is a redeeming crude honesty to Sling Blade, the somewhat mannered 1996 film that earned a
screenwriting Academy Award for star/writer/director, down-home auteur Billy Bob Thornton,
whose real name, come to think of it, would have suited the circumstances of this homely
but touching little tale part domestic drama, part sitcom, part horror story
as well as the name actually given the main character. Carl, he is called as if
this were some Dr. Frankenstein flick set in Central Europe instead of in central
Arkansas, where this low-budget oddity got put together, both spiritually and actually.
Of course, the presence in the movie of the likes of Robert Duvall, John Ritter, Dwight
Yoakum, and J.T. Walsh indicates that there was a certain in-group high seriousness
associated with Sling Blade from the very beginning. Clearly, it was destined to be at the
very least a cult film; that it got somewhat further in the worlds estimation is an
indication of how well it transcends its built-in limitations.
When we first see a young middle-aged Carl,
he is presented as a backwoods retard, who has just been pronounced cured and
is being released from the state hospital, where he landed as a young boy after hacking to
death his mother and her lover when he mistook their furtive coupling for something else.
We learn all this from Carl himself in a monologue that sounds in part like a
Writers Workshop dissertation read aloud and serves also to introduce us to
Carls characteristic tics a ritualistic Mmmmm, hmmmm that allows
him to play Greek chorus to himself and the periodic verbal refrain All right,
then. In between these sounds, he manages to get out a fair share of homespun
apercus and some self-conscious-sounding gag lines. (Are you well now? asks a
character to whom he has confessed the circumstances of his incarceration. I feel
all right. Mmmmm, hmmmm, he replies.)
Add to this Carls studiedly
hunchbacked posture, mechanical loping gait, and prognathously out-thrust jaw, and you
have the makings of a caricature Forrest Gump meets Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.
Except that the people and the situations
of Sling Blade, even when most cartoony, resonate with depths beyond the ordinary and the
obvious, the same way as do the grotesqueries in the short stories of the late great
Not to spoil the ending, Carls
attempts to live among normal townsfolk who, of course, turn out to be
even more star-crossed and off-center than he is end either tragically or with
reassuring appropriateness, depending on how you want to look at it. He reconnects to his
past, anyhow, in a terse, grimly effective scene, and becomes (pick one) an avenger, a
destroyer, or a healer. Want to go for all three? All right, then.