The Power of the Dog (2021) Ending Explained – Were Phil and Bronco Henry in love?

power of the dog

Power of the Dog Plot Synopsis

The Power Of The Dog is a slow, quiet, thought provoking movie. It’s certainly not for everyone, and you absolutely need to go into this with no distractions.

The movie opens off the back of a big funeral. We don’t actually see this take place but the death of Bronco Henry weighs heavily over our characters. Like a solitary black cloud across the beautiful New Zealand skyline, the emotions are purple, bruised and ready to burst at any moment.

At the center of this bubbling pot of emotion is charismatic rancher Phil Burbank. He’s angry and wound tighter than a screw. He invokes fear and wonder in all those around him. When his brother George brings home a new wife in Rose and her “half-wit” son Peter, Phil lashes out at the changes in his life.


What happened to Peter in the past? And is he a psychopath?

After getting bullied and humiliated by Phil across the movie’s run-time, Peter strikes an unlikely bond with the rancher. While together, Phil agrees to make a lasso from rawhide as a gift.

Just prior to this conversation, Peter actually stumbled upon a whole stash of nude magazines with Bronco Henry written on the front. We’ll circle back to that in a bit, but it’s important because Phil is at his most vulnerable when Peter sees him take a bath nearby to where these magazines are hidden.

As the pair talk together in the barn later in the movie, Peter clearly sees a lot of his father in Phil. The man was cruel and unlike Phil (who is clearly a chain-smoking addict) his father was an alcoholic. Peter was the one who found his father hanging from the rafters. He cut him down and had the awful ordeal of seeing his father dead. Peter is perceived to be a timid, shy boy from the beginning but after learning this, it’s clear that he’s anything but.

While out together in the fields, Phil watches as Peter snaps the neck of a rabbit without even flinching. The action is so nonchalant that Phil actually finds himself intimidated – and maybe a little impressed – by Peter’s actions.

It could be argued that Peter is somewhat of a psychopath here. He’s very good at manipulating people’s emotions and he manages to play Phil at his own game, using his weakness surrounding Bronco Henry to outsmart him.


What causes Rose to start drink?

Peter blames Phil for his mother’s health taking a dive, claiming that Phil is the reason his mother has started to drink. Much like Peter, Rose has taken a fair brunt of psychological abuse across the movie. When she’s playing the piano and practicing for the governor, Phil taunts her by playing the banjo in unison with her. He even completely upstages her too, playing expertly from the upstairs balcony and ending it with a pretty violent strum.

When the big day arrives, Rose is so nervous and torn that she can’t play. But that doesn’t stop Phil from showing up at the eleventh hour and pointing out that she’s been practicing for days. Embarrassed in front of these esteemed guests, Phil sarcastically retorts that it’s a “shame” there’s no dancing. This leads Rose down the slippery slope of addiction.


Were Bronco Henry and Phil in love?

This is the biggest point of contention across the movie, and a surprisingly tender one too. As mentioned earlier, Phil has a soft spot for Bronco Henry. The words “a friend” are laid out above his saddle, which has a special place in the barn away from everyone else. We see Phil meticulously clean the saddle and doing so in a loving way.

Phil is also unwilling to wash-up too, a potential hint that he doesn’t want to “wash away” the touch of Bronco Henry. The nude magazines with Bronco’s name written on the front depict numerous male models inside. This, coupled with the cloth Phil holds dear, seem to hint at a secret relationship between the pair.

The cloth itself also holds the initials “B.H.” and if that wasn’t enough, Phil clearly masterbates with the cloth too, after brushing it gently across his body.

It’s fair to say that the pair were involved in a relationship together, with the secret area a potential place for them both to be together. It’s also worth pointing out that while the cowhands call Peter a faggot, the camera swiftly cuts to Phil’s face. He refuses to engage in this same name-calling, another potential hint.


Was Phil’s death foreshadowed?

Yes. During the midway point of the movie Phil and Peter look upon the hill in the distance and comment on what they see. Peter mentions he sees the shadows in the form of a dog with its jaws open. Now, black dogs have historically been connected to death, especially in European folklore. They’re also the guardians of the underworld too, keeping a close eye on those who have passed. And of course, this movie constantly refers back to Bronco Henry’s death.

