The Devil All the Time (2020) Analysis – A War Back Home


America has been fighting wars since it’s inception. While some battles were fought on foreign lands, there was a constant internal war among citizens that is still going on. The war that is led, lighted and supported by Faith. The Devil All the Time, underlines the horrors of the war on American Soldiers and its impact on the generations to come, but more deeply, it explores the conflicts and dreads on American Soil created by Blind Faith and those who preach it. 

The Devil All the Time – layered with so many engaging and dramatic plots is supplemented with engaging characters. However, it’s non-linear narrative and too many characters become a tedious task to understand in the beginning, but once the film catches the grip, it’s an enthralling ride after that.

The Story

The Devil All the Time, narrates the story in a novelist style. It is a story of multiple generations that are impacted by violence. It also tells the tale of men who are monsters in hiding under the skin of a priest but never following what they preach. But majorly, it follows the story of a father and the son, who witnessed both tragedy and ironies of War and Faith, involving human vileness.

The film begins with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) who returns home to Knockemstiff, Ohio from World War II, carrying the heavyweight of PTSD. The crucified image of his own man on a cross, can’t leave his mind till the end. Willard finally begins a new life and starts believing in faith again, but when his wife, Charlotte dies, it’s all downhill from there. Willard’s son Arvin (Tom Holland) is the only one left in the end, who clutches to the loss of family and singlehandedly face the horrors of blind faith and violence in his journey ahead.

However, this is not the only narrative that “The Devil All the Time” scouts. It unfolds three more subplots, involving a corrupt cop named Lee Bodecker and his sister Sandy, who is married to a serial killer named Carl. And then Arvin’s half-sister Lenora, whose mother was murdered by a preacher. And yet another corrupt preacher named Preston Teagarden (Robert Pattinson). (Phew too many, I know.)

Like their Parents Years Ago

If Arvin is considered as the main protagonist of the story, then “The Devil All the Time” signals a very peculiar human layer that we are bound to repeat the same mistakes as our parents. Thus, the genetic makeup is not entirely physical but internal too. This particular theme has been toured often throughout the story, through the repetitive choice of characters and the way they design their sins. 

Like Arvin is bound to repeat the same felony, his father did, and Arvin’s step-sister makes the same mistake, her mother did. But what makes Arvin stand out as the protagonist, is his choice, to unbolt this vicious circle of genetic sins and lay a new road to redemption.

A War Back Home

When Willard returns home from war, he brings the horrors of war with him. This is the debt he paid as a soldier. While PTSD remained dormant for a long time in Willard, it never perished entirely. Thus, a small emotional scar brings back the traumas of war, that leads to his horrendous sins.

While their soldiers suffered, there was yet another antagonism that prevailed in American society. The sins made by dealers of Religions, the father and the priest of the church, who believed they were above god. Their sins might be different but their approach demonstrated their own belief, that they are not accounted for their sins. 

Arvin, as the protagonist of the story, not only fights his internal genetic war, to break the chain of repetitiveness but also fights against the evils of the society that hides in white robes of faith. That brings about a perfect blend of internal and external conflicts of the character where there is so much to adore within that struggle.

The Devil All the Time, is a collection of mini-stories weaved around a central character. These stories are centred around violence and religion in the heart of the American Lands. The film drags in the beginning, just to establish so many characters it has encompassed but when it finally puts on the final gear, it catches you tightly for an enchanting journey into the woods, filled with twists and turns.

The Devil All the Time is a psychological thriller film directed and co-written by Antonio Campos. The film is based on Donald Ray Pollock book of the same name. It is streaming on Netflix.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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