Sling Blade (film)

Sling Blade
Slingbladeposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBilly Bob Thornton
Produced byLarry Meistrich
David L. Bushell
Brandon Rosser
Screenplay byBilly Bob Thornton
Based onSome Folks Call It a Sling Blade
by Billy Bob Thornton
Starring
Music byDaniel Lanois
CinematographyBarry Markowitz
Edited byHughes Winborne
Production
company
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • November 27, 1996 (1996-11-27)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1 million[1]
Box office$24.4 million[1]

Sling Blade is a 1996 American drama film written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who also stars in the lead role. Set in rural Arkansas, the film tells the story of a man named Karl Childers who has an intellectual disability and is released from a psychiatric hospital, where he has lived since killing his mother and her lover when he was 12 years old, and the friendship he develops with a young boy and his mother. In addition to Thornton, it stars Dwight Yoakam, J. T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton, and Robert Duvall.

The film was adapted by Thornton from his previous screenplay for the short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, directed by George Hickenlooper. Sling Blade proved to be a sleeper hit, launching Thornton into stardom. It won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, and Thornton was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The music for the soundtrack was provided by French Canadian artist/producer Daniel Lanois.

Plot

Karl Childers is an intellectually disabled Arkansas man, who has been in the custody of the state mental hospital since the age of 12, for having killed his mother and her lover. Although he had been thoroughly institutionalized, Karl is deemed fit to be released into the outside world. Prior to his release, he is interviewed by a local college newspaper reporter, and he recounts committing the murders with a Kaiser blade, saying, "Some folks call it a sling blade. I call it a kaiser blade." Karl says he thought the man was raping his mother. When he discovered that his mother was a willing participant in the affair, he killed her too.

Thanks to the doctor in charge of his institutionalization, Karl, who is highly skilled at repairing small engines, lands a job at a repair shop in the small town where he was born and raised. He befriends 12-year-old Frank Wheatley, and shares some of the details of his past, including the killings. Frank reveals that his father was killed when he was hit by a train, leaving him and his mother on their own. He later admits that he lied, and that his father committed suicide.

Frank introduces Karl to his mother, Linda, and her gay friend, Vaughan Cunningham. Vaughan is the manager of the dollar store where Linda works. Despite Vaughan's concerns about Karl's history in the mental hospital, Linda allows him to move into her garage, which angers Linda's abusive alcoholic boyfriend, Doyle Hargraves. Karl bonds with Linda, who makes him biscuits to eat. Vaughan tells Karl that a gay man and a mentally challenged man face similar obstacles of intolerance, and ridicule, in small-town America.

Karl quickly becomes a father figure to Frank, who misses his father, and despises Doyle. Karl visits his father, who has become a mentally unbalanced hermit, living in the dilapidated home where Karl grew up. Karl is haunted by an incident that happened when he was 6 or 8 years old. His parents performed an abortion of his unwanted baby brother, causing the baby to "come out too soon," and Karl was given a bloody towel wrapped around the baby, which survived the abortion. Karl was instructed to "get rid of it," but when Karl detected movement inside the towel, he inspected it, discovering "a little ol' boy" that "wasn't no bigger than a squirrel."

While recounting this story to Frank, Frank asks why Karl did not just keep the baby, to which Karl replies that he had no way to care for a baby. He placed the baby, still in the bloody towel, inside a shoe box and buried the baby alive, saying he felt it was better to just "return him to the good Lord right off the bat," because of the abuse and neglect he received at the hands of his own parents. Karl tells his father that killing the baby was wrong, and that he had wanted to kill his father for making him do it, but eventually decided that he was not worth the effort.

Meanwhile, Doyle becomes increasingly abusive towards Karl and Frank, leading to an eventual drunken outburst and physical confrontation with Linda and Frank, angering the boy. Linda then kicks Doyle out of the house, despite his threats to kill her if she ever left him. A few days later, Linda and Doyle reconcile. Knowing that he has the upper hand again, Doyle confronts Karl and Frank, and announces his plan to move into the house permanently. Doyle plans "big changes", including Karl's removal from the house. Karl begins to realize that, eventually, either Frank is going to kill Doyle and end up just like him, or that Doyle's abuse will end up killing Frank and Linda. In order to prevent this, Karl makes Frank promise to spend the night at Vaughan's house, and asks Vaughan to pick up Linda from work, and have her stay over also.

Karl returns to Linda's house, but seems undecided about whether to enter. When confronted, a drunk Doyle asks what Karl is doing with the lawnmower blade he had sharpened and fashioned into a weapon. Karl replies, "I aim to kill you with it," but not before asking how to reach the police by telephone. Not taking Karl seriously, Doyle says he should dial 911 and request "an ambulance, or a 'hearst'." Karl kills Doyle with two chopping blows of the lawnmower blade to the head. Karl then phones the police to turn himself in, and requests a "hearst" be sent for Doyle. He eats biscuits while waiting for the police.

Returned to the state hospital, he seems to be a different person than he was during his previous institutionalization, having learned the value of sacrificing one's self to save others. He silences a sexual predator who had previously forced him to listen to tales of his horrible deeds.

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