models. Peter continues into the thicket and discovers Phil bathing in a pond. An outraged Phil spots Peter and follows after him but does not catch up to him.

The Power of the Dog Jesse Plemons George Burbank Kirsten Dunst Rose Gordon Burbank Netflix
Kirsty Griffin / Netflix

A Turning of the Tide

If you thought learning this information would make Phil even harder on Peter, think again. Phil is actually (gasp) nice to him. Rose notices and is surprised by the change in their relationship, and speaking of shifts, Peter notices that his mother’s dependence on alcohol is severe. Peter rightfully assesses this is Phil’s fault and sets about a quiet psychological war of his own, this one against Phil.

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“The Power of the Dog” begins to simmer as Peter sees the shadow of a dog in the nearby mountain that faces the house. Phil is stunned as no one else has rightfully guessed what he sees there. At first, it seems like Phil is just playing with Peter to see how much he knows before it becomes clear he is genuinely seeking a friend or something more.

The Power of the Dog Benedict Cumberbatch Phil Burbank Netflix
Cross City Films Limited / Netflix

The Plot Thickens

Phil reveals to Peter that Bronco Henry saved his life and goes a lot deeper in sharing his life with Peter than he does anyone else in the film. In a moving gesture, Phil also begins making a rope for Peter. “The Power of the Dog” seems to hint at the possibility that Peter can be to Phil what Phil was to Bronco Henry.

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Despite the potential, Peter is plotting something. He goes out and collects anthrax from the tissue of a diseased cow, then he waits. In a serendipitous development for Peter, Phil has gotten a gash in his hand, and Rose later sells a bunch of hides that she is told Phil is only planning to burn. Phil is furious with Rose because he wants them to finish Peter’s rope.

The Power of the Dog Peter Gordon Kodi Smit-McPhee Netflix
Kirsty Griffin / Netflix

The Deadly Ending, Explained

“The Power of the Dog” finally reaches the point it has been building to for two hours. Peter offers the hide he had taken from the diseased cow to Phil to finish his rope. Phil is genuinely moved and puts his hands down in the water with the diseased cow’s hide. The hint is clear.

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Phil awakens the next morning, deathly ill. He ultimately dies, and a doctor later tells George, Phil’s cause of death appears to be anthrax poisoning. George is perplexed as Phil was meticulous about sick cattle. Nevertheless, the case seems destined to go nowhere, as George turns his focus to his now-healthy wife.

The Power of the Dog Phil Burbank Benedict Cumberbatch Peter Gordon Kodi Smit-McPhee Netflix
Cross City Films Limited / Netflix

The Last Scene, Explained

In case you had any doubt, “The Power of the Dog” confirms that Peter murdered Phil. The last scene shows Peter pulling out the rope that Phil finished with gloved hands. He rubs it somewhat gently before putting it back under his bed. Has he kept it as a souvenir?

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It seems feasible that Phil might not be Peter’s last victim. Peter killed a little rabbit without any feeling earlier in the film. The choice to have murdered Phil does not appear to weigh on him. Peter did seem to have genuine feelings for Phil as much as Peter could. However, he prioritized his mother. That said, Peter’s behavior also borders on psychopathic.

The ending scene of “The Power of the Dog” shows Peter looking out a window and seeing his mother in happy spirits. Before she and George go inside the house, they share a gentle kiss. Peter smiles at the sight and seems satisfied with the ending he has designed. However, how much genuine affection he had for Phil is once again a question mark.

The Power of the Dog Kirsten Dunst Rose Gordon Burbank Netflix
Cross City Films Limited / Netflix

The “Power of the Dog” Title, Explained

Before the movie ends, Peter goes to read Psalm 22:20 from a Book of Common Prayer and the burial rite. It is in this Psalm that the title of the book and its ensuing adaptation have taken their names. Why they have is another story. But, for some clarity, it reads:

“Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.”

So, maybe Peter wants to be delivered from having to kill someone else and have Phil saved from the power of the dog? According to BibleRef.com, the meaning of the phrase of delivering “my darling from the power of the dog” is in reference to Jesus Christ getting delivered from his torment on the cross from the “dogs” that refer to humanity. Take from that what you will.

The Power of the Dog Phil Burbank Benedict Cumberbatch George Burbank Jesse Plemmons Netflix
Kirsty Griffin / Netflix

Final Thoughts On The Ending, Explained

As “The Power of the Dog” develops and shows viewers Phil’s softer side, it is clear there is more to him. I have to say that after initially seeing and not liking this movie, it has grown on me with time. It has to have a chance to settle on you, that is for sure.

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The ending is one of curiosity. Did Peter value his mom’s happiness over his own? Or did he never have any real feelings for Phil to begin with? It is tough to figure. That Peter is keeping the rope that Phil made him despite its ties to his crime leads me to think it is somewhat the former.

If you want to watch the ending of “The Power of the Dog” unfold for yourself, you can by streaming it on Netflix. There is a lot of great content to check out on the streamer while you are stopping by there.