Since I had emerged from the theater in Foley, Alabama, somewhat sickened after watching Sling Blade, imagine my surprise when I found Clyde Wilson endorsing the film in Chronicles (Cultural Revolutions, November 1997). Because I’ve met Dr. Wilson and respect him greatly, I figured I must have been a shallow rube the first time I saw the film, and so I recently rented the video of the film to see what I had missed.
However, a second viewing only confirmed my first impressions. The clue to what Billy Bob Thornton is really up to is found in Dr. Wilson’s piece; the events upon which Sling Blade is based took place in Northern California. The reason the movie is set and filmed in Benton (Saline County) Arkansas is not because audiences can’t believe in non- Southern accented retarded murderers, but because Hollywood is ever vigilant in its zealous quest to demonize Christianity and that evil of evils, the White Southern Man.
Native Arkansan Thornton knew exactly what he was doing by changing the venue of this tale to his home state. Karl Childers represents Idiot Savant Number 2, following in the footsteps of Forrest Gump. And oh, what he had to endure! His loving mother, he tells us, read him Bible lessons. And how does she live her Christian faith? She permits him to live in a dirt hole in the tool shed, says nothing about her completely demonic husband’s infanticide of their second child, and commits adultery as her final living act. But of course this monstrous behavior can’t happen in Northern California, only somewhere in Dixie.
The film does what it intends to do well, as the audience, even an audience in the Deep South, grits its teeth and roots for Karl to do the deed. But has anyone stopped to consider why Doyle deserves to have his brains chopped up with a lawnmower blade? Yes, he is a loud-mouth, reprobate, drunk, self-centered thug (but not so much of one that he is incapable of running his own construction company) who desperately needs some tough Christian love to see the evil of his ways. But, as Hollywood reminds us, Christianity never did anything but repress us. And so when Karl, the only man tough enough, uninhibited enough, and “brave” enough, slings his blade into Doyle’s head. Southern Man is finally, rightfully, put to death as well. It seemed to me that most of the audience left the theater convinced that Doyle deserved to die.
I would argue that Clyde Wilson and other Southerners have been duped on this one.
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