The Devil All The Time | From a Christian Perspective

There's an intriguing concept buried amidst Antonio Campos' adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock's novel, The Devil All The Time. This bleak deep-dive into God-fearing faith is a rollercoaster ride of a film that unknowingly becomes an exploration of the pitfalls that come alongside cherry-picking the Bible for personal gain. 

The Devil All The Time fell on my radar a few months ago for its dynamic cast-list and enthralling trailer with a blue-suited and frilly shirted Robert Pattinson slapping the alter proclaiming "Delusions!". The film delivered is somewhat a sobering version of the one initially promised. 

There are forty-seven minutes of exposition before the narrative that introduces Tom Holland, Eliza Scanlen and Robert Pattinson gets started. It's essentially an exploration of how parents influence our perception of reality from a young age and how their actions become part of our unconscious in adulthood.

Faith has been part of my life since childhood. Never once inflicted through parents or long-Sundays spent singing hymns in a collective congregation, no, I came to it myself in later life. My mother's mother had crosses pinned to the walls with bible verses and external faith that was unshakable. She passed in my early teenage years, and although her Roman Catholic heritage was my introduction, it wasn't until I was twenty that I found faith on my terms. 

In my church's Sunday's service this week, the message centred on the way in which modern Christianity decorates itself with joy without recognising the sorrow. "We fail to balance our diet with the beautiful and biblical wisdom on suffering and disappointment," was the predominant focus of the message. "We can even go as far as ignoring or denying our human realities thinking that somehow pain, tragedy and brokenness are unchristian," it's strange that this message coincided so smoothly with the release of this film.

The Devil All The Time explores the repercussions of living with a faith that stifles pain and suffering, with every character's demise rooted in a complicated relationship with religion. There's a belief system that Christians will tell you, and that is that Christianity is about a relationship with God, not about religion. 

Eliza Scanlen plays Lenora Laferty, the personification of a dated ideal vision of Christianity. Her relationship with God is the foundation of her personality, and her virtue stems from this. She is the only character without an alternative motive, kindhearted and pure in a world corrupt with optional religion that cherry-picks and uses God as a motive instead of a moral compass. She is an interesting character study of whether or not this pure-ideological Christianity can co-exist alongside such corrupt conservative religion dominating the narrative. 

On the same concept, Tom Holland's character, Arvin Russell, has arguably the most complicated relationship with religion. His father, Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard), inflicted a brutal power on prayer that became manipulative and tainted his youth which bled into adulthood, and the way he handled conflict and adversity. He appears to be a symbol of the agnostic, never truly defining his beliefs one way or the other, and ultimately he is the only one that survives. He is simultaneously the most mediated and the most extreme and has an intolerance for religion-induced violence. 

God-fearing faith is the foundation of religion led by the Old Testament, the God that required service before providing riches, misinterpreted by a world that became obsessed with its own legacy and fell victim to sin. The New Testament is what is principally practised now, with the idea that Jesus came to provide a link between Heaven and Earth, allowing God to be seen as man, no longer a mystery. This concept is what wipes the slate clean in the Old Testament, reviving an outdated vision of a punishing God, one who requires fear before provision. The issue with Conservative Christianity, as the type displayed in The Devil All The Time, is that religion becomes individualistic. Rev. Preston Teagardin, played by Robert Pattinson, is the personification of this mentality. He is cruel and manipulative, and his faith is a weapon used forcefully for his own pursuits. 

"Like the characters in this story, I've inherited a little bit of both my parents' extremes," Antonio Campos included in his director's statement, "I still struggle with my faith and continue to question it." I feel as though this is a feeling that many viewers will find resonates with them, and despite all their idiosyncracies, the characters do display a great deal of naturalism that is both terrifying and intriguing. The large ensemble cast means it is likely you will find someone to situate yourself alongside to validate the way you feel about and relate to religion and faith. 

There is, no doubt, a lot of nuance that isn't significantly apparent on the first watch, and I fear that a second, perhaps third viewing would be necessary to divulge further on these themes. The only trouble being, the tone is so sombre it feels masochistic to return once more to Knockemstiff, and I suppose my curiosity will have to wait before I fall back into its madness.  

Until next time

The Devil All The Time releases globally on Netflix September 16th.

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