Reviewed by: Jordan Wyatt
“Sling Blade” is the story of an unlikely hero. The main character, Carl Childress, is middle aged and mentally handicapped. The film begins in an Arkansas mental hospital where he is being released after 25 years “treatment.” Carl was institutionalized for the murders of his mother and her teenager lover; a crime he committed at a young age. Upon returning to his small Arkansas hometown, Carl learns that lots of things have changed “on the outside.”
Carl befriends a young boy, Frank, who lost his own father to suicide. Carl eventually moves into Frank’s garage, with the consent of Frank’s mother, Linda.
As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the other important characters: Vaughn Cunningham (John Ritter) is a tender, caring individual who is a close friend of Linda’s but cannot adequately fill the role of father figure to Frank because of his homosexual lifestyle. Doyle Harper (Dwight Yocum) is Linda’s evil boyfriend. He is physically and verbally abusive to Frank, Linda and Vaughn on a regular basis. Carl teaches Frank that children should think good thoughts and avoid hate, something Frank struggles with because he wants to rid his life of Doyle. Carl emerges as a caring individual who’s strives for Frank’s happiness.
The biggest issues of this film are murder, and the “situational ethics” which are woven to justify them. Most viewers will feel that the murders Carl committed as a youth were the excusable result of the brainwashing his parents subjected him to, the fact that he was never taught social skills, and the numerous traumatic events he experienced, especially the death of his baby brother.
There’s also the issue of homosexuality. I feel the issue of homosexuality was dealt with in a manner that all Christians can be proud of (or at least comfortable with). Carl’s statement that “The Bible says that two men ought not to to lie together…” was a perfect line. It condemned the act, but not the person; in this case, Vaughn Cunningham.
It was important that Carl was portrayed as a person of faith. I liked the Baptism scene and viewed it as a personal repentance from Carl. And the parallels between Carl’s baptism and Christ’s baptism were evident.
Carl Childress is an unlikely hero who sacrifices himself for a friend. Not since “Cool Hand Luke” has there been such an impressive Christ-like character on the screen.
“Sling Blade” is rated “R” for profanity, mild and implied violence, and controversial adult-oriented themes. Most of the profanity is from Doyle and the opening scene with J.T. Walsh’s character. Pre-marital sex is implied, but not shown.
Year of Release—1997