The power of the dog’s production design captures family discomfort

Production designer Grant Major explains why the Burbank home is haunted.

Despite the large, luxurious home and expansive open ranges that make up the setting for “The Power of the Dog,” no one on the family’s Burbank ranch is ever exactly comfortable. Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) is apparently the most tormented, edgy to alcoholism by the imminent threat of her new brother-in-law Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch). His painfully awkward son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) winces every time he enters a new space, and even mild-mannered George (Jesse Plemmons) is at odds with the landscape they all call home. A sense of discomfort wafts through the film’s air like an illness, largely due to the choices made by production designer Grant Major to create spaces that both match the film’s Montana spirit and subtly reflect the characters’ discomfort in a home that offers the family no relief from themselves.

“The house, according to the book, has its roots in a kind of East Coast aesthetic,” Major told IndieWire. “So we went with this early Craftsman style which is actually quite artistic in a lot of ways…the 40 years since it was built has really weathered and streamlined it. [the house], but it still has the bones of a pretty classy house. And in a way it’s a bit synonymous with Phil [because] it’s almost as if time has stopped.

Just as Phil refuses to bathe or change his overalls, denying the mores of his family’s sophisticated and oriental upper set, the big house stands against a mountain range, not in a state of disrepair but without any improvement. . Major said he gutted and darkened the interior – the Burbank parents taking a slew of furniture with them when they returned East – and the result is that the viewer can see the emptiness that plagues Phil and who threatens to consume Rose when she moves on after marrying George. “It’s kind of an echo,” Major said. “It’s almost like the emotion and the love has been taken out of that house with the parents.”

Power from inside the dog house

The interior of the Burbank house in “The Power of the Dog”


Where there would be artistic flourishes and lush detailing, Major was sure to make these touches heavy and opulent to the point of becoming almost uncomfortable. About Rose’s room, he said, “It’s not a very restful room. It’s very busy with those big heavy pieces of furniture. So while she can lock herself in there, I don’t think it’s a total sanctuary for her. The windows would normally provide an escape, or at least a view to an outside world, and Major deliberately built large windows to let in the Montana skyline (actually the magnificent Hawkdun Range in the South Island of the New Zealand). But it has the opposite effect of the feeling of space and possibility that a Western landscape usually offers. ‘[Rose is] like a caged bird in some ways. The escape is out there. She could go, but she’s also trapped. It’s such a big landscape that you can’t get out of it.

Major worked alongside director Jane Campion and cinematographer Ari Wegner to preserve this sense of imposing space in the layout of the exterior and interior scenes. “[We] intensively studied the positioning of all these buildings, so that the geography, the lines of sight and the connectivity between the barn and the house, the house and the tennis court, the barn and the farm workers’ house, ”said Major . “So we removed all those visual lines of windows and doors and, you know, it’s the spaces between buildings that frame the landscape. So [we tried our best] to make the most of our landscape by opening up lines of sight to ranges and grasslands and all that kind of stuff.

The Power of Dog Rose's Room

The master bedroom in “The Power of the Dog”


“The inside and the outside are the same place in our story,” Major said, and the film deliberately subverts Western signifiers with a vast outside world that offers no relief and a richly detailed mansion world that is in full swing. cold, big bones and hollow. -outside. But this strategy stems not from a desire to subvert a genre but from a keen understanding of the characters who live at a turning point in history where the door to the Wild West is closing. “[Getting the time period right], the right place, awesome,” Major said. “But by dealing in particular with a dramatic case and the deepest psychological interactions between [Phil and Rose] is for me the main objective of a production designer. The Burbank house didn’t have to look like the one in “The Power of the Dog.” Sounds like how Phil feels.

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