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mklsgl

Religion in 'Sling Blade.'

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Now I don’t know but I been told

it’s hard to run with the weight of gold

Other hand I heard it said

it’s just as hard with the weight of lead

(Robert Hunter, “New Speedway Boogie,” 1970)

Morality. Religion. Ethics. The Laws of Man. Justice. Injustice. The Laws of G-d. The Bible. Nature. Human Nature.

Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade (1996), a beautifully disturbing film that explores and argues morality, justice, good and evil. “Beautifully disturbing,” in that, while it is a Tragedy and satisfies our cinematic desire for catharsis and reconciliation, it, as well, fuses its narrative elements into a lush, fertile story that challenges us to analyze our own beliefs and understandings of ourselves and of our world. Sling Blade works with the wonders of associative logic--the logic of dreams, of those times when our minds are free to wander, and of those generative, free-flowing conversations that lead us seemingly, yet not entirely far afield from where we started--to deliver a perfectly paced narrative experience of All Things: cause and effect, love and life and death, good and bad, right and wrong, the past and the history, cruelty and abuse, laughter and joy.

If you've seen the film and care to comment:

1. From a religious aspect, is Karl guilty of murder?

2. Is Karl conflicted by his own religious beliefs?

3. What is Karl's influence upon Frank?

*Feel free to take this discussion anywhere. IMO, Sling Blade sparks a gamut of avenues worth pursuing.

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I loved Sling Blade. The Billy Bob Thornton that one witnesses today is in no way reflected in the "Karl" character of Sling Blade. Truly an amazing transformation into "becoming" the character and a masterpiece for the writer, director and star. (Won the Oscar, gained 11 nominations and 9 wins in categories! :tu: )

1.) No, I do not believe what Karl did was murder, which would go against the original wording of the 6th commandment. ("Thou shalt not murder")

However what Karl did do was commit to stop (in this case kill) the threat Doyle exampled to the innocence of Frank and personal safety of both Frank and his mother Linda. And after repeated warnings from both Karl and Linda as well as measures of interceding on the families behalf by Vaughan. Doyle, despite all this, exampled he would not be dissuaded from being an active part and presence in that family unit of which he was only a peripheral. factor. i.e. boyfriend, not husband, which would have been bad enough.

Further, during the era this was suppose to reflect, there were no such things as "restraining orders" or "orders of protection", to be applied for by Linda on behalf of herself and her son, so as to insure their safety from the reach of this vile man Doyle.

Consequently, before action could be taken legally, Doyle would have to commit an offensive act that would result in legal recourse. Which in the case of his temperament, could boast dire consequences to the family initially, before the law would later afford protection. And that is if the family was alive to petition.

Quite simply as someone I use to know once said; "Some people just ask to be killed!"

And so was the case with Vaughan. Reasoning didn't work. Threats did nothing to dissuade his vicious unstable temperament. So , given the unlimited access he had to accost this woman and her son, what other measures were left to their disposal!? And no, running away was not an option because of the financial issues that attended the family.

2.) I do not think so. I think Karl was pretty much cut and dry and saw life in black and white with no shades of Gray in between. Certainly he did give quarter to the families decision to tolerate Doyle of their own free will. Certainly he did exhibit personal restraint when Doyle accosted him. However when Doyle posed an irrevocable threat to the child Frank, because of the viciousness he displayed in assaulting his mother and the child, I think Karl realized that the white side of remaining on the threshold as a non-commitant observer, altered to the dark side of simply coming to terms simply enough, with what needed to be done because Doyle made it necessary by refusing to leave the family alone and moving on. Doyle was determined to stay, regardless of who he hurt so as to remain in command of that domain which he assumed for himself as that boyfriend, not the homeowner. (*as would have been the case in that era had they been married in most cases).

3.) I think Karl provided the filler for the gap of Franks fatherless life prior to his arrival at the Wheatley property.

Doyle was certainly no role model for anyone to aspire to, much less intent on ever exampling himself a father figure. He was a lush, a violent human being and a waste of space, period! And he was proud of the fact that he intimidated the weaker members of the family and local community, into holding that posture. Had Karl not come into young Franks life at that moment, just before his life changed and he began to grow into manhood, he would have instead had Doyle as an example of abuse and vindictiveness that would have eroded the strength of character and will that young Frank already possessed prior to Doyle's arrival in their life, long before Karls.

