Ok so The Devil all the Time is pretty much God Works in Mysterious Ways The Movie and it has a lot to unpack from it.
Throughout this, we’ll be breaking down the symbolism of the piece, the true meaning behind it and also it’s ending.
There will be heavy spoilers here so if you haven’t had a chance to check out the movie yet then I highly recommend that you turn off now.
The Devil All The Time Title Meaning
Ok so the title of the film very much ties into the religious aspects that we see laced throughout the piece. Set primarily on the bible belt of America in West Virginia we watch as interconnecting stories all join together to form one overarching narrative that feels like a true American gothic horror.
Though the film feels extremely bleak, almost relentless in its depiction of life and death it does end with a glimmer of hope that suggests there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
Initially, we join a world war two veteran named Willard who has just returned from war. After his wife is diagnosed with cancer, he becomes obsessed with prayer and forces their son to do this almost every day down at a makeshift log which is viewed as HIS church. In the book and the movie, it’s remarked that he prayed so much to God that to his son it seemed like he fought the devil all the time however, the movie goes far beyond that.
Throughout we join several characters that are constantly tempted by power, sex and their underlying desires which they as characters either fight or give into. Pretty much every person in the film feels like they could give in at any time and because of this they’re….you guessed it fighting The Devil All The Time.
Now Willard is a fascinating character and arguably he goes on one of the most tragic arcs in the film. After he witnesses a Crucified and Skinned soldier during the war, his perception of religion and God is altered significantly and initially, he turns his back on his faith.
Does The Film Confirm Or Deny God?
It’s difficult to discern whether the film actually states that God exists or not and one could argue that the interconnecting stories are either coincidence or somewhat divine intervention.
On a second watch something that stuck out to me massively was that Willard’s mother promised God that if he returned from war that she would make him marry another churchgoer named Helen Hatton. Ultimately this doesn’t happen and in retrospect, the majority of the tragedies in the film would’ve been avoided if she’d just kept up her end of the bargain.
When Willard enters a diner at the beginning of the movie a man named Carl almost takes his seat but he offers it up to him instead and takes another one. Carl is then served by a woman that would go onto become his wife and together the pair commit horrendous crimes. Again one could argue that had Carl been a mere second earlier then this would never have happened and this simple moment of the seat switch and him taking her photograph has massive ramifications on the movie.
Donald Ray Pollock
The film itself is narrated by Donald Ray Pollock, the original author of the book and in some ways he feels like the voice of God, aware of all that is going on. In a letter sent out along with early access to the movie, the film’s director Antonio Campos stated that he wanted Pollock to feel like the voice of the creator that knew all the ins and outs of the characters. Whether you see this as the voice of God or not, I think it’s a nice little detail to think that some omnipresent person could be overseeing everything and letting us know how it connects.
Now as for Willard he just can’t look at a cross without seeing that soldier however he slowly turns back to religion hoping to get right with his maker before something bad happens.
Unfortunately it does and as we mentioned his wife’s health begins to wane.
Willard convinces himself that if he offers up enough blood it will save her and he kills his dog, eventually pinning it up similar to the crucified soldier in the hopes that it will save her. The book goes far beyond this with Willard killing more and more animals in the hopes that he will eventually offer up enough blood to save her life.
She dies anyway and Willard ends his life on the night of her funeral. A Sherrif named Bodecker investigates the death after Arvin raises the alarm and this location becomes central to the film’s ending.
Arvin goes to live with his grandmother and another orphan named Lenora.
It’s revealed that Lenora is actually the child of Helen who, on the day that she was introduced to Willard was swept off her feet by a traveling preacher named Dudley….sorry I mean Roy and his brother.
Roy is a religious fanatic that even pours live spiders on his face during sermons to prove his devotion and eventually after becoming bitten he locks himself away before coming to the conclusion that God has a purpose for him.
He believes that he can resurrect the dead and kills his wife before screaming to the Lord to bring her back, similar to Willard in some respects. Willard is later killed by Carl and his wife Sandy who we discover have started to pick up hitchhikers before murdering them.
Now had Carl not given the seat to Willard then Willard would not have been served by the woman who would become his future wife. Without her, in his mind, he would’ve gone to the church and likely have ended up with Helen. Roy wouldn’t have killed Helen and then as Carl hadn’t met Sandy he wouldn’t have killed Roy.
It’s kinda mind-blowing seeing all these pieces fit together and this butterfly effect leaves Lenora and Arvin growing up together without parents. However, one thing that they do have passed on from their parents is their faith. Campos stated in his letter that one of the things passed on through the parents is religion. He said that at times he feels very conflicted over this and during the film I myself was wondering how so many of the characters could still believe in God after all they’d been through.
Everyone is tested at one point and most try to endure in through it but often, if not always they turn to a darker path.
Nowhere is this more exemplified in Sheriff Bodecker played by Sebastian Stan, who knows something is up with his sister but he turns a blind eye to it due to wishing to be re-elected. He puts the temptation of power above doing the right thing and even kills people to in the hopes of retaining the position of Sheriff in this tiny, pretty meaningless town.
Lenora is also tempted by a Preacher played by Robert Pattinson. This predator preys on young girls, using their dedication to their faith against them. He’s an absolutely despicable character and who in fact gives into the Devil and his own desires, whilst preaching to stand against temptation.
I have to say Pattinson is almost unrecognizable in the role and with Tenet under his belt, this and the upcoming Batman movie the guy is on a stratospheric rise. His mannerisms are unrecognizable and he completely nails the contradictions of a man who is preaching about sin whilst committing it.
Nowhere is this cemented more than in his introduction in which he openly embarrasses Lenora and Arvin’s grandmother for bringing chicken livers. He hordes them for himself saying that he will bear the burden of this poor person’s food when really we know it’s because he really liked them.