Furthermore, Rose also listens as the housemaid discusses the nature of death. She speaks of a deceased that continued to grow hair even after her death, with golden locks “taking up all the room” save for some grey at the end. This makes the end scene, with Phil being shaved and free from his beard, that much more significant too. Both of these instances hint that Phil was always going to be killed.


How does Phil die? And does Peter kill Phil?

By the end of the film we learn that Phil died from anthrax. The root cause of this is not immediately clear – but there are clues dotted along the way. Earlier in the movie we learn of an anthrax outbreak that has killed several of the ranch’s cattle.

After Rose drunkenly gives away all of Phil’s rawhide, Peter senses an opportunity and strikes. He cuts away some of his own rawhide, being sure to wear gloves while doing so. This confirms that he knew the hides were infected.

When Phil learns of the rawhide being sold, Peter suggests he use his own tainted hides. After Phil cut his hands moving logs earlier on, Phil drops the infected rawhide into water; the camera shows his hands submerged in the water, complete with his open wound. This singular action starts the slippery slope toward Phil passing away.

His biggest downfall here though is the affection he shows toward Peter. Phil clearly sees a lot of Bronco Henry in Phil. He too is the only one who can see beyond the simple “it’s a hill” observation in the distance, which starts off the pair’s closer bond, with Phil commenting numerous times how Peter reminds him of Henry.

In the movie’s closing scenes, we see Peter pick up the finished braided rope with gloves on and push it gently under Phil’s bed. As he stands up, a thin smile crosses his lips. The revenge has been carried out with surgical, bone-chilling precision. Peter killed Phil, and this seems to have been his plan all along.

 

Read More: The Power of the Dog Movie Review


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20 thoughts on “The Power of the Dog (2021) Ending Explained – Were Phil and Bronco Henry in love?”

  1. Greg Wheeler, Bronco Henry was supposed to have died in 1904. This movie opens in1925.
    There’s no way the opening scene is BH’s funeral.

  2. RMac, your explanation of would make a lot of sense, except for the fact that George claims to have known him.

  3. Ummmm, Greg Wheeler?
    NO. ……just can’t say that enough after reading your summary and encapsulation of POD’s nuanced storylines and it’s characters. I’ll respectfully disagree w/your interpretation(s) on several key points, namely:
    that Peter could possibly devolve into a serial killer? Listen to the 1st words Peter speaks in the opening scene
    Funeral for BH?? Huh!!?? Where is that assumption rooted?
    That Peter “enjoyed” killing Phil? He smiled while holding the rope Phil made him? Pier was sad, emotional about the loss but as his mother’s protector, he sacrificed his feelings for her well being.
    Etc, etc, etc, etc…….

  4. Movie is so deep that will leave you wondering how the story went! It requires focus and an eye on every detail while watching. The body language every character portraits, the events, the referencing on every scenes, and the dialogues have to be digested with high degree of criticism!
    Great movie! Worth of an Oscar win! Extremely proud on how the beauty of Central Otago was showcased.
    Go kiwi!

  5. Kathy, I’m with you… I think he killed his father. He killed Phil, & he was a total wacko!!!

  6. The reviewer missed something very important. Yes, he slid the rope under the bed while wearing gloves, but it wasn’t then that he smiled and walked off. He watched out the window as his mother and her husband/Phil’s brother kissed. Seeing all is now peaceful and well, Peter smiles as he walks away from the window with the rightness of his actions confirmed. Remember, in the voiceover at the start Peter says something like “If a son cannot protect his mother then what kind of a man is he?”. He is not a psychopath. He saved his mother’s quickly deteriorating life and gave her a happy future.

  7. I initially found the film uneventful but stuck with it and now I am left with so much to consider.
    Was Peter a manipulater from the start or did he grow into it?
    Was he disgusted by his mum’s behaviour or was it his driving force?
    Was Peter always conscious of his homosexuality or did he receive enlightenment during the course of the film?
    Did he have a hand in his father’s death?
    Did he genuinely have homosexual feelings for Phil or was he simply manipulating him?
    Did his ultimate strength come from the discovery of Phil’s weakness after finding his secret hoard of magazines?
    Did he suffer the ridicule and bruises of learning to ride a horse, knowing all along he was going to use his new skill to go off and find an infected steer?
    Did he enjoy parading himself in front of the jeering men when he strutted past them to the birds’ nest?
    Why is it that the viewer, initially hating Phil, can end up feeling sorry for him, now that he’s dead and no longer a threat?
    Will Peter go on and kill again …?