Had Karl not come into the picture, as Doyle exampled himself intent to remain in the family no matter what, I can only imagine his overbearing personality, much less size and viciousness, would have overcome Frank either physically (killing him ultimately) or both physically as well as mentally. (Beating him into submission and thereby breaking his spirit).

Karl was the best thing that could have happened to both Frank and his mother. For his mother he freed her from having to be made victim to Doyle till the day he finally killed her. (worst case scenario). And for Frank he was a role model for quiet contemplation, strength of character and of will, which only served to fortify that which was already present in such a young experience. That Karl was there to assist them to overcome the evil that sought to corrupt their family unit, was what provided young Frank's life the opportunity to remain a decent, loving and unscathed boy that would later grow into manhood without the memories of those worst case scenarios I mentioned, having destroyed his innocence and his family. Which was his mother, his only remaining family after his father committed suicide.

And the thing is, Karl accepted full responsibility for his actions. He did not run, he didn't ask Frank and his mother to cover for him after the fact. Indeed he sought to have them well away from the home property before he quite simply did what he believed to be necessary because Doyle's actions gave him no other choice because he was not the type of man, having warmed to the Wheatly family, to walk away and let them endure Doyle as best they could. They gave him a chance, fresh out of the State Mental Hospital knowing full well the skeletons he had in his closet that got him sentenced there in the first place, and so he gave them a chance at life un-scarred by what was clearly one mans intent to destroy it.

And I think he learned the quiet restraint and contemplation about the threat Doyle posed to the Wheatly family, because of those years he spent in that mental hospital for the act he committed against his mother and her lover, when he was about Franks age, compelled it. Whereas had he been of the temperament of his youth, Doyle would have been dead much sooner.

Frank: Ever think of killing yourself on purpose like my daddy done?

Karl: I studied about it. The Bible says you ought not to. It says if you do that, you go off to Hades. Some folks call it Hell, I call it Hades.

Edited by Imaginary Friend

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SOunds an interesting movie, but I've never heard of it before now!

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SOunds an interesting movie, but I've never heard of it before now!

Well now that you are aware, please consider rental of this incredible film. It , I promise you, is worth every penny of your money and every moment of those 2 hours and fifteen minutes spent of a lifetime one can never get back. In this movie those hours will be a gift, and not a waste of time, for the message contained in this film.

I feel confident in saying it is not anything you will regret watching. (link)

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Thanks Imaginary! I posted this topic because it's the current assignment ("Discuss religion in Sling Blade") for my students (undergrads, mostly sophs).

How about Karl as a Jesus figure?

Do you see a parallel between Sling Blade (Karl/Frank) and Huck Finn (Huck/Jim)?

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SOunds an interesting movie, but I've never heard of it before now!

mmm hmmm better go get it mm hmmm

Karl is guilty of murder. He was also guilty of murder the first time. Murder is murder. Any execution, with the exception of the state, is murder. If you kill someone in cold blood, the reasons behind it don't really matter. The state of mind (my opinion) doesn't really matter either.

mmm hmmmm

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How about Karl as a Jesus figure?

That Professor, is something I will have to study on. Mmmm Hmmm. I'll fix to get back to ye later on. Mmmmm :rofl:

Do you see a parallel between Sling Blade (Karl/Frank) and Huck Finn (Huck/Jim)?

Perhaps there is a parallel on the periphery of the moral of the story.

Frank knew he was loved by his mom, however I think deep down inside, per the subtle relating of the impact the suicide of Franks father had upon his young life, he had shielded himself to believe he could not permit himself to be that vulnerable again. Per his youth and the unspoken presumption that one's father is a presumed eternal presence in a child's life. However with the suicide, I think that impacted the child so much that that is what caused that seemingly tough, wary personality that showed itself more on his features, as he remained somewhat stoic in his emoting. However that tender open wanting side, that sorely missed his father is what permitted him to approach Karl, as different and seemingly at first glance, stand offish as he might have appeared.

I think, therefore, that Karl assisted Frank in much the same way as Jim did Huck Finn, to open himself to love again and to trust a father like figure that would be a presence and a confidant at the same time. While not as vulnerable as the Huck and Frank characters were at the outset of both characters "back stories" (before the arrival of Frank and Jim and at the inception of all the initial emotional troubles that befell both characters initially), they were still possessed of that openness and trusting innocence that seemed desperately to want a father like companion to fill the void that had wrenched their hearts in twain previously.

