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Religion in 'Sling Blade.'


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#16    Nadal

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Posted 23 February 2006 - 12:17 AM

Got any french fry taters, mmmmm hm?

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#17    mklsgl

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Posted 23 February 2006 - 06:26 PM

Though many viewers may determine otherwise, Thornton did not intend for his script to be a general indictment on religion. "People throughout history have taken the Bible and whatever the book of choice is," he explains, "and when it gets into certain hands, itís used to serve their own purposes." Karlís parents clearly subscribed to such a notion. They confined their son to a shed but made certain he was given a daily Bible lesson. Karl later admits to Frank that his father, on one occasion, gave him a towel with a fetus wrapped inside and told him to bury it in the back yard. When Karl finally confronts his elderly father (a brief appearance by Robert Duvall, Thorntonís mentor), he asserts that while in the nervous hospital "I read the Bible ... and those stories you and Momma told me werenít in there." One can only imagine what sort of warped, barbaric theology was instilled in the head of Karl the child. These manifestations of religion turned to evil are balanced out by people such as Bill Cox and the Superintendent of the state hospital. Karl, therefore, personifies the struggle to find the right kind of religion and to reconcile vengeful depictions of God with portrayals of Christ as the hero of a loving and liberating ministry of God's love.

Doyle Hargraves clearly embodies the patriarchal and hierarchial images of God and male derived from a non-critical reading of Scripture. Whenever Frank questions him, Doyle silences the boy by telling him "the adults are talking," "speak only when spoken to," and "Iím not your daddy; you just act like I am." The implication is that Karl relives his own childhood through what is happening to Frank. Eager to prevent history from repeating itself, Karl becomes the Messianic figure.

Deliberate attempts are made to establish Karl as a Christ figure from the beginning. When Karl first leaves the state hospital, his possessions are a stack of books: the Bible, "a book on Christmas," and "a book about how to be a carpenter." An eating motif is also woven throughout the story. When we are initially introduced to Doyle, Linda has just explained that Karl will be moving into the garage. His first reaction is "I donít want him in the house while Iím eating." Thus, Doyle declines table fellowship with "that retard" and "that ******." By contrast, Karl accepts an invitation to dine at the home of Vaughan, along with Vaughanís companion and a mentally handicapped woman from the dollar store. The parallels with the Lukan portrait of Jesus are obvious. In Lukeís Gospel, Jesus is always sitting down at a meal, going to, or coming from a meal. In first century Palestine, the Pharisees are often portrayed as declining to dine at the table with certain people, using this as the ultimate insult in their culture. Social and religious ostracism were part of the conventional wisdom of the day. By contrast, Karl, like Jesus, dines with people whom conventional religious wisdom would label "sinners."

Sling Blade eventually does what any good christological film will do by making its hero a martyr. To understand the depth of Karlís sacrifice for Frank, one must pay careful attention to a particular night-time conversation between the two, three-quarters of the way through the film. It is at this time that Karl first relates the details of being given his baby brother to bury in the backyard. Frank is appalled by the story and remarks that those who willingly commit murder "will go to hell." Karl agrees.

Karl later asks to be baptized and upon returning home from the ceremony, Doyle is waiting in the living room. Hargraves sends Linda out for fried chicken, a ruse to get her out of the house, and issues an ultimatum: Frank will be silent and submissive while Karl is to pack his belongings and move out immediately, which he does. In something of a farewell discourse, Karl asks Vaughan to take care of Linda and Frank and visits the boy for the final time, promising him "You will be happy." Karl returns to the shop, locates a lawn mower blade and sharpens it. Returning to the house where Doyle awaits, Karl inserts his own form of divine vengeance by murdering Hargraves. Causal observers may conclude that Karl brought the plan into effect because he was more comfortable living in the mental hospital and the murder did nothing more than facilitate his return. By viewing the film from a theological perspective, Karlís act of vengeance is also one of of atonement. He feels that those who commit murder will go to "Hades." Therefore, Karl has done more than give his life for the happiness of a child; he has sacrificed his soul.


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