It seems that Western dramas are making a comeback in 2021, and The Power of the Dog is only the most recent in a series of Western productions Netflix has added to their platform. The Power of the Dog revolves around two ranchers, brothers Phil and George Burbank. Their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a widow named Rose and her teenage son Peter.
The film has already received critical acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival and could land its leading actors (Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemmons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee) Oscar nods in the upcoming ceremony. However, fans want to know if The Power of the Dog is based on a true story.
Read on for everything we know about the Western drama's origins.
Is 'The Power of the Dog' a true story?
Although The Power of the Dog is a realistic portrayal of farm life and a thoughtful exploration of subjects like masculinity, alcoholism, homosexuality, and interpersonal relationships, the film is not entirely based on a true story. However, The Power of the Dog's story is by no means original material.
The Power of the Dog is based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage. Thomas saturated his works with his personal experiences, and the film does its best to stay faithful to the source material, including its themes and plotlines. Thomas was born in Idaho but eventually moved to a Montana ranch and reportedly used his novels to address the bigotry he saw embedded in western towns.
Many of Savage's characters also reflect tropes and people from his own life, including his mother. Much like Kirsten Dunst's character in The Power of the Dog, Elizabeth Yearian was an alcoholic who remarried a rancher and relocated to a farm with her son.
Frequently, the characters Thomas based on himself were outsiders unsuited to ranch life, mirroring his real-life discomfort.
Director Jane Campion confirmed speculation that The Power of the Dog reflects Thomas Savage's childhood, saying in an interview with NPR, "Thomas Savage moved to a ranch with his mother, which is the story which is really told in the film as well, and the brother of the man that his mother married was talented — like, great chess player and, you know, went to Yale, etc. — but also, like, a really hardened cowboy and terrible bully."
Despite having a wife and children, many literary critics believe that Thomas Savage was a closeted gay man based on his exploration of homosexual feelings in a largely anti-gay culture in The Power of the Dog and his other works.
The novel's powerful themes and writing make it easy to understand why a director would want to adapt the book to film, and we wouldn't be surprised if The Power of the Dog sweeps through awards season.
The Power of the Dog is now streaming on Netflix.