With respect to Doyle, he emulates many of the traits of Huck's father. Namely the violent temperament of an alcoholic. Doyle is reminiscent of Huck's father in that respect and also because he attempts to take advantage of the security afforded living on the Wheatley family property, while clearly having no respect for the family or said property for his own personal gain. Which in Doyle's case was to have the security of appearing as a family unit, all the while his presence affording a threat to the very fabric of said unit. However Doyle was a user and so the stability and happiness of the family was never a concern, relative to his priorities of self. This selfishness is what assured his demise because he postured as a viable , though unstable when he was drunk, temperament that actually revealed his selfishness was in truth, fear. (Case in point, right before his demise @ the hands of Karl)

Which of course freed young Frank and his mother Linda, from the clutches of Doyle. Much like Huck thought to effect his freedom from his father by faking is own death so as to escape. Only this time someone killed the father figure so as to set the boy free.

Doyle: What in the hell are you doing with that lawn mower blade?

Karl: I aim to kill you with it. Mmm.

Edited by Imaginary Friend

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It seems like a very intersting film. I will be renting it soon!

It seems like a very intersting film. I will be renting it soon!

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One of the effects of any act of genuine artistic expression--in this case, film and literature--is to teach or show the audience something substantiative on the level of emotion, of feeling, of motive and behavior, of human psychology. Given this understanding, true art presents experience in a new perspective. It makes familiar the unfamiliar, and likewise, the unfamiliar familiar. Consider how Sling Blade immediately seizes its audience with the opening sequence of scenes. We are instantly inserted into Karl’s (Billy Bob Thornton) world. First, the “nervous hospital” and Bushman’s (J.T. Walsh) monologue about an encounter he’d had with a transsexual prostitute while simultaneously we are shown Karl’s demeanor and mannerisms. We see his constant hand-rubbing, his sporadic blinking and his wandering eyes, the up-and-down-and-sideways nodding of his head, his heavy breathing and his low, gravelly grunting--which emanates from his upper throat yet sounds as if it comes from the deep down of his soul. Karl’s physical behaviors are not jerky, but fluid like he has come to a perfect conscious and subconscious controlling of his self/selves, both physically and psychologically.

Pascal Covici argues, in Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World, that “because only as one reacts to experience of some sort does he feel” (54). We grasp this in the opening chapter of Huck Finn. Huck reminds us of the ending to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, then explains his current situation. By mid-chapter, we are totally engulfed in Huck’s depressed consciousness. We feel his emotional reaction when he tells us, “I felt so lonesome, I most wished I was dead” (13). Similarly, we see this during the opening scene of Sling Blade. As Bushman is telling Karl his story, Karl never makes eye-contact but acknowledges him and the degrading details of the story by an increasing volume in his breathing and grunts. Karl is feeling disgust, contempt, and unclean while listening to Bushman’s lurid tale. And we feel it along with him.

Referring directly to Huck Finn, Covici asserts, “He [Twain] interests us because he is forcing us to "feel," psychologically, our way through an aspect of our own lives, no matter where we may live” (160). Thornton succeeds just as Twain does. Both do it through granting us access to the privileged consciousness of their respective protagonist. Nothing in either narrative is self-evident. We are, as Covici describes, provoked beyond the self-evident to the highly problematic. This is the place where these fictions reflect truth to the audience because we absorb what we are being shown and we process it through our own personal experience. Although Karl is mentally-challenged man and Huck is young boy, we relate to them easily because their worlds are as highly problematic as are ours. In a more overarching sense, both protagonists comprehend the perplexity and complexity of their respective worlds with a logical simplicity that we, the audience, find ultimately captivating through the association of ideas. Thornton and Twain refuse to allow the luxury of nonthinking, of noninvolvement. They refuse to allow us to be bereft of necessary truths, painful though they are. They are neither too polite nor too fearful to weave a narrative that, as Toni Morrison observes in Playing in the Dark, "obliges us to embrace a disrupting darkness before its eyes" (91). In Huck, we know that he has committed his all to what he believes is the morally, spiritually, and ethically right action, and, make no mistake, Huck does consciously decide to take action. His decision (to help Jim) is costly, for with it he faces the possibility of incarceration, branding, various amputations, most certain social ostracizing, and even death. Having seen Huck answer the ultimate question of the price of freedom, it is difficult to imagine wanting anything else. What we get is what we do want.

