« I always struggle with happy endings » says Antonio Campos, the director behind Netflix’s new southern gothic film, The Devil All the Time. « I like endings that leave you with the hope for something better but the chance for something else and you have to kind of pick your own version of it. »
The auteur’s noir thriller is a story about the pain, trauma and prejudices passed between generations in the communities around Knockemstiff, Ohio, between the Second World War and The Vietnam War. It’s here that the stories of a genteel, slippery preacher, a murderous couple, a man maddened by grief and hollow from PTSD, and his quiet son all converge for a tale of bloodshed and vengeance.
By the close of the film there is a sense of hope for that young boy. Now grown-up, he has taken vengeance into his own hands and tied up the loose ends of the story, hitchhiking away a free man.
As Arvin sits in the car he overhears the radio talking about the increase in troops for the Vietnam War, before yawning and starting to fall asleep. The narrator – the voice of the novel’s author Donald Ray Pollock – comes in to tell us that Arvin’s « mind begun taking him places » while we are shown the trail of destruction he left in killing Sheriff Bodecker and Reverend Teagardin. The narrator continues, « Maybe he’d meet a girl and start a family like his daddy did », and we see a series of flashbacks from throughout the film from Arvin’s childhood, explaining that as the thoughts came to him, « he didn’t know if he was going backwards or forwards ».
There is a dreamlike sense of calm to the voice telling this story as we watch Arvin’s eyes close, which is intentionally offset by the violent images which flash on screen. « We felt that if there was even a glimmer of hope at the end of this very dark journey then that would be very welcome and appropriate, » Campos says. « So we wrote this fading to sleep kind of end where he enters a kind of dream-state and in that there’s the suggestion of freewill. He could settle down and start a family or he could go and enlist in the Vietnam War, but he hasn’t decided one way or another. »
This idea is suggested as the narrator says « the thought of enlisting got into his brain », adding that he wasn’t sure if he was thinking about himself or his father anymore. Arvin knows he doesn’t want to end up in a war but he’s good at fighting and so is resigned that this might be where he belongs. It’s a conflicted conclusion to the film, where we feel confused why he would want to repeat the mistakes of his father and yet resigned to the circle of pain he is tied into.
« I think that the ending of the movie is giving you a little bit of a reprieve from the darkness and the weight and the violence, » Campos says. « So that in and of itself feels hopeful. »
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The Devil All the Time
Actu monde – AU – The ‘The Devil All The Time’ Director Explains The Film’s Conflicted Ending