Where was The Power of the Dog filmed?
Auckland, New Zealand
House, NatureScapes, Rustic, Ranch, Miscellaneous, Restaurant, Hotel
Rustic, Ranch Style
About The Power of the Dog
While the explosive movies and ubiquitous rom-coms dominate the big screen nearly every year, occasionally there is a film that subtly and quietly becomes the belle of the ball. Such a film is The Power of the Dog, directed by Jane Campion, and named one of the Top 10 Films of 2021 by the American Film Institute.
Based on a 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch – best known perhaps as the enigmatic Dr. Strange or the brilliant if slightly neurotic Sherlock Holmes – as ultra-masculine rancher Phil Burbank on the plains of Montana in 1925. He becomes even more bitter and hostile when his brother George (Jesse Plemons) meets widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst). When George marries Rose and brings her to the ranch, Phil becomes openly hostile to Rose and her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), humiliating and tormenting them whenever possible.
Rose sinks further and further into alcoholism as Phil’s behavior worsens, but it’s Peter who discovers the source of Phil’s animosity – the macho cowboy with a tough exterior, layers of grime and a willingness to forgo any action that could be seen as sensitive or even civilized was secretly in love with another man. This revelation becomes clear when Peter spies Phil caressing the scarf of his deceased mentor, Bronco Henry, and discovers a trove of Henry’s homorerotic magazines.
Once berating Peter for the boy’s own soft and effeminate nature, Phil makes amends with Peter after the two realize they may be more alike than previously considered. Phil teaches Peter to rope and ride and begins braiding him a custom lasso to cement his place at the ranch.
Although the film is short on explosive moments and quip-worthy dialogue, it’s rich in the way it subtly reveals and explores a range of human experiences. Phil’s toxic masculinity and hostile behavior is driven by his reluctance to embrace his sexuality – which would have left him ostracized and perhaps even worse as a cowboy in the 1920s – and his grief over the death of his mentor and lover, Bronco. Even deeper is the exploration of Peter, whose sexuality is only implied, his protectiveness of his mother and his willingness to do anything to ensure her happiness.
The Power of the Dog scored a host of accolades, including more than 10 nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and Actor for all four of the film leads, and a Best Director nod for Campion. At the 79th Golden Globe Awards, it scored wins for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Smit-McPhee) and Best Director.
The Power of the Dog Locations
With both spoilers and interesting scene information, we’ll cover this terrific film. Montana’s wide stretches of prairie are the penultimate ranch country – and indeed, the ranch author Thomas Savage grew up on is located in Beaverhead County, Montana. Campion had planned to film around the same area, but budget constraints required her to find another location. Filming was also scheduled to take place in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, making filming locations even more problematic.
In the end, Campion ended up choosing The Power of the Dog’s filming locations in her native New Zealand, which is also prime ranch country, although more for sheep than cattle. Campion and Cinematographer Ari Wegner hand-picked the Maniototo Plain in the Otago region of New Zealand’s south island. Additional film scenes were also shot in the Otago towns of Dunedin and Oamaru.
The Power of the Dog’s production base was the country’s capital of Auckland – all of the film’s interior scenes were shot on sound stages in the city after the on-location shoots had been wrapped up. Because the crew had a hard time finding time period-appropriate items abroad, most of the furniture, fixtures and decorative elements were sourced and flown in from Los Angeles.
Thomas Savage was a prolific writer of Western novels, and fans of his work will no doubt want to visit the locations of one of his best-received works. Barring the unfamiliar accents of the locals, it’s easy to cast your eyes across the sweeping plains and feel like you’re standing on a Montana ranch in the heyday of cowboy culture and cattle drives.
Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst worked hard to master musical instruments prior to filming – Dunst mastered two piano pieces and Cumberbatch learned to play the banjo.
