Emotions swirl below the surface in “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s drama set in 1920s Montana. Rife with subtext, the movie requires a close look at the story of cattle rancher Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), an unhappy bully living on the harsh frontier.
“The film’s set in a time and place where it was really difficult for people to talk about what they were feeling,” explained cinematographer Ari Wegner in the exclusive video above. “Whether that’s loneliness or longing or shame or confusion – everyone’s making a huge effort to keep all that inside.”
As you’ll learn in the video (backed by Jonny Greenwood’s score from the film), Wegner’s job was to translate that sense of human repression into the visual language for the film. The use of color, as she described, was a large part of the conversation.
“We knew there were certain things from nature that would definitely be in the film. There would be the grass, then you have the cattle and their color, the browns and the blacks, the leather of the saddles, and the timber of the barn, and the dust. Browns and golds and silvers. And the question from there was, ‘Do we make it a full rainbow or keep it reduced and say that this is our world?'”
She continued, “With Jane, being a bit of a rebel at heart, there has to be an exception to feel real.” The film’s color temperature changes in a secret willow glade that Phil retreats to, popping with vibrant greens. And then also in the character of Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil’s newly arrived sister-in-law, who is often photographed wearing whites and reds.
The Australian Wegner, 38, has already scored a half dozen critics’ awards, including from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, for her work on the film. In a sign of her status as one of the most exciting cinematographers currently working, Wegner is also nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for her neon-tinted work on “Zola.” She is heavily favored to be nominated for an Oscar for “The Power of the Dog,” which is likely to figure in several categories.
“She loves character, she loves story,” said Campion of Wegner in the video. “She’s not just about making pretty shots that don’t tell a story. She can make something feel beautiful and true. She keeps a realism in the way that she lights.”
Said Wegner, “I just love working with light. It’s like science and art in one art form.”
For much more, check out the video above. “The Power of the Dog” is streaming now on Netflix.