Although Kirsten Dunst is an incredibly talented actress, she has always talked about how she was overlooked by Hollywood and had “never been recognised” by the industry. Like her equally gifted actor husband Jesse Plemons, Dunst has been somewhat of an underdog, often reduced to the cute girl-next-door roles that have littered her career. Some even associate her only with the role of Mary-Jane from Spider-Man alongside Tobey Maguire, invalidating her overall brilliance.
Dunst deserved at least a couple of Oscar nods for films like Bring it On, Marie Antoinette, The Beguiled etc. However, she has always fallen short. In 2021, she starred in Jane Campion’s alternative western Netflix Original The Power of the Dog, alongside Plemons, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee etc.
Based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, the film revolves around the pair of Burbank brothers who own a Montana ranch in the 1920s. When Plemons’ character marries Dunst, a single mother named Rose with a teenage son, Cumberbatch’s crude and lewd-mouthed Phil Burbank gets extremely agitated.
To express his disdain towards Rose, he begins to taunt her maliciously and mercilessly, driving her to the brink of insanity once she moves into the Burbank household. His incessant taunts and aggravating whistle disarms her completely and she soon becomes a raging alcoholic to numb her pain, paranoia and anxiety. From being taunted into forgetting her piano notes to slowly losing her grip over her son, Dunst’s descent into madness is gut-wrenching and horrifying.
While Cumberbatch was extremely convincing as the ruthless Phil, Dunst was equally powerful (or rather powerless) and vulnerable in her role as Rose who just wanted to be a good wife but ended up getting her dignity incinerated by toxic masculinity. While Phil’s death, in the end, is satisfying to a certain extent, Rose ultimately takes back her agency when she sells off some of Phil’s invaluable hides, leading to a climactic scene with Cumberbatch showing off his acting prowess via aggression and screaming.
The Power of the Dog made history for Netflix by winning 12 nominations, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor(s) and Best Supporting Actress, besides Best Picture. While it only managed to snag the Best Director award, we strongly feel that Dunst deserved the Best Supporting Actress Award, given the range of emotional depth and raw vulnerability she added to her character sincerely.
Every scene with Rose, after she moves into the household, hints at the despicable predicament of a woman who is helpless and does not know how to fight against her oppressor in her husband’s house. Although her act of selling off the hides is indeed a moment of victory, it is quite fleeting for even her son is entangled in a homosocial relationship with her oppressor.
Dunst’s snub felt worse because she has always been overlooked by Hollywood. While she does not need an Oscar to prove her sheer talent, the much-coveted gong would help validate her unwavering efforts and shower her with the praise and acclaim she really deserves.