Warning: SPOILERS for Netflix’s The Devil All The Time are in play. If you don’t want to be tempted to spoil this dark and dour Netflix offering, turn back and return once you’re caught up.
By the time co-writer/director Antonio Campos’ The Devil All The Time wraps its noir-ish tale of religious fervor and personal strife, there’s quite a body count that’s racked up. Tom Holland’s Arvin Russell is one of the only survivors from the story’s main cast, barely surviving one final encounter with once friend, now nemesis, Sheriff Lee Bodicker (Sebastian Stan). But did any of these fatal events in the bloody history of Knockemstiff, Ohio really need to happen? Not really, as one minor change would have totally altered the story. Spoilers ahoy, as I’m about tell you the secret to how The Devil All the Time may have been able to keep more of its characters alive.
The Minor Change That Could Have Altered The Devil All The Time’s Outcome
Arvin Russell’s fate seems to be tied all the way back to a decision his father, Willard (Bill Skarsgaard), made back in his youth. Choosing to marry the waitress he fell for, Charlotte (Haley Bennett), rather than the woman his mother pledged him to, the ill-fated Helen Hatton (Mia Wasikowska), a series of events take place that lead to Helen dying at the hand of her eventual husband/aspiring faith healer, Roy (Harry Melling), and Willard grieving for a wife who dies after a battle with cancer. But if Willard had married Helen, things would have turned out rather differently.
How Willard Russell’s Life Would Have Changed
Two very different results would have occurred If Willard had married Helen instead. The first would be that Helen would have never been murdered by Roy, which at the same time would have prevented her daughter, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), from being born. What’s more, Willard would have never married Charlotte, which in turn wouldn’t see him going down the increasingly dark path of devotion and sacrifice in the name of trying to help Charlotte get better.
In fact, he may have returned to his faith in a kinder, gentler nature under Helen, which would have ensured that Arvin still had a dog to love and cherish. For the sake of our fictional argument, and through some poetic license, let’s say that Arvin was still born, happy and healthy; something that makes the changes ahead even more crucial to The Devil All The Time’s particular story.
How Arvin Russell’s Life Would Have Changed
This potential version of Arvin Russell could have had a much better life overall, first and foremost because he didn't have to see his mother dying due to cancer. In the long run though, Helen being in the picture this prevents the rather brutal beatdown that Willard lays on a random man who cat calls Charlotte in The Devil All The Time. Which means that Arvin never learns that crucial lesson that whether he starts a fight or not, he better know how to finish it.
The greatest change to Arvin’s fate is that without Charlotte’s death, Willard may not have committed suicide. Without his suicide, Arvin never goes off to live with his grandmother, Emma (Kristin Griffith), and great uncle, Earskell (David Atkinson), which potentially sees him never getting the fateful Luger that his father had given him upon his return from World War II. At the very least, he’d have gotten that gun at another time in his life, one where he could have merely slugged Preacher Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) something fierce instead of killing him.
What The Russell Family’s Fate Could Have Done For The Rest Of The Devil All The Time
With the Russell family not taking such a dark turn as they had in The Devil All The Time, Arvin would have never had to meet Sheriff Lee Bodicker in the first place. Nor would he have run into the murderous Hendersons (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), which would have triggered the chain of events that saw Arvin murder all three people. The Bodicker family drama would have been separate from that of the Russells, with the former being left to their own miserable ways and the latter being somewhat normal.
Arvin’s escalating path of violence might not have taken shape, with his father still alive to help him learn wrong from right. Or those notions may have still presented themselves, just in different ways and with different consequences as a result. We’ll never know for sure, as the events of The Devil All The Time struck their specific chords of fate, and the results only followed as they were fated. If you’ve seen the film already and want to take another look to see of our theory holds up, or if you’ve read this story and somehow haven’t seen the movie, The Devil All The Timeis currently available to watch on Netflix.