The Devil All The Time is Netflix’s new film inspired by the award-winning and critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Ronald Ray Pollock. Here is the plot of this captivating book.
The Devil All The Time is the film adaptation of the debut novel of the same name by the American writer Donald Ray Pollock.
Winner of numerous awards, the novel intertwines the lives of several characters in the years following World War II, including a war-shocked veteran, a false preacher and a husband and wife couple, as well as serial killers.
The film, however, available on Netflix from September 16, 2020 boasts the presence of a choral cast that includes Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson.
The Devil All The Time: the plot of the novel by Donald Ray Pollock
The Devil All The Time follows the events and fate of various characters each in their own way haunted by the secrets of the past. As the novel progresses, these people’s lives will converge in a totally unexpected way.
In a prologue, the writer presents the protagonist, Arvin, as a boy, sitting in a clearing with his father, Willard, on an oak log, joining him in his evening prayer routine. Willard is overly obsessive when it comes to praying and expects the same from his son. As Arvin prays, however, his wandering mind and feelings of isolation surface. At school, he feels completely alien to others and is often the victim of very exaggerated bullying.
The rest of the novel is divided into seven parts.
The first part begins in 1945, even before the prologue. Willard is a young single man who has just resigned from combat duty after the end of World War II. As he sits on a bus bound for his home in Coal Creek, West Virginia, he remembers the horrible things he saw and did during the War. One memory haunts him more than others: that of a soldier he runs into and who has been skinned and crucified. Willard shoots the man as an act of mercy, thus ending his suffering.
The bus he is traveling on, while he is intent on his memories, stops at a diner in Meade, Ohio. There, Willard meets and immediately falls in love with a beautiful waitress, Charlotte Willoughby. Once home, Willard is greeted by his nervous and emotionally compromised mother, Emma, and his brother, Uncle Earskell. Willard begins to get drunk, with his thoughts wandering from the horrors of war to the beautiful waitress he just met. He reveals to his mother that he has fallen in love, which ends up upsetting the woman because she made a pact with God: if the Lord had let her son live after the war, he would have arranged a wedding between Willard and poor Helen Hatton.
We also know the traveling preacher Roy and Theodore, a fat and crippled cousin of Roy himself, who later ends up having a daughter named Lenora from Helen.
Feeling his connection with God diminish, Roy decides that in order to regain his bond with the Lord he must crucify someone and raise them from the kingdom from the dead. Theodore, who hates Helen for conquering Roy, convinces her to kill her as a sacrifice. As was to be expected, however, Roy is unable to resurrect her from the world of the dead and flees the city, leaving Lenora with Emma (Willard’s mother).
Meanwhile Willard marries Charlotte (the maid) and together they have a son whom they call Arvin. As the years go by, Willard becomes more and more obsessed with prayer. An obsession that deepens when Charlotte falls ill with cancer. Willard’s rituals become progressively more bizarre and unsettling, culminating in animal and even human sacrifices. Willard believes these acts of devotion may be necessary to save his wife. Despite her husband’s “best efforts”, Charlotte dies and Willard decides to commit suicide. Traumatized by his parents’ death and his father’s behavior, Arvin moves in with his grandmother, Emma.
There he meets Lenora, an orphan girl whom Emma took with her after her mother, Helen, was killed (by traveling preacher Roy).
In the second part the reader is introduced to Carl and Sandy Henderson, a couple of evil murderers who live in Meade and who enjoy picking up male hitchhikers on the street, eventually killing them. Their reign of terror seems to persist in part due to the fact that Sandy’s brother, Sheriff Bodecker, is corrupt and incompetent. An unemployed photographer, Carl, helps the couple take pictures of their victims and, in an extremely depraved image, we see Sandy holding the severed head of one of their victims in her arms as if she were a child. It’s Carl’s favorite photo …
In part 3, Arvin and Lenora grow up and get very close. When Lenora becomes bullied at school, Arvin runs to her defense, fighting the bullies in a very brutal and mischievous way. His great-uncle, who had given him a gun for his 15th birthday, decides to put it away for a while given the boy’s behavior.
While the fourth part of the book focuses on the terrible crimes of Carl and Sandy, in the fifth we learn more about Roy, the traveling preacher who killed Lenora’s mother. Roy lives with his disabled cousin, Theodore. After being transferred from the church where he worked, Roy is replaced by a new preacher, Pastor Teagardin, who lives with his much younger wife, Cynthia. Lenora believes Teagardin is an exceptionally devoted man, but Arvin has his doubts. These suspicions are validated when the reader learns of Teagardin’s seductive arts and Cynthia’s sexual corruption. Teagardin then successfully seduces Lenora, making the young girl pregnant. Furious, Arvin shoots Teagardin and escapes from Coal Creek.
After the sixth part that follows the corrupt and murderous rampage of Carl and Sandy, the plots of the main characters converge in the final section, entitled “Ohio”. In the wake of Theodore’s death, a repentant Roy returns to the Appalachians to track down and apologize to Lenora, who we discover is dead. Unfortunately, she meets Carl and Sandy who make Roy their latest victim. Later, the two killers pick up Arvin, but after attacking him, Arvin takes over and shoots them both killing them. Sandy’s brother, Sheriff Bodecker, chases Arvin, and they end up in a stalemate in the same clearing where Willard performed his human sacrifices.
Arvin kills Bodecker and drives down the highway, full of hope for the future, for the first time in a long time.
The Streets of Evil is inspired by a true story?
Many may wonder if the author, for his debut novel published in 2011 at the ripe age of almost 60, drew on reality and true stories to write The Streets of Evil.
Reality somewhat nuanced Pollock’s award-winning book, but certainly no particular story inspired it. After all, Pollock still lives in Ohio, a few miles from Knockemstiff, where the novel opens and closes.
These are the author’s statements:
Most of the violence that takes place in the book is a figment of my imagination, although, for example, I witnessed a very similar beating to the one in the book when I was maybe ten. Also, when I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time at the bar or at home where it seemed, to me at least, that the threat that something bad was about to happen was always present. I think I have always considered the world as a somewhat sad and violent place. When you think about the horrible things some people do to each other in the real world – killing their children is just an unfortunate example – I don’t think the violence in my book is really that far from reality.
It now remains to be seen whether the film adaptation of The Streets of Evil will be appreciated by audiences and critics as was the novel, winner, as mentioned, of numerous and prestigious literary awards.