Netflix’s ‘The Devil All The Time’ is a star-studded drama that follows the journeys of a bunch of twisted characters whose threads are intertwined with each other. It is a tale of violence and torment and leaves you exhausted, emotionally and psychologically, wondering about the path that the protagonist would take at the end of everything. Where does this journey lead him? SPOILERS AHEAD
Willard Russell returns from war to start a new life. He meets Charlotte at a diner and falls in love. His mother wanted him to marry a town girl named Helen, who, instead, marries a preacher, Roy. Willard and Charlotte have a boy named Arvin, while Helen and Roy have Lenora. When Charlotte gets sick with cancer, Willard relies on his faith to heal her. Meanwhile, Helen is killed by a delusional Roy, and Lenora is left with Willard’s mother. After both his parents die, Arvin finds himself with his grandmother too. A few years later, a new preacher comes to town, and his lustful ways lead to worse things in Arvin’s life. Then there is a couple, Carl and Sandy, on a murder spree, while Sandy’s brother, Lee Bodecker tries to keep his position as the sheriff.
All the stories in ‘The Devil All The Time’ start to converge after the death of Lenora. After contemplating suicide, she thinks about not going forward with it but an accident claims her. Later, Arvin discovers that she had been pregnant, which leads him towards preacher Teagardin. He follows him around for some time and discovers that Teagardin is exploiting some other young girl now. He confronts him at the church where the preacher tries to shift the blame on Lenora, following which Arvin shoots him dead. He leaves behind a letter for his family as well as one for the cops who find the preacher’s body. He decides to go back to Knockemstiff, and on the way, is picked up by Carl and Sandy. He becomes suspicious of them when they take a detour and stop at an isolated place. Before Carl can attack him, he shoots him and points his gun at Sandy, who had been contemplating killing Carl too. But Marvin’s quick reaction and the lack of bullets in her gun (courtesy of a suspicious Carl) leads to her death. To prove his innocence, should he be caught, Arvin takes the photo and the roll he discovers in the car.
Meanwhile, Bodecker kills Leroy and ends the looming threat on himself, only to find that his sister has been killed too. At her place, he also finds out the pictures and the negatives that prove that Sandy and Carl had been killing people. He burns that evidence to prevent it from creating controversy for himself, for he is afraid that it will affect his chances in the next election. When the news of the preacher’s death at the hand of Arvin reaches Bodecker, he realizes that this is the same kid he had met all those years ago, and he knows exactly where to find him. Arvin ends up at the place where he used to come to pray with his father, the same place where he had found his dead body, and where his dog had been sacrificed. Bodecker follows him, but eventually, Arvin kills him too. He leaves behind the pictures, buries his father’s gun with Jack’s bones, and flees the scene.
What happens to Arvin?
With the blood of four people on his hands, Arvin knows now that going back to his grandmother and his uncle is not an option anymore. He hopes that through the note he left with Teagardin’s body and the pictures he left with Bodecker’s, the cops might deduce that he hadn’t killed anyone on purpose and that the law might allow him to come back home. But that possibility is a long-shot and Arvin makes his peace with the fact that he has to leave that part of his life behind.
He hitches a ride again; the driver is on his way to Cincinnati. After his recent interactions, he remains wary of the stranger he is traveling with and tries to stay awake, during which he also thinks about all the things he can do now. On the radio, we hear President Johnson declaring America’s increased presence in Vietnam, which makes Arvin wonder if he should enlist. The thoughts of being in the army merge with the story of his father, where, in the end, he can’t distinguish who he is thinking about. In his thoughts, the film provides us a peek into his future, should he choose to go down that path. But it doesn’t clearly pave anything for him. His future remains as uncertain as his life always had been.
Despite the lack of clarity on what happens next to him, the film gives us a hint about where it might be leading. One of the things that stand out about ‘The Devil All The Time’ is how everything comes around on everyone. For example, Helen falls in love with a false preacher who then kills her. Similarly, her daughter, Lenora, falls for another false preacher, which leads to her death. This possible mirroring in Arvin’s life is also hinted at the way his character develops throughout the film. We see him transforming into his father as he turns into a man who chooses time and place to exact revenge from being a sweet boy who would sing songs with his mother. The coming around to Knockemstiff, where the story had started, also gives a circular ring to it. Arvin also comes to terms with his father’s death and understands why he killed himself following Charlotte’s death. We find him thinking about religion in this context. Later, he thinks about meeting a girl and starting a family like his father did or joining the army as his father did. All these things make it look like Arvin, much like Lenora, is following into the footsteps of his father, even if unintentionally. Is he then doomed to go down the same path as Willard?
Another thing to keep in mind is that Arvin will never really be free of his past. The trail of bodies left behind by him isn’t something that can be ignored. He is a spree killer now, which makes it ironic in the way that we find him worrying about encountering another murderer as he hitches the next ride, while the person next to him should probably be worried about themselves. Even when he believes himself a good person who just happened to meet some very unfortunate circumstances in succession, the law won’t just let him off the hook. Even if the note about Teagardin exposes his true nature, even if Carl and Sandy’s murderous streak is brought to light, and even if it is revealed that he killed Bodecker in self-defense, Arvin is still a murderer on the run. The cops will keep looking for him and, sooner or later, he might get caught. Or, he might just enlist in the Vietnam war and probably never get caught.
Read More: Where is The Devil All The Time Filmed?