The flowers scene in The Power of the Dog
Braeside Farm Cottage
Soft-spoken widow Rose Gordon, later the wife of George Burbank, runs the Red Mill Hotel and Restaurant, which the brothers pass through on their way to the livestock market. Although George is immediately taken with Rose, arrogant and macho Phil spares no effort to make both her and her son uncomfortable in front of his hard-living cowboys.
Peter, in an effort to make the atmosphere more inviting, had decorated the table with paper flowers. After man-handling the flowers and snickering with the other men, Phil turns directly to Peter and asks, “My goodness, I wonder what little lady made these?”
When Peter answers that he made them himself, Phil ramps up the insults, entertaining the cowboys at the expense of the sensitive boy.
Although this film scene in The Power of the Dog is short, it establishes one of the driving mechanisms of one of the film’s major conflicts. In the ultra-macho world of ranching, Phil plays up his manhood to cover his closely-guarded secret – he’s a homosexual who shared an intimate relationship with another cowboy.
Both the Red Mill and the facade of the Burbank ranch were constructed on a farm near the Hawkdun Mountains in central Otago. Braeside Farm Cottage is not open to the public, however, visitors can stay on the farm in the former sheep shearer’s quarters, which have been renovated into a charming guest house. The farm is located near Oturehua, with the nearest town of significant size being Ranfurly.
How to get there: From Ranfurly, take Highway 85 northwest to Ida Valley-Omakau Road and turn left. Take a right at Hill’s Creek Road and keep left the fork on McKnight Road, which dead-ends at the farm.
Phil remembers Bronco Henry scene in The Power of the Dog
Beneath his gruff and openly antagonistic exterior, there is a tender side to Phil Burbank, and that tenderness has to do with a cowboy the audience never meets – Bronco Henry. Phil describes Henry as a mentor and friend, calling him “the greatest horseman I ever knew.”
His deeper relationship with Henry becomes clear midway through the film when Peter spies on Phil swimming in his private place. Phil tenderly runs a bandana with Bronco Henry’s initials on it through his hands and drapes it around his neck as he swims. At a nearby camp, Peter discovers a trove of homoerotic magazines belonging to Henry and works out that he must have been more than just Phil’s mentor and friend.
This Touching Power of the Dog scene was filmed at one of the many scenic swimming holes along the Lindis River, which snakes through the Lindis Valley from deep in the Hawkdun Range before it meets the Clutha River that winds its way to the South Pacific.
How to get there: The Lindis River flows roughly along the route of Highway 8/Old Faithful Road. There are many enticing places to stop and take a dip.
The barking dog scene in The Power of the Dog
One of the most revealing lines in the entire film – spoken almost unintentionally – is an exchange between Peter and Phil in which both men are talking about one thing while saying something entirely different.
In another of Phil’s reverent memories of Bronco Henry, he says the cowboy says things other people didn’t. He then asks Peter what he sees in the nearby mountain ridgeline.
“A barking dog,” Peter replies, off-handedly. When asked if he simply looked and saw it at that moment, Peter said he had seen it when he first arrived on the ranch.
The barking dog shadow, of course, is really code for both men’s sexuality. Looking at Phil, an ordinary person would see a cantankerous, dirty, standoffish cowboy. Peter, however, is far more observant. In his quiet way, he is letting Phil know that he sees him for who he is, and that it’s been obvious to him the entire time. The scene also implies a tiny bit of information about Peter’s own sexuality, although it is never explicitly mentioned in the film.
After all, one wolf recognizes another.
How to get there: The actual shadow of the barking dog is, unfortunately, not real. When scouting for a filming location for her concept. Cinematographer Ari Wegner was looking for a particular shape to the hills surrounding the farm where the outdoor scenes were shot. Searching the ridgeline behind the farm, visitors can see a shadow that looks faintly like a witch’s face – it was this illusion that was digitally modified for The Power of the Dog.
The bull scene in The Power of the Dog
Cattle pen set at the farm near Oterhua
While being a ranchhand is arguably still a tough, tough job by today’s standards, it was definitely even more so in the 1920s. The filthy, callous, overly-masculine Phil Burbank was typical of cowboys and ranch hands at the time, often because they spent weeks at a time in the company of the same kind of men and were far removed from situations requiring any social graces.
