Violence in response to verbal abuse: The Power of the Dog (film)

The recent film, “The Power of the Dog” was praised as a critique of toxic masculinity.

I find this interesting in the context of the events that happened over the weekend (when I saw the movie initially I’d dismissed it, but now I think it deserves some thought)

Spoilers in what I write below.

The story begins with the one character saying he acted as he did to protect his mother.

We find out that what he did was to kill the man who was verbally abusing his mother. That verbal abuse was killing her, she had no defense for it and was retreating into alcohol abuse which was killing her. Her husband did not defend her. Her son did.

The character with the toxic masculinity was embodied, supposedly, in just the character of the abuser.

It is the son who kills, a son who is portrayed as openly sensitive and artistic, who loves flowers, animals, and books. Who makes flowers from paper. Who kills the abuser of his mother when his step father takes no action.

Kills to defend someone who is the victim of verbal abuse.

This movie does not critique “toxic” masculinity.

This movie posits that an appropriate response to verbal abuse is physical violence – killing the abuser.

Interesting that the way this story is understood is as a critique of “toxic masculinity”. As if only the actions of the verbal abuser are open to critique. As if the actions of the son, who kills, are acceptable. As if the passivity of the husband is acceptable. As if the wife’s turning to alcohol is acceptable.

I find this movie to be a poor critique of anything, but a good example of how our society teaches men that an appropriate way to act against someone who is verbally abusing a woman you love it to react in violence.

Is the violence of killing less toxic because it comes from a mild mannered, thoughtful, articulate son who is defending his mother?

I don’t have answers.

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