As a foreigner, when one thinks of a country like the US, one does not usually think of the long-forgotten rural areas. There is this automatic thought process that makes foreigners think of industrialized nations as being equally developed throughout their territory. Thinking of the US is often a synonym for thinking about big cities like New York or Los Angeles. In this ideal construction, there is no place for something different.
It is obvious that no country is the same in its entirety, but we do forget it, or at least I do. Watching ‘The Devil All the Time’ made me fully aware of this fact. Although I know that there is a huge gap between rural and urban areas, it is as if my mind wanders to this non-existing place where everyone and everything moves at the pace of 21st-century capitalism. Nothing is farther away from the truth.
In reality, a country is a collection of diverse and very different areas. People in one place can be totally different from people in other places. However, as diverse as these people are, there are still some things in common. The same applies to rural areas. The urban-rural divide is sometimes a great way to look at how life moves in one place or another.
There is something curious and mysterious about the countryside. Time goes by at a slower pace than in cities, yes, but additionally, there seem to be important differences when it comes to people’s beliefs. This is something that ‘The Devil All the Time’ fully portrays. It takes the viewer on a journey to a mid-century rural USA that is often forgotten. One where there is often no place for a city-like mentality.
The idea of progress seems to be lagging in this far away countryside. Religious fanatism is usually present. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being devoted to religion, but there does seem to be a side to it that is not so nice when a priest starts taking advantage of young girls and makes them do inappropriate things in the name of the lord. Religions aside, there are other things about the country that are not so nice and make this romantic idea of an ideal life with nature fade away. It is not so nice either when you reach a no man’s land where criminals can do whatever they want, especially if that means killing travelers on the road.
These sound like isolated cases that do not depict what rurality means, something very specific that happens only so often. But what if this were the norm in the country? What if people, still in a sort of medieval mindset, but with the benefits of industrialism, existed in a sort of time trap? In terms of the available industrial tools, reality seems to be one, and in terms of ideas, it is a whole different story. Materialism and ideas coexist in an almost contradictory way.
The thing is that these two contrasting realities often than not coexist, and it is interesting to see how they are portrayed in the film. As a viewer, one gets to experience what it feels to be trapped in a land where time does not seem to move, yet the future is already present. It is an oxymoron like no other. One that affects life.
The lives of many can be touched by the actions of others in a time warp situation like this; this is something that happens in both urban and rural areas. So, what’s the big deal? The thing is that, in the country, it often happens that things are strangely connected. The degree of human connection seems to be more susceptible in smaller and less densely populated areas. In contrast, a city brings us closer, but at the same time, it weakens our connections.
The man who came back from war to raise a family. The guy who met a girl at a diner and married her. The child whose parents died in a tragic accident. These are stories that could easily happen in the city, but when it comes to the country, everything changes. This single difference makes for an important qualitative change. In particular, to how time moves.
There is no escape to the whims of time, as we are all puppets on a string.