Sling Blade [1996]

Genre: Drama
Billy Bob Thornton wrote, directed, and starred in this mesmerizing drama with haunting overtones of To Kill a Mockingbird. Thornton plays a mentally retarded man who has spent 20 years in a psychiatric hospital for killing his mother and her lover. Released into the community from which he came, he befriends and protects a lonely boy regularly harassed and abused by his mom's boyfriend (a terrific performance by Dwight Yoakam). The story is ultimately about sacrifice, but Thornton certainly doesn't get twinkly about it. Some of the best material concerns the hero's no-big-deal efforts to integrate into a "normal" life: working, eating fast food, earning admiration for his handyman skills, and attaining a semblance of community among other damaged souls. John Ritter has a great part as a gay shopkeeper who tries to assuage his own loneliness by spilling his guts out to Thornton's uncomprehending character. --Tom Keogh

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Karl:
Reckon what you is wanting to know is what I'm a-doing in here. 'Reckon the reason I'm in here is 'cause I've killed somebody. But I reckon what you is wanting to know is how come me had killed somebody so I reckon I'll start at the front and tell ye. I lived out back of my mother and father's place, most of my life, in a little ol' shed that my daddy built for me. They didn't too much want me up there in the house with the rest of'em. Mmm. So mostly I just sat around out there in the shed lookin' at the ground. Mmm. I didn't have no floor out there but I had me a hole dug out to lay down in. 'Quilt or two to put down there. Mmm-hmm. My father was a hard working man most of his life, not that I can say the same for myself. I mostly just sat around out there in the shed, tinkering around with a lawn mower or two. Went to school off and on from time to time. But the children out there, they were very cruel to me. Made quite a bit of sport of me, made fun of me quite a bit. So mostly, I just sat around out there in the shed. My daddy worked down there at the sawmill, down at the planer mill for an old man named Dixon. Ol' Man Dixon was a very cruel fella, didn't treat his employees very well. Didn't pay'em too much of a wage, didn't pay my daddy too much of a wage. Just barely enough to get by on, I reckon. Mmm. I reckon he got by alright. Mmm. They used to come out, one or the other, usually my mother and feed me pretty regular. Mmm-hmm. So I know he made enough to where I could have mustard and biscuits three or four times a week. Mmm. But Ol' Man Dixon, he had a boy by the name of Jesse Dixon. Jesse was really more cruel than his daddy was. He used to make quite a bit of sport of me when I'd be down there at the schoolhouse. 'Used to take advantage of little girls there in the neighborhood and all. Mmm. They used to say that my mother was a very pretty woman. They said that quite a bit from time to time when I'd be down there at the schoolhouse. Well, I reckon you want me to get on with it and tell you what happened so I reckon I'll tell ye. I was sitting out there in the shed one evening not doing too much of nothing, just kindly staring at the wall. I was waiting on my mother to come out and give me my Bible lesson. Well I heared a commotion up there in the house, so I run up on the screened in porch to see what was a-going on. I looked in the window there and I seen my mother laying there on the floor without any clothes on. Mmm. Mmm-hmm. I seen Jesse Dixon laying on top of her. He was having his way with her. Mmm. Well I just seen red. I picked up a kaiser blade that was sitting there by the screen door. Some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a kaiser blade. Got a long wood handle kinda like an ax handle with a long blade on it shaped kinda like a banana. Sharp on one edge and dull on the other'n. It's what the highway boys used to cut down weeds and whatnot. Well I went in the house and I hit Jesse Dixon upside the head with it, knocked him off my mother. I reckon that didn't quite satisfy me, so I hit him again with it in the neck with the sharp edge and just plumb near cut his head off. Killed'im. My mother jumped up from there and started hollering, "What'd you kill Jesse for?" "What'd you kill Jesse for?" Well, mmm, come to find out I don't reckon my mother minded what Jesse was doing to her. 'Reckon that made me madder than what Jesse'd made me, so I takened the kaiser blade, some folks called it a sling blade, I called it a kaiser blade, mmm, and I hit my mother upside the head with it. Mmm... Killed her; Some folks has asked me if I had it to do over again, would I do it the same way. I reckon I would. Anyhow they seen fit to put me in here and here I've been a great long while. I've learned to read some. 'Took me four years to read the Bible. I reckon I understand a great deal of it. Wasn't what I expected in some places. Mmm. I slept in a good bed for a great long while. Now they've seen fit to put me out of here. They say they're setting me free today. Mmm.

Frank:
You ever have any brothers or sisters growing up?

Karl Childers:
I had one there for a little while. But, uh, it didn't get old enough for me to play with it.

Frank:
Why not? It die?

Karl Childers:
Yes, Sir.

Frank:
Why?

Karl Childers:
It got born too early. My mother and father made it come out too early some how or other.

Frank:
So it died when it came out?

Karl Childers:
My daddy came out to the shed and got me. He said, "Here, take this and throw it away", and he handed me a towel with something or another in it. Well I started for that barrel and I opened up the towel 'cause there was a noise. Something a-moving around in there. The towel was all bloody-like all aorund it there. It was a lil' ol' baby not no bigger than a squirrel.

Frank:
A girl or a boy?

Karl Childers:
It was a little ol' boy.

Frank:
You threw it in the trash barrel?

Karl Childers:
Well that didn't seem right to me, so I went in the shed and got me a shoe box and emptied out all the washers and nuts and screws that were in it and I takened the little fellar and put him inside the box and buried him right there in a corner of the yard. That seemed more proper to me, I reckon.

Frank:
Was it still alive when you buried it?

Karl Childers:
I heared it a-cryin' through that box.

Frank:
That don't seem right. Seems like you would have kept him and taken care of him if he was your brother.

Karl Childers:
I wasn't but 6 or 8. I don't reckon I knew what to do. I didn't know how to care for no baby. My mother and father didn't want him and they learned me to do what they told me. These days I reckon it's better to give him back to the Good Lord anyhow.

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