But Phil took this blazing example of toxic masculinity and doubled down on it, doing anything to prove he was a rough and ready ranch hand, not some “sissy,” as he referred to Rose’s son Peter. Including castrating a bull. With a knife and his bare hands.
In probably one of the only sequences that could be considered an action scene in The Power of the Dog, which can be described as graphic at best and downright offensive at worst, Phil orders his ranch hands to restrain a struggling bull so he can castrate it. Which he does, using only a knife and his bare hands. The scene demonstrates the inhumanity that comes from denying his true nature and creating a persona of the biggest, baddest cowboy in the corral.
One of the ranch hands questions why Phil doesn’t wear gloves during the bloody encounter, to which Phil replies, “Uh, how ‘bout because they’re not needed?”
In the end, Phil’s refusal to accept anything that might be considered weak, up to and including the most basic protective equipment, is his undoing at the hands (literally) of a sissy.
NOTE: Although Cumberbatch did do intensive ranch training and indeed learned how to castrate a bull, a real calf was not harmed during this scene.
How to get there: This scene was filmed on the cattle pen set built at the farm near Oterhua but is no longer there.
Phil looks for Peter scene in The Power of the Dog
Ranch set built near Oterhua
After watching what seems almost like intimacy between Phil and Peter as Phil plaits the rope he plans to gift to Peter, this scene is the culmination of Phil’s vulnerability. His embrace of Peter indicates that he feels he has a chance to be what Bronco Henry was to him – a mentor, but also a kindred spirit with the same desires.
Phil falls ill the morning after plaiting the lasso, but he wanders around in a delirious state, mumbling about needing to find Peter until his brother finds him and takes him to the doctor. Soon after, Phil dies, and it’s clear that he died as miserably as he lived, lonely and wanting.
How to get there: This scene was filmed on the ranch set built near Oterhua. The interior shots were filmed at a studio in Auckland.
After Phil’s death scene in The Power of the Dog
When the movie opens, viewers hear a voiceover from Peter that sets the stage for the second half of the film: “For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her?”
After losing his father to suicide four years before the story begins, Peter’s attachment to his mother is to be expected, as well as his role of her caretaker. When the pair moves to the Burbank ranch, Rose, humiliated by Phil, begins to spiral into alcoholism and self-destruction, and Peter realizes he now has a choice to make.
Until now, he has been happy to be a companion to Phil, and indeed, as the two men sit together, it becomes clear that Peter may be experiencing some fledgling desire for the older man. Sitting together as Phil plaits the lasso, the two share an intimate experience just being in each other’s company.
Then, Phil suddenly becomes very sick and dies. Conspicuously absent at his funeral a few days later is Peter, who takes the lasso (poisoned with anthrax, unbeknownst to Phil) and carefully stows it away under his bed. He then reads a Psalm out loud: “Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.”
Rose, it seems, has pulled herself out of her dark place and happily embraces George. Peter smiles, knowing he saved his mother, likely from the same fate as his father.
Did Peter truly have feelings for Phil? Did he murder him in cold blood? Does he regret what he’s done? All those questions are left to the imagination of the viewer.
How to get there: This scene takes place in Peter’s room at the Burbank ranch, which was filmed at a studio in Auckland.
While The Power of the Dog had a very limited theatrical release, mainly in New Zealand and Australia, it became widely available for streaming on Netflix in December 2021. While lacking in explosive moments and anchored by only a few main characters, The Power of the Dog’s scenes explore human emotions and motivations on a very deep level.
Fans of Cumberbatch and Dunst will enjoy the authenticity they bring to adversaries Phil and Rose, as well as be impressed by the supporting roles of Plemons and Smit-McPhee. A trip to New Zealand is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to feel the sparse plains of the South Island morph into the Montana frontier in another time.