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Self-identity formation links Sling Blade to Huck Finn. In the second scene of the film, Karl delivers an extraordinary story of his childhood and why he is in the “nervous hospital” to a female college student who writes for the school newspaper. We learn that he was horrifyingly abused as a child, imprisoned and isolated in a dirt-floored wooden shed in the backyard with a hole for bed, beaten, malnourished, deceived by false Bible stories, and that he murdered his mother as the culminating resultant act of all of this abuse.

Likewise, Huck was also the victim of inhuman abuse. His father, an alcoholic, stole the money that Judge Thatcher had invested for him, and then kidnaps Huck to a dirt-floored cabin in the woods where he beats him severely and deprives him of almost every basic human necessity.

Karl “escapes” to the “nervous hospital.” Huck escapes to the river, to Jackson Island, to Jim.

Both Thornton and Twain present to the audience a covenant of hope in the unlikeliest of places with the unlikeliest of characters. Huck's compassion emerges when he sees the duke and king tarred and feathered, and what we subsequently hear are Huck's true feelings without the constrictive disguise that he has donned in order to effect the rescue of Jim. We are inside his mind, listening to his thoughts, thoughts no one but the reader knows. In Sling Blade, we get an almost unparalleled scene with Karl and Frank (Lucas Black) at the “secret place,” a pond in the woods on the side of hill--nothing man-made in sight. Here is the transcript of that scene:

Frank is on the ground digging a trench in the dirt with a stick. He hears footsteps in the leaves and looks up and sees Karl coming toward him.

FRANK

Hey, Karl. How'd you know to come

out here?

KARL

I knowed you'd be here.

(Karl sits on the stump)

What are you a-doin' digging with

that stob?

FRANK

Just diggin'.

(pause)

I ain't ever gonna be happy now.

Not with that son of a b**** movin'

in for good. I wish me and you and

Mama could just run away. But she

said he would find us wherever we

went. He's crazy. Sometimes I think

it would of been better if I wadn't

ever born.

KARL

I'm glad of it you was borned.

(pause)

I reckon I ain't gonna be there in

the garage no more.

FRANK

You have to Karl. You have to look

out for me. You don't let that son

of a b**** run you off.

KARL

You're just a boy. You ort not to

use that sort of language.

FRANK

Karl, I ain't tryin' to say nothin'

bad about you, but why don't you

stop Doyle when he gets that away?

You're older than him. You're

strong, too. My daddy wouldn't let

him do that to me and Mama.

KARL

That feller's a whole sight meaner

than me. He'd just whup the tar out

of me.

FRANK

Yeah, I guess so. I'm real tired,

you know that. A kid my age

shouldn't be tired of things.

KARL

I'm tired, too, Frank.

(pause)

If I ain't around no more, it don't

mean I don't care fer ye. I care

for ye a good deal. I care for you

more than anybody they is. We made

friends right off the bat.

FRANK

I care for you, too. But you'll be

around, don't say that.

KARL

Hit don't make no difference where

I was to be. We'll always be

friends. There ain't no way to stop

that.

(pause)

I aim for you to have these books.

He hands him the books.

KARL

Maybe you can make more sense out

of them than I can.

I made you a little old book marker

and stuck it in that book on

Christmas.

FRANK

You don't want to give away all

your books.

KARL

I aim fer you to have 'em.

FRANK

Man. Thanks.

(pause)

You know when you get a feelin' and

you don't know why?

KARL

Yes sir.

FRANK

I've got a feelin' today.

KARL

Reckon what kind of a feelin'?

FRANK

Like something different. I don't

know.

(pause)

You're leavin' ain't you, Karl?

KARL

Will ye do somethin' for me if I

ast you to?

FRANK

You know I would. Whatever you

want.

KARL

Don't go home tonight and stay with

that Doyle. He's got it in for ye

tonight. I got me a feelin', too.

Feels like to me you ort not be

there in that house with him

liquored up and mean. Ye mama

neither. When you get up from here,

I want you to go to that feller's

house. Your mama's friend. I want

you to give me your word on it.

FRANK

Okay. I give you my word. Is

ever'thing gonna be okay? Are you

all right?

KARL

Ever'thing's okay, boy. I kindly

want to put my arm around ye for a

minute and then I'm gonna go on and

leave here.

FRANK

Okay.

Karl lays his arm on Frank's shoulder and Frank puts his hand

on Karl's arm. They sit like that for a few moments, then

Karl gets up with his paper sack and walks away. Frank takes

the book marker out of the Christmas book. It is just a

folded piece of notebook paper. On it is written 'You will be

happy.' He looks up at Karl who is now thirty yards away in

the trees.

