Slingblade Essay, Research Paper
The Complete Review
This film by virtue of its independence has shied away from the usual hype associated with American movies. The result is an original screenplay by Billy Bob Thornton that is transformed into a mesmerising tale of the south. Thornton cast actors with ability rather than their image or Hollywood status . Sling Blade challenges us to re-evaluate our principles and our definitions of right, wrong and of justice.
Billy Bob Thornton plays a slightly retarded psychiatric patient by the name of Karl Childers, who has been in an asylum for the criminally insane for the last 25 years. As his name suggests, Karl Childers is a child-like man with instilled Southern Christian values and somewhat comical mannerisms including his nervous grunts and the rubbing of his hands together in preparation and readiness for the day ahead, or perhaps with satisfaction and acceptance of self. His jutting lower lip, raspy voice and short back and sides haircut have similarities with the protagonist in the movie Forest Gump, but that is where the similarities end. Despite Karl s horrific background, a sense of right and wrong and of justice still seem to pervade. Billy Bob Thornton doesn t so much act but more so becomes Karl Childers. Karl, at the age of twelve murdered his mother and her lover, the local bully, with a sling blade in a fit of evangelical rage.
In the first scene we come into contact with Karl. A soothing sythesiser plays slow haunting music to set the tone. We are introduced to Charles Bushman, played by J.T Walsh, a fellow psychiatric patient at the asylum. He likes to reminisce about his perverted glory days with a sentimental yearning to re-live them. Charles slowly and deliberately drags a chair across the room. In this way, an instant dislike for Charles is achieved without him saying a word. He details the story of his last murder to Karl, at this early stage of the movie it is unclear whether Karl is approving of this one way conversation.
A request by the local newspaper to interview Karl before he is released is approved and he is escorted through the clinical white corridors of what he calls the nervous hospital. Karl gives his detailed story of how he murdered his mother and her lover to a trainee journalist from the local newspaper. Karl waits outside the room, the fluorescent lights in the room are turned off and a small lamp is turned on in its place. A silhouette of Karl enters the room, behind him, the glow of the fluorescent lights in the hallway, a warden lights his cigarette with a Zippo, adding a glow to the light starved room. Karl begins to tell his story under the soft light of the lamp. His story is accompanied by a strong and slow heartbeat. As the story is reaching its horrific climax, the heartbeat quickens, and with the last word of the story, the heartbeat now louder and quicker than ever, stops. The lighting creates a chilling moment in the movie. The constant use of lighting is most definitely contemporary noir.
Upon Karl s release the music changes to a more cheerful harmonica and synthesizer representing his contentment with his new found freedom. Karl heads back to where he was raised in a small country town in Arkansas. Karl stops and rests outside the local Laundromat and notices a young boy by the name of Frank struggling out with the washing, Karl offers to take the laundry the half-mile walk to the house. Lucas Black gives a wonderful performance as an innocent albeit nervous boy who is having difficulty coming to terms with the suicide of his father several years earlier. Frank takes an instant liking to Karl and adopts him as a kind of father figure. Karl can see in Frank his own lost youth and innocence.
But the world is just too big for Karl so he returns to the hospital, only to be told that he is no longer allowed stay there. James Hampton plays Jerry Woolridge, the warden. Jerry is concerned for Karl and arranges for him to stay at his place for the night so he can then try to arrange some work and a place to stay. Karl is given the daughters room for the night but when Jerry enters in the morning, he finds Karl sheepishly sitting on the end of the bed, taking great care not to crease the bed sheets. This displays Karl s good nature and respect for other people.
Karl begins work at the local fix-it store and gets a room in the back area and begins to get along with his new life.
Karl decides to call on his new found friend and finds that Frank is on his way to the local supermarket where his mother works. Linda Wheatley, the mother is played by Natalie Canderday. Linda is a kind-hearted and trusting southern woman who is also picking up the pieces after the death of her husband. At this point, we are also introduced to Vaughn (John Ritter) a closet homosexual in an intolerant Southern country town. Vaughn is best friend and self-proclaimed protector of Linda.
Frank persuades Linda to allow frank to stay in the garage out the back of the house. She agrees on the basis that the boy needs some form of father figure. Both Linda and Vaughn trust Karl and take him at face value not questioning his past. A particularly humourous part of the movie is when Vaughn takes Karl out to lunch to have a heart to heart and to make sure that that Karl s intentions are not to hurt either Linda or Frank. Vaughn also wants to warn Karl about the malevolent Doyle.
Dwight Yoakam plays Linda s boyfriend, Doyle Hargraves, a belligerent, alcoholic, construction worker who abuses just about everyone he comes into contact with. Doyle has contempt for anyone who is not like him, which is just about everyone. His abusive nature, especially toward the young boy and the mother incites the viewer to dispute and question their own morals.
The cinematography is dominated by opaque and earthy colours both inside and outdoors. In the houses, the brown furnishings, brown wallpaper, and drawn brown blinds give the sensation of watching an old brown and white film. This is an intentional plan to portray to the viewer that they are in the midst of an old-fashioned society with out dated views and attitudes. Thornton uses the sun pouring through windows, and filming silhouettes of the actors at every opportunity and takes advantage of any available lighting such as the vitality and freshness of the sun streaming into the stale surrounds of the asylum. There are many more instances of this throughout the movie, when Karl is in the workshop or when he is at the diner with his work mates. Thornton also makes use of the moonlight in a more intimate moment of the movie. Karl is sitting with the boy down at their secret place by the lake. The moon shines through the trees to form a glowing mask like the one Zorro used to wear, confirming to us the hero status Karl has earned.
Panoramic shots are filmed showing the magnificent green countryside, enable us to appreciate and share Karl s new found wonder in the world. The editing has been used sparingly. Throughout the movie long, single shots dominate, emphasising the relaxed easy going pace of the country lifestyle.
The music is a central part of the movie. It is very emotional soundtrack and throughout the movie is essential in expressing the emotions of the characters. An absence of music is replaced with the simple sounds of nature, the birds singing, or a radio playing in the back of the diner.
When the more thoughtful and intimate parts of the movie present themselves, a slow paced piano is used to match the solemn moment. Sections of the movie have a positive and optimistic outlook, for example, when Karl walks through the small country town to the house of his new found friend. Karl is obviously filled with awe and enthusiasm for his resurrection into life, this is reflected through the music. An intimate moment in the movie is between Karl and the boy. Karl tells an extremely sad story. A soulful slide guitar and whistling accompanies this story, the music is extremely sad and is the emotion for the kind hearted but seemingly emotionless Karl. Another touching and emotional part of the movie is when Karl visits his father. Whilst Karl walks to the run down house of his elderly father, harmonious voices sing a haunting gospel tune.
Sling Blade is an intense drama that takes its time in telling the story and revealing the characters. This film is not be seen for its entertainment value but to be appreciated for what it is, a brilliantly constructed and original tale of human tragedy. Sling Blade shows us that heroes are sometimes the most unlikely of people.