Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is this year’s front-runner to win Best Film at the Oscars. Netflix’s queer Western is stiff competition: menacing, languorous, surprising. But if the Academy ever handed out an Award for Best Use of the Bible in a Film, I’m sorry but this Dog would not have its day.
At the end of the film, a character reads from Psalm 22:20 in the King James Bible: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog”. It explains the film’s evocative title and ties a neat bow around the whole story.
But other translations hint that the movie’s take on the verse isn’t quite what was intended. The New International Version, for instance, has “Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs”. Not quite the same meaning.
Maybe it’s petty to quibble. After all, plenty of movies have mangled the Bible with glee. Take Samuel L. Jackson’s hitman in Pulp Fiction: “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger”. That’s an amped up version of Ezekiel 25:17.
Or The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which uses passages from Leviticus to license its killers’ warped worldview. Men who hate women, the film suggested, use the Bible to proof text their misogyny. But men who do this, I’d argue, are guilty of bad Bible reading. Thank God, then, for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It kicks off with Job 38:4-7: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth… when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Both film and Bible verse capture the unfathomable wonder and glory of existence – and the God behind it. Hand Malick that Oscar statuette.