The Disempowerment Of The Dog, Pt 2: Gay Love Bad

Young Twink: it’s almost like Peter is an amalgam of what the filmmakers thought would make for an edgy, young queer character – he’s camp, loves his mum, is bad at tennis, loves dissection, is a bit weird (in a cousin of the Addams’ family sort of way), and has a male “friend” at uni who gets referenced once and could be more than a friend but it’s never made explicit (like the guy Q is making dinner for in the latest James Bond – we never meet him and we’re not even told it’s a date, yawn). But just like with Phil (and Rose and George for that matter) the film doesn’t dig deep. For example, there is an interesting co-dependent relationship to explore between Peter and his mother but for the sake of the film it seems it’s only really there to make clear that Peter loves his Mum a lot (i.e. with potentially lethal consequences). Meanwhile, Rose loves her queer son very much and is super nice to him, which is wonderful given it’s 1925! But again, why and how she’s like that given the time and place are unclear, instead, it’s as if she’s nice to Peter so we like her more and, therefore, hate Phil even more who, remember, is awful! Also, it’s strange that the film never explicitly says Peter is gay or into guys, despite the barrel of tropes it throws at us, whereas the love between Rose and George is unequivocal and explicit. I’ve so often heard straight people say to me, “oh but we don’t have to make a thing about it”, as a way to silence discussion about homosexuality, while heterosexuality gets taken for granted. In a film like this, no form of sexuality should be taken for granted.

To be clear – I love a camp guy who plays tennis badly (#guilty) but, in this film, I think it’s lazy storytelling – “effeminate gay guys can’t play tennis, ha!” As for the plot, well halfway through and we’ve discovered Phil likes sniffing old handkerchiefs. Peter has spent most of the film avoiding Phil but then he spots him skinny dipping…

Male Nudity: cue Cumberbatch taking his clothes off, covering himself in mud and going for a swim. The camera lingers on his bum and there’s even a brief flash of his mud-covered willy. When Phil sees Peter watching he runs out the river to chase him and his bum jiggles everywhere. For a moment I thought I was watching a farce! While nudity in movies can add so much this just felt like a reason to get the ratings up, including the scene where Phil watches some of the other cowboys playing naked in the river. More bums and the odd willy to see! It’s nice that the female body isn’t being objectified for a change. However, given all the body shaming of George for being fat, it’s strange that the film spends so much time eyeing up the naked bodies of muscular men. It’s like it wants to critique toxic masculinity while cashing in on its body ideals (here’s looking at you Beach Rats). But hey, nudity sells, right, and if it’s artistic enough it might just clinch that Oscar. After the mud bath and naked jog things take a surprise turn…Phil starts being nice to Peter.

Gay Love Bad: and this is where I just cannot. For starters, Phil is in his 40s and Peter is a teenager. Meanwhile, George and Rose are of a similar age and have a nice marriage, if it weren’t for all those awful gay guys ruining everything. As for Phil and Pete, they get the old guy fancies young guy trope, like Call Me By Your Name but much worse. It’s not like Phil could just meet a dude his age and have a nice life with him – I mean, there’s plenty of historical evidence that this happened a lot. Phil also takes to Peter as a way to get at Rose – so even that adds a touch of evil to the whole thing because, remember, Phil is awful.

Phil shows Peter how to ride a horse, knot ropes from strips of cow hide (lovely) and other such manly things. He’s keen that Peter stop letting his mother turn him into a sissy because, yup, Phil is a misogynist douchebag. As they get closer (or appear to get closer) Phil opens up and reveals that the initials ‘BH’ on the dirty handkerchief belonged to Bronco Henry (who also owned the saucy magazines). Bronco was an older man who took a shine to teenage Phil (here we go again, *eye roll*) and taught him the ropes of being a man, including rope tying (obviously) and sexism. One time Bronco and Phil were out on the planes and Phil had an accident. Bronco saved his life, which involved getting in a sleeping bag with him. “Naked?” asks Peter. Phil just laughs. It’s these details that form Phil’s origin story and we discover who’s to blame for why he’s so awful – a repressed older gay guy! History sure loves repeating itself in this movie.

It’s worth noting that the relationship between George and Rose is a nice one that lacks overt physical and emotional violence, whereas the one between Phil and Peter is predicated on abuse. So often when straight people write gay romances it involves some sort of violence (Skins season 1, Sex Education season 1 etc). One character is mean to the other but really it’s because they like them and eventually the violence (emotional, psychological, physical etc) becomes love (at least, a very toxic form of love). This is also true of loads of straight romances as well but, hey, this post ain’t about one of those films. In essence, it seems The Power of the Dog wants to romanticise violence between gay men because what’s sexier than getting with your oppressor, amirite!? As for Phil and Peter, if you think things sound bad so far, they’re about to get much, much worse. Tbc…

Queerbaiting alert! Think you’re in for a touching gay romance? Think again!

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