FRANK (CONT'D)

Karl!

Karl turns around and he and Frank stare at each other

through the trees.

This scene captures Thornton’s teleology for Sling Blade. It functions as the film’s morality statement, as the film’s social ideology, and as the film’s “story-that-tells-the-story.” Karl has never been loved before, and he has only loved once--his dying, premature baby brother. Here, we are shown the consummation of a pure, platonic love between Karl and Frank, not unlike the Chapter 31 scene between Huck and Jim. Also, we are shown the film’s overarching theme of human morality, ethics, and justice within a corrupt society and legal system reiterated and framed in shadows and rippling dusk light.

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Ironic is that both Sling Blade and “Huck Finn” present their almost identical themes through the lenses of an Othered man and a 12 year-old boy.

Thornton does not provide a neat and balanced resolution for Sling Blade, and Twain has no answers to the problems of Huck Finn’s society. Their insights are aesthetic; they come to one in the terms of art, as perception: it is the sublime nature of a master storyteller to displace very suddenly one set of perceptions by another. These characters represent a vision with which we have begun to identify because we have seen, intimately, their loyalty, their faith, their honesty, their ethics, their morality, their fortitude, and their self-reliance. At odds with their worlds, Karl and Huck act upon their interpretations of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, of humane and inhumane. Civilization, society, and the laws of man may dictate what is legal or illegal, what is acceptable and unacceptable, and the punishment for not abiding by its drawn lines, however, both Sling Blade and Huck Finn show that a righteous individual’s sense of purpose extends these boundaries.

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Well now that you are aware, please consider rental of this incredible film. It , I promise you, is worth every penny of your money and every moment of those 2 hours and fifteen minutes spent of a lifetime one can never get back. In this movie those hours will be a gift, and not a waste of time, for the message contained in this film.

I feel confident in saying it is not anything you will regret watching. (link)

Well, I hired it. I watched it, and loved it. Unfortunately two things conspired against me. 1. I only had a (bad) copy of the film on VHS. There are two video stores where I live. The normal one I go to did have it on DVD, but it was listed on their computer as "stolen". So I went to the crappy video store, found it on VHS.......

but more importantly, 2. My dad is THE WORST person I know for talking during movies. I know a few chatters, but my Dad is the absolute worst for talking during films. He was chatting throughout (you get used to that), but on no less than 6 occasions, it got to the point that I had to stop the movie because I couldn't here anything that was said. It took about 10 minutes each time (minimum) to get things back to a point where I could watch it again.

So, as it stands, I agree with Imaginary Friend's assessment of the film in most aspects. I'll try and watch it again some time to add my own input (it definitely requires a second watch), but as it is, with the disjointed nature of watching that I had, I was forced to watch the other aspects of the film (primarily sound and lighting). These could be enjoyed without any need for the narrative. SOund was good (felt a little like Vangelis at times, to tell the truth), and lighting was also very atmospheric (though quite often very artificial feeling). Sound felt a little hollow, though I'm going to put that down to the nature of VHS.

Sorry, I'm in film critic mode (I had no choice :hmm: ). I'll post more later, when I've seen the movie right through (hopefully without interuption).

Regards, PA

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P. A. - Rarely do I say "such and such IS A MUST" but there are a few films and books that I consider essential to cultivating intellect. Sling Blade is one of them.

My class is analyzing four films this semester; Sling Blade (religion/Huck Finn), Do The Right Thing (POMO/culture/racism/property), Magnolia (identity/family), and Happiness (society).

I posted a few excerpts from a couple of essays that my students wrote but I'm waiting on several others which delve into religion in Sling Blade. I'll post parts of those on Monday. Of all of the criticism and analysis regarding Sling Blade, I find looking at it through the religious lens most fascinating.

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How long is the film?

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A little over 2 hours.

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Got any french fry taters, mmmmm hm?

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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, it’s used to serve their own purposes." Karl’s 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, Thornton’s mentor), he asserts that while in the nervous hospital "I read the Bible ... and those stories you and Momma told me weren’t 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 "I’m 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 don’t want him in the house while I’m 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 Vaughan’s companion and a mentally handicapped woman from the dollar store. The parallels with the Lukan portrait of Jesus are obvious. In Luke’s 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 Karl’s 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, Karl’s 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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