‘The Power of the Dog’: How the Ending Changed

by Maria Hartfield

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog actually has an alternate ending that came first. The Netflix drama is one among many other original series that are up for winning the Oscars gold. The 2021 western thriller may be the streaming channel’s best shot at taking home some major awards. So, what was the original ending and why did the team behind the highly-acclaimed film decide to go with the latter?

Warning: spoilers ahead for The Power of the Dog‘s ending.

Based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, The Power of the Dog follows ruthless rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he harasses everyone around him. After his brother brings home a new wife along with her son, Phil sets his sights on tormenting them. However, he ends up finding himself feeling emotions he never expected. Notable stars in the film besides Benedict Cumberbatch include Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

The official synopsis reads: “A domineering but charismatic rancher wages a war of intimidation on his brother’s new wife and her teen son — until long-hidden secrets come to light.”

The Power of the Dog debuted at the Venice Film Festival in 2021. It received excellent reviews upon its release positioning director, Jame Campion as a contender for the 2022 Oscar Best Director award. In addition to its many impressive performances, star-studded cast, and technical elements, the film made a name for itself due to its captivating narrative culminating in a shocking ending. Ultimately, Phil dies suddenly after ingesting anthrax poison. Details surrounding his untimely death are somewhat unclear, but Campion does allude to the idea that it may be Rose’s innocent son Peter who’s behind it.

The Power of the Dog original ending reveals Phil’s killer

This may be the ending that’s currently on Netflix, but it wasn’t that way. Editor Peter Sciberras leaked the original ending to The Wrap. According to Sciberras, Campion shot an alternate ending revealing that Peter really did kill Phil with absolutely no question. The final scene sees Peter watching Rose and George come together from afar. Sciberras described the undeveloped final scene like this:

“It was a slow pan across Peter’s desk in his room, which showed a medical book on his desk. And then the camera landed on the definition of anthrax in the book. And that was the last shot of the film.”

Apparently, that’s how the 1967 novel actually ends according to Sciberras. Regardless, it makes sense why the film crew chose to go with the ending they did, opting for a more subtle approach. It allows the audience more room to question whether innocent Peter could really kill someone in order to protect his mother, Rose (Kirsten Dunst). The current ending totally fits with the film’s unsettling beginning.

The Power of the Dog holds a whopping 12 Oscar nominations. Campion is a clear favorite in the directing category, and Benedict Cumberbatch may end up winning for best actor. The film itself is also up for best picture. Despite its alternate endings, we’re confident The Power of the Dog would still retain just as many nominations.