Prof. Sarahbeth Spasojevich
Eng 121 – 1N4 English Comp I
25 October 2009
The movie, Sling Blade, had it’s origins from the short “Some Call It a Sling Blade” directed by George Hickenlooper. This movie, written and directed by Billie Bob Thornton, is one of the finest pieces of film art that I have viewed in a long time. The character Karl Childers, perceived by most as mentally challenged, is being released from a mental hospital, where he has been an inmate/patient for 25 years. What influences and actions of others can change an introverted, shy “inmate” into a person capable of love, fidelity, and loyalty?
As the movie opens, we see Karl seated in a chair, looking out of the window of the dayroom of the hospital. Another patient, Charles Bushman, has drawn a chair over to Karl’s side, and is regaling him with sexually explicit stories. Watching Karl’s face, the audience can see how embarrassed and uncomfortable these stories are making Karl. One senses that this scene has been played out repeatedly. The hospital administrator rescues Karl by taking him to meet with a young high school girl, who wishes to interview Karl about his pending release. Karl is so shy and introverted that he must meet with her in a darkened room, lit only by a table lamp. She is not allowed to talk to him; only he can relate to her whatever he wants to say. Through his recital, we learn that Karl was considered “slow” as a child. All of the town’s children made fun of him. He relates to her the story of Jesse Dexter, who was very cruel to him as a child, and who harassed the young girls in town. He witnessed Jesse Dexter having sex with his mother. He became so angry that he picked up a sling blade (similar to a scythe) and hit Jesse in the head with it, practically decapitating him. When his mother yelled at him for what he had done, he realized that she was as bad as Jesse was, and he killed her, too. All of this is relayed to the young reporter, in the near dark, while Karl sits continually wringing his hands. This is the only sign that we see that all of this history disturbs Karl.
Karl is then released to go where he wishes. He has only a stack of books, his Bible, and some money given to him by the mental hospital. He has decided to go to the only place he knows, which is his hometown. He meets a young boy, Frank Wheatley, at a Laundromat. He helps Frank carry laundry to Frank’s home, and they begin to get acquainted. This is the first relationship that Karl has made since his release. As he has no home to go to, he eventually tries to go back to the hospital, where it is “known” and “safe”. He is told he cannot stay there, however, the hospital administrator helps Karl by setting up a job fixing motors, etc., in a fixit shop in Karl’s hometown. He is allowed to sleep in the back of the shop, and begins to form a relationship with his new boss. Karl’s confidence seems to be building with each new relationship he makes. This is apparent as his vocabulary continues to grow.
Karl’s friend Frank takes him to meet his mother, Linda, who invites Karl to stay in their garage. He agrees and starts to become a member of their family. The only fly in the ointment is Doyle, Linda’s boyfriend. Doyle is a bully who drinks too much, brutalizes Frank every chance he gets, and abuses Linda. Frank tells Karl that, if his Dad was still alive, his Dad would have killed Doyle for the way Doyle treats his mom. Frank misses his dad and cannot understand why he killed himself. The abuse by Doyle continues through the movie, culminating in Karl’s decision to kill Doyle in order to protect Linda and Frank.
It is obvious that Karl has been shaped by the people and circumstances that he encountered throughout his life. We discover in the course of the movie that Karl’s father and mother taught him to “do as you are told”. This was enforced strongly enough that,...