It's a pretty hard R. There's some really gruesome things that happen in this movie. A lot of it is done in the name of faith and Christ which makes it all the more uncomfortable. There's sexual content, including nudity. Instead, this is an ugly world. There is very little actual happiness in this movie. The movie is so bleak that one of the subplots involves serial killers. Violence also happens to animals. I mention it because I know that is a specific trigger that gets some people. Regardless, this one has earned its R rating.
DIRECTOR: Antonio Campos
Well, I can say that I've probably seen one movie that's going to be nominated for the Academy Awards. A lot of me is guessing that. While I enjoyed the film quite a bit and might be one of the only real talking point films this year, it's not like the movie changed my life. I'm not dismissing it, but I'm roundabout getting to the idea that this feels like a movie that was made to win awards. It's one of those vehicles that allows actors to show how much they can act in any scene. It's bleak and it's grotesque without straying into the horror category. It's got accents. I mean, like, everyone in this movie is doing a dialect. Everyone. That means the movie has merit or something.
But I really do want to stress, the movie is pretty good. As much as I'm going to fill this blog entry with philosophical mumbo jumbo and look at the theory of film or whatever, I kept saying to myself, "This movie is pretty good." The Internet told me that they were better than this movie, but my neighbor told me that it was pretty good. (Hi, Brian!) (Don't worry, there was a lot of yelling across yards to maintain social distancing.) My neighbor was right. The Devil All the Time is a gorgeous movie that has something to actually say, even if that idea probably has been said too many times before.
I'm going to be negative first because that's just what's on my mind grapes. As much as I was in awe of the movie, the themes of the film have been covered (as I just mentioned) to the point where it is getting a bit old. We live in a time period where a lot of ugliness is coming out of people of faith. For all the amazing acting and impressive cinematography, this is yet another movie that feels like a dogpile on people of faith. The movie keeps on dealing with the concept of religion and goodness. Arvin, for how screwed up he is, is probably the most moral character out of a group of completely contemptable people, and I can't ignore the fact that he is the one character who prides himself with his skepticism. I suppose that his adopted sister is actually the most moral character, but her faith leads her to be taken advantage of, ultimately leading to her suicide / accidental hanging. (If you watch the movie, I'm sure that you know why I'm hesitant to full on label it a suicide.) The movie doesn't really show a healthy relationship with the Lord. For all of its bluster, it has a pretty bleak outlook on religion, which kind of feels dog-piley for long stretches of the movie.
I mean, Arvin's father loses his faith when he sees his buddy crucified. Understandably. But it is odd that he is at his healthiest when he is an atheist. But when he finds his faith, he instantly becomes this zealot. It's this zeal that alienates his son from the faith. Similarly, Willard is hypocritical in his faith. As much moaning and wailing he does in front of his homemade chapel in the woods, he also encourages violence and retribution for any injustice that befalls his family. While I love the idea that Willard has such a toxic relationship when it comes to his faith, the crucifixion of the dog makes very little sense. Sacrificing his dog on the cross seems counter to his entire character. The witnessing of the first crucifixion during the war took his faith away. I can see thinking that God needed a sacrifice for his wife, but nailing the dog to a cross makes very little sense with his character.
But all this griping about how there's no positive faith characters is something I gotta get past because I also don't want people of faith to get a free pass. Maybe it's lame and lazy of me, but I just want there to be some degree of balance in the film. (I know. I hate me too.) There are fascinating examinations of faith in the film that I do kind of want to pick apart. Roy's faith comes across as the most insane thing in the film. In a film where there are multiple crucifixion scenes, that's kind of saying something. Roy is the guy who pours spiders all over his head and then murders his wife by kinda/sorta accident (again, watch the movie) with a screwdriver. But Roy is the kind of faith we're supposed to be aiming for. Okay, that's a large leap and I want to step it back a bit. Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac is a story about how God doesn't want people to sacrifice people. It's weird that a preacher (admittedly, in the throws of insanity) wouldn't take that message. It's not like he heard God tell him to sacrifice his wife. Instead, he decides to test his own faith and, by proxy, test God in the process. Roy believes as we should believe that God will take care. But Roy is also this morality tale of the dangers of testing God and demanding power over God. From moment one of the screwdriver coming out, the entire scene reads as nuts. As bleak as it is, the scene is laced with the darkest of humor. It's a very Coen scene and I absolutely dig it.
I'm going to try to spill the allegory right here. I apologize if it gets a little sloppy, but simplifying anything to a clear answer tends to do that. The movie comes to a head when Arvin confronts Teagardin about the consequences of impregnating his sister. We know he's going to kill him. Tom Holland in that scene just sweats bullets, pun intended. He's there with purpose and bravado. There's no doubt of what is going to happen in that sequence. It's just a matter of watching it play out the way it does. Teagardin represents faith, specifically the corruption of faith. Willard corrupted faith with the death of his wife and the killing of the dog. His sister represented a return to the faith stolen away. When Arvin kills Teagardin, he's physically verifying the end of faith. But he's not really let off the hook. It's kind of funny how people go from killing no people to killing lots of people in a day, but that's something that happens to him. I'm now trying to sift through the blank. As much as this movie is about the terribleness of religion, it may not be a world without God. Mind you, it's a really dark trickster God who likes to mess with probabilities. The fact that Arvin is shot by a blank is implying the work of some higher power. But it's not saying that Arvin should at all pursue that God because his return to the forest chapel that his father created only brings more violence. Yeah, Arvin survives, but he has to kill a fourth person of the day, who happens to be a corrupt cop. The death of Bodecker feels like it is tacked on as the conclusion of the film. It feels like there needed to be a solid ending and it definitely is. But I don't know if it gels with the themes of the film. Or maybe my exploration is way off.
The Devil All the Time is a heck of a film. It's powerful, but bleak. It is this world that just seems hopeless, so be in a certain mood when watching it. But it is a well crafted tale that has some pretty good meat on the bones.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.