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Kline, T.J. (1998). Sling Blade. Psychoanal. Rev., 85(6):938-942.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Review, 85(6):938-942

Sling Blade

T. Jefferson Kline

Any comparison of Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade to a European masterwork such as Kieslowski's Red would no doubt at first seem spurious indeed. Set in small-town Arkansas and featuring a protagonist considered by others as retarded, Sling Blade's milieu, pacing, and murderous conclusion would more surely merit grouping with other Southern classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird or even Forrest Gump; yet the intricacy of its patterns and structure make it in many ways more European than Southern.

The film opens in a mental hospital where Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is being verbally tormented by another inmate, Charles (J. T. Walsh), with salacious stories of his sexual predations. But today Karl is to be released back into a community after 25 years of incarceration. Before his release he agrees to do an “interview,” a long monologue (without a single flashback), for a teenage student doing a story for her school paper. Karl recounts how he had lived “in a little old shed most of my life out behind my mother and father's house.” One evening, he had discovered his mother “layin’ on the floor without any clothes on … and Jesse Dixon, a layin’ on top of her having his way with her. Well, I just seen red,” Karl recounts. “I picked up a Kaiser blade that was a layin' there by the screen door, some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a Kaiser blade … and I hit Jesse Dixon up side the head with it.” Discovering that his mother was enjoying this adulterous moment, Karl recounts, “I takened the Kaiser blade, some folks calls it a sling blade, I call it a Kaiser blade, and hit my mother up side the head with it an' killed her …” (Thornton, 1996, pp. 15-16).

Upon release, Karl befriends a young boy, Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black), and his mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), and lands a job with a local mechanic. At Frank's insistence, Linda invites Karl to live in their garage. Karl soon discovers that Linda and Frank are helpless victims of Linda's boyfriend, Doyle, and his violent drunken binges.

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