Sling Blade Film
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 Oscar 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.
Sling Blade Film 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. Before 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 explains that he attended school with his father’s boss’ teenage son Jesse Dixon, who was a mean-spirited bully and pervert; he thought that Jesse was raping his mother, and decapitated him. When he discovered that his mother was a willing participant in the affair, he killed her also.
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 invites Karl to lunch where he explains that a gay man and a mentally challenged man face similar obstacles of intolerance, and ridicule, in small-town America, before warning Karl about Doyle’s violent demeanor, as well as his fears that Doyle might hurt or kill Linda and Frank.
Karl suddenly becomes a father figure to Frank, who misses his father, and hates Doyle, who becomes increasingly abusive towards everybody including his own friends. Eventually, Doyle, who is also the frontman of his own band, has a drunken outburst towards his fellow band members and kicks them out, and attempts to do the same with Karl and Vaughan. Linda tries kicking Doyle out of the house, despite his threats to kill her if she ever left him, and this leads to a physical confrontation with Linda and Frank, angering the boy, who throws things at Doyle until he finally leaves.
Things begin to look up for Karl, as he becomes more and more successful at his job and is even set up on a date with Melinda, a coworker of Linda and Vaughan’s, at a dinner party at Vaughan’s house in which Linda, Frank, and Vaughan’s partner Albert also attend. Despite this, however, 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 boy that was so small. 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.
Sling Blade Film Cast
- Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers
- Dwight Yoakam as Doyle Hargraves
- J. T. Walsh as Charles Bushman
- John Ritter as Vaughan Cunningham
- Lucas Black as Frank Wheatley
- Natalie Canerday as Linda Wheatley
- James Hampton as Jerry Woolridge
- Robert Duvall as Karl’s father
- Jim Jarmusch as Deke, the Frostee Cream employee
- Vic Chesnutt as Terence
- Brent Briscoe as Scooter Hodges
- Mickey Jones as Johnson
Sling Blade Filming Locations
Filmed entirely in Benton (Saline County) by Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1996 and earned Thornton—who wrote, directed, and starred in the movie—an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Actor.
Sling Blade Filmaffinity
Original title; Sling Blade
Running time; 130 min.
Country; the United States
Director; Billy Bob Thornton
Screenwriter; Billy Bob Thornton (Play: Billy Bob Thornton)
Music; Daniel Lanois
Cinematography; Barry Markowitz
Cast; Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday
Producer; Miramax International / The Shooting Galery
Genre; Drama | Disability. Southern Gothic
Synopsis / Plot; Karl Childers, now a grown man, is released from a psychiatric hospital where he has been hospitalized since the age of 12 for the murder of his mother and her lover. He returns to his childhood town and although being mentally handicapped, gets a job fixing small motors at a local repair shop. Karl befriends a young boy, Frank, and is soon invited by Frank’s mother, Linda, to move into the family’s garage. As a strong relationship develops between Karl and Frank, a confrontation builds with Linda’s abusive and sometimes violent boyfriend Doyle.
1996: Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay. 2 Nominations
1996: National Board of Review: Special Award (Billy Bob Thornton)
1996: Satellite Awards: 3 Nominations including Actor Drama (Billy Bob Thornton)
1996: Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Adapted Screenplay
1996: Screen Actors Guild (SAG): Nom. Best Cast & Actor (Thornton)
1996: Independent Spirit Awards: Best First Feature