Benedict Cumberbatch is speaking out in defense of “The Power of the Dog” after actor Sam Elliott criticized the film’s “allusions of homosexuality” last week, calling the Oscar-nominated movie “a piece of shit.” Elliott made the remarks during a recent episode of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast. In the film, Cumberbatch stars as Phil Burbank, a sexually repressed rancher in 1925 Montana who yearns for a deceased fellow cowboy named Bronco Henry and eventually takes a young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) under his wing.
Cumberbatch, who is up for a Best Actor Oscar for the film, made the remarks during a recent BAFTA Film Session. “I’m trying very hard not to say anything about a very odd reaction that happened the other day on a radio podcast over here,” he said. “Without meaning to stir over the ashes of that … someone really took offense to — I haven’t heard it so it’s unfair for me to comment in detail on it — to the West being portrayed in this way.”
Cumberbatch added, “Beyond that reaction, that sort of denial that anybody could have any other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born, there’s also a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still and towards an acceptance of the other and anything kind of difference. No more so than in this prism of conformity of what’s expected of a man in the Western archetype mold of masculinity. To deconstruct that through Phil, it’s not a history lesson.”
Cumberbatch also said that “these people still exist in our world,” referring to men like Phil Burbank, who struggles to tamp down his desires while trying to posture as masculine.
“This is a very specific case of repression, but also due to an intolerance for that true identity that Phil is that he can’t fully be,” he said. “The more we look under the hood of toxic masculinity and try to discover the root causes of it, the bigger chances we have of dealing with it when it arises with our children.”
During the “WTF” interview, Elliott said that New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion’s vision of the American West brought to mind Chippendales dancers. “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie look like,” Elliott said. “They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.”