  8. This movie winning an Oscar will be the equivalent of Shakespeare In Love winning over Saving Private Ryan or The Shape of Water winning over Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. Forgettable, never watched again, and sleep inducing.

  9. Random comments:
    (1) For someone who wants to be a physician, Peter sure loves to kill.
    (2) It’s shocking to learn that Phil was a Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, in the classics. How and when did Bronco Henry enter his life? Also, Phil would have seen many people like Peter at Yale. Phil would have had to be a lot like Peter — studious and smart.
    (3) Part of the shock of the ending is that we are led to believe that Phil is setting up Peter for disaster — which may have been the case, frankly — and instead Peter sets up Phil.

  10. When Peter walked thru to look at the birds & walked back unperturbed by the catcalls he was establishing his strength & fearlessness. Then he gradually seduces & tricks Phil. Brilliant.

  11. The review completely ignored the very central scene of the will scene of the 2 men smoking in the barn.. That nailed it for me, as far as who was really pulling the strings in this deception and “seduction”.

  12. I keep thinking about Peter telling Phil of his father saying something to the effect that he was two strong, that he was not kind enough. Then Phil said he got that wrong.

  13. Remember, Phil mocked the paper flowers constructed for the ranchhand’s dinner in town…where Rose was the cook and Peter, the server. Phil’s actions caused Rose to cry, upset at the way Phil treated her son. Phil’s brother George, has compassion for the mother and son, and pushes back to stand against his brother’s actions and rough cruelty.
    Peter is dissociative. Numb and detached, gentle but firm…you can see both strength and vulnerability. I felt that I could actually see the wheels turning in his mind…and WONDERED…hey, the kid has been told never to touch dead carcasses, but was cutting hide from a contaminated carcass. All the ranch hands knew to avoid touching dead diseased carcasses, like this; anthrax was a known disease to carefully avoid to protect the herd, if nothing else.

    So…this standing plan…the completion of the leather braid rope before Peter leaves for school…was a time sensitive issue for Phil. The safe skins traded off by Rose, perhaps by Peter’s prodding or suggestion? “Phil is making me a rawhide rope…he likes me”, and mom’s protective response was to prevent that or sabotage that effort. One must ask…was Peter pulling the strings all along…slow and patient…allowing his father, and then Phil, literally, enough rope to hang themselves?

  14. There is no “Bronco Henry”. We never saw a picture of Bronco Henry. Nobody else spoke of being in the live physical presence of BH, other than Phil. The ranch hands only know of BH because Phil has told them stories and adventures “with him” Phil made up “Bronco Henry” to deal with the depths of being alone and unable to express his homosexuality openly, and never had the opportunity to be in a relationship with anyone. One could even argue that BH was Phil’s alter-ego-the magazines with Bronco Henry on written on them actually belonged to Phil. He would never place his own initials on them for fear of being discovered. Phil died alone.

  15. What did it mean when Peter walked through the ranch hands. They were whistling, and teasing him. Peter walks trough with out even noticing them to look at the birds in the nest.

  16. Yes Kathleen! I immediately thought that as well when we see Peter put that rope away under the bed.

  17. I THOUGHT THAT PHIL AND PETER WERE VERY CLOSE AND PETER MOVED SLOWLY TOWARDS PHIL THEN FADED. I WAS SURE THEY WERE INTIMATE NEXT NEWS IS THAT PHIL IS DEAD AND I THOUGHT HE COULD NOT LIVE WITH HIMSELF AFTER READING ALL THE OTHER POSSIBILITES I AM CONFUSED AS THE OTHER EXPLANATION MAKES SENCE TO.ABSOLUTLY LOVED LOVED LOVED THE FILM NOT A BENEDICK FAN BUT WAS TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY BY HIS ACTING.

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