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Movie Review - Sling Blade with Billie Bob Thornton (1996)

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Background

The film “Sling Blade” was written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who also plays the main character and plays him to perfection.  The word “riveting” comes to mind as the best description of this awesome tale.  Thornton should have won the Academy Award for his acting efforts, but did win the Oscar for writing the screenplay.

                                                             

Billy Bob Thornton

                                                                       Billy Bob Thornton                                                                                                                                                 Wikimedia

Introduction

Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) was about to be released from the mental hospital where he had resided since he was twelve years old.  Karl was mentally disabled, but he had another reason for his incarceration.  Prison officials arranged for him to be interviewed by two journalism majors for their school paper concerning his release now that he was well and about to be returned to society.

He explained to the reporter taking notes that he had killed the man who was raping his mother with a kaiser blade “which some people call a sling blade.”  When the boy realized that the act was consensual, he killed his mother also. 

                                    

Lawn Mower

                                                            Lawn Mower - Wikimedia

A Job Offer

Upon his release, a prison official made arrangements for Karl to be interviewed by the owner of a small engine repair shop in his hometown of Millsberg, Arkansas.  While being institutionalized, the patient became adept at repairing lawn mowers and other small machines, which he enjoyed doing.  The repair shop hired him.

A New Friend

When Karl went to the local laundromat, he encountered a young boy named Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) who was struggling to carry several bags of laundry back home.  He offered to help the boy.  In their conversation, Frank mentioned that his father was dead; he had been hit by a train.  His mother Linda (Natalie Canerday) worked at the Dollar Store and Frank invited his new friend to come and meet her.  He said that his mother’s boss Vaughan (John Ritter) would always allow Frank to have candy and soft drinks when he visited his mother there.

                                                          

John Ritter

                                                                John Ritter - Wikimedia

A New Home

Karl agreed to go and was introduced to Linda and Vaughan as well.  Vaughan had several cans of Spam that he was trying to give away.  Frank did not want it so Karl ended up with the treasure.  Linda invited him to come for supper at their house.  When she felt comfortable about her son having a new friend, she offered to let Karl stay in their garage if he wanted to.  Karl was happy with the suggestion because he had bonded with Frank, and Linda had been kind to him also.  Frank told Karl that he liked to hear the way he talked, and Karl liked the way Frank talked.  They became instant buddies.

Introduction to Doyle

At their home, Karl was introduced to Linda’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) who became sarcastic and insulting to Karl.  Frank told Karl that Doyle mistreated his mother and called him names.  He said that he sometimes wanted to kill Doyle.  Frank admitted that his father was not hit by a train, but had committed suicide.  His mother accepted Doyle’s attentions because she missed having her husband to care for her and Frank.

That evening, Doyle asked his band friends to come over to entertain everyone.  The gathering was on Linda’s front porch and the neighbors complained about the noise.  Doyle had been drinking and insulted the neighbors although the band stopped playing and they all went inside.  Doyle continued his abusive language to everyone, and hit Linda in the process.  She asked him to leave.  Doyle returned the next day and apologized to Linda.  She accepted his apology and everything went on as before.

                                               

Dwight Yoakam

                                                         Dwight Yoakam - Wikimedia

Reminiscence About His Past

Frank, who missed his father and was disturbed when Doyle kept putting him down, began to look on Karl as a father figure.  Karl played ball with him and his friends.  He began to look on Frank as his younger brother.  He revealed to Frank that when he was about six years old, his parents aborted a baby boy and gave it to Karl wrapped in a blanket, instructing him to bury it in the yard.  Karl did as he was told, but felt the baby move as he was carrying out the task.  He put him in a shoe box and gave him a proper burial, not knowing what else to do, and sensed that the baby would be better off away from the parents who had abused Karl and would do the same to the baby.

Vaughan Becomes a Friend

Linda’s boss and friend, Vaughan, asked Karl to meet him for lunch one day and explained to Karl that Linda and Frank were like family to him, and he feared for them because of Doyle’s abusive nature.  He told Karl that he was gay and had also been the object of Doyle’s insults.  He felt a kinship towards Karl since they were both looked upon by the world as different.

A Visit to A Long-Lost Father

One day, Karl went back to his home to visit his father (Robert Duvall) whom he had never seen in all the years that he had been confined.  His father had virtually disowned him.  His father was living like a hermit in a house cluttered with debris.  When Karl told him that he was his son, his father answered that he had no son.  Karl left.

Doyle Lays Down the Law

One afternoon, when Frank and Karl were with Linda and Doyle at home, Doyle sent Linda to get some fast food for their dinner.  When she was gone, Doyle admitted that he wanted to speak alone to Frank and Karl.  He said that he was moving in with Linda and that he would be paying all the bills and making all the decisions.  He told Frank to stay out of his way at all times, and told Karl to pack up his things and leave.  Karl did so.

He stopped off at Vaughan’s house to have a talk with Vaughan.  He had made Frank promise to go straight to Vaughan’s house after school, and asked Vaughan to pick up Linda after work and keep her at his house also.

                                                           

Robert Duvall

                                                                        Robert Duvall                                                                                                                                                       Wikimedia

Karl Confronts Doyle

The ending was predictable.  Everything foretold what was going to occur.  When Karl confronted Doyle at Linda’s house, Doyle was alone and had been drinking.  Doyle asked him why he had a lawn mower blade in his hand.  Karl, in his laconic way, said “I aim to kill you with it.”  He then asked Doyle how to contact the police.  “Call 911, and be sure to tell them to bring an ambulance or a hearse,” he gibed.  Karl did exactly that.

Back in the Hospital

The last scene showed Karl back at the mental hospital, where he received the best care he could hope for.  He no longer tolerated the convict who had always singled out Karl to force him to listen to his bravado about his exploits on the outside.   It is easy to conclude that his temporary release had a supernatural purpose, to save the lives of his friends, Frank and Linda.  This film was the most thought-provoking experience I have had in a long time.

[1]

 

By Billy Bob Thornton Sling Blade (1st First Edition) [Paperback]
Amazon Price: $48.98 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 2, 2016)
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Bibliography

  1. "Sling Blade." The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. 2/03/2016. 2/03/2016 <Web >

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