Lenora has bags put over her heads by bullies and comes to believe that she’s ugly. Thus when a man shows her some sort of attention she of course laps it up. I think that a lot of institutions, not only the church prey on this kind of mentality and they seek out the vulnerable in order to support them.
I grew up quite religious and of course, know that the church isn’t bad on the whole but we do know that there exists horror stories in which evil people have been able to ascend. Lenora goes to the preacher Preston with news of her pregnancy and he suggests she gets rid of it, denying any knowledge of what they did together.
Lenora goes to hang herself but at the last second changes her mind, realising that the preacher is a liar. However it’s too late and she slips, killing herself in the process.
This really sparks off Arvin who stalks Preston, unearthing his crimes.
Like his father, Arvin is haunted by the idea that with religion comes this undertone of despair and this is cemented by him looking at the same image of the crucifixion that his dad did many years before.
He shoots the character in his church with the gun that Hitler reportedly used in his last moments and clearly the character’s actions have been influenced by his father who embued him with the knowledge that there must always be punishment for wrongdoings. He says he has to kill the preacher because he has to and not because he wants to which hammers home his mentality. When Arvin was a boy he was given a black eye by bullies and this eye for an eye mentality ends with a lot of characters metaphorically losing their sight.
Carl And Sandy
Now one thing that I think the movie hammers home is the idea that doing things in someone’s name just because they tell you to does not mean it’s the right thing. Roy kills his wife after believing that God told him to do it and on the other end of this is Sandy who participates in murders because her husband Carl tells her too.
Carl should almost be viewed as a personification of death and it’s only in death that he feels a higher power. He views murder as it’s own religion and Sandy though initially committed to it, begins to turn away.
However, she never walks away, always finding a reason to go back and this eventually leads to her death.
Also, yeah, that…that scene…you know what one I’m talking about with the filleted sausage…think that’s gonna haunt my imagination for the next 50 years or so. I’m never eating a bratwurst again.
Anyway, on the road they pick up Arvin who is fleeing from the law after killing Preston. They try their usual routine but after he spots Carl’s gun he realizes something is up. Arvin is of course on the run as it is and is likely in a heightened paranoid state and thus he quickly realises what’s going on.
Sandy too has her doubts and even fantasizes about running away with Arvin. However, he acts too fast and kills Carl. He holds his gun to Sandy who holds one back and it’s revealed that due to Carl not trusting Sandy because of her actions earlier in the film he’d loaded it with blanks.
This gave her the illusion of power even though she didn’t really have it and in some ways, it once more mirrors Roy who believed he had a certain ability but it was completely one-sided.
The Devil All The Time Ending
Arvin discovers the photographs that Carl had kept of his victims and he flees. The pairs bodies are found and Bodecker burns the evidence of their misdeeds, further taking the choice of hiding things instead of doing the right thing.
The exposure of these crimes could’ve given a lot of families sympathy but Bodecker hides them and attempts to go after Arvin.
He correctly guesses that Arvin would return to his father’s ‘Church’ and the character does this to bury their dog which is a promise that he made as a child.
He accepts that the dog needed to go with his mother but this moment is quickly cut short. Bodecker arrives and Arvin manages to kill him. Man Sebastian Stan looks so much like Mark Hammill…just cast him in a Luke Skywalker movie or something please….
It’s tragic because all of this could’ve been avoided had the Sheriff arrested his sister but instead he gave into his desire for power.
The Devil All The Time Ending Explained
Arvin is picked up on the road and he finally gets a chance to rest. Now though we don’t know what happens to the character for definite, he does get a moment of clarity in which he sees his entire life almost made out in an instant.
There are some brief cuts that actually demonstrate what will happen to Arvin and this ending should sort of be seen as his life flashing before his life all at once. We realize that the police discover the truth about Bodecker and also Preston which Arvin hopes will show that he had his reasons if ever he’s caught.
Now whilst this is primarily seen as him imagining what will happen, I actually think that it demonstrates the truth of the situation. The letter from the director ends by saying even if you don’t get a happy ending, there is potential for a new beginning and I think that is very much exemplified here.
The person that picks up Arvin is very similar looks wise to Jesus and he could be seen as the character’s salvation, taking him away from this pain and misery which is cemented by the character looking back at the life he is leaving behind.
Going forward we get flashes of him in Vietnam as well as a child approaching an older man at a car.
I actually think that these are visions of Arvin’s life after the events of the movie and that he will go on to be happy.
This means that throughout this some goodwill actually come out of it and though the movie was very bleak, things always have the potential to end in a good way.
Life isn’t really about endings, it’s more about new beginnings and seeing Arvin ride off into the sunset almost with the hopes of a better life lets us as an audience know that no matter how dark things seem there’s always tomorrow.
That ends the movie and our breakdown of it’s plot and meaning.
The Devil All The Time Movie Review
But what did I think of the film as a whole?
Well personally I loved it and though a lot of the criticism about the piece centers around how few jokes there are, I can’t see them fitting in here well at all. The tone is supposed to be a certain way and I think this would feel very jarring if people were busting one-liners whilst the events play out.
Every actor here is bringing their A-game and for a lot of the actors, it feels like some of the meatiest roles that they’ve had the opportunity to sink their teeth into.
The film feels very No Country For Old Men and it’s an authentic portrayal of human emotion that I think elevates it above many.
I don’t really want to give this film a score as assigning it a number seems a bit arbitrary but if you like gritty, suspenseful thrillers then this is a movie you need to check out.
Though it’s not for everyone, I still greatly enjoyed The Devil All The Time and I definitely recommend you check it out and make up your own mind if you haven’t already.
Now obviously I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie so make sure you comment below and let me know.