Sling Blade is a 1996 drama film set in rural Arkansas. It tells the fictional story of a simple man named Karl Childers who is released from a psychiatric hospital where he has lived since murdering his mother and her lover at age 12. He befriends a young boy, begins a friendship with the boy's mother and must confront the mother's abusive boyfriend, as well as his own dark past. It stars and was written and directed by actor/writer Billy Bob Thornton, and also stars singer Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton, and Robert Duvall. The movie was adapted by Thornton from his short film and previous screenplay titled Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade. The film proved itself to be a sleeper hit, launching Thornton into stardom. It won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Thornton was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The music for the soundtrack was provided by French Canadian artist/producer Daniel Lanois.
Thornton portrays mentally challenged Karl Childers, a man who has been in the custody of the state mental hospital since the age of twelve, having murdered his mother and her lover.
Although thoroughly "institutionalized", Karl is deemed fit to be released into a world "too big" for him. Prior to his release, he is interviewed by a local school newspaper reporter to whom he recalls in detail the brutal killing of a school mate with a kaiser blade (noting "some folks call it a sling blade"). Karl claims to have killed the boy for supposedly raping his mother. When he found out his mother was a willing participant, he killed her too.
After his release, Karl tries desperately to find his place. Having a knack for small engine repair, Karl eventually gets a job at a local lawn mower repair shop. Not long after, he befriends young Frank Wheatley. Karl shares with Frank some of the details of his past, including the murders. Frank reveals that his father was killed, leaving he and his mother on their own (he later admits that he lied, and that his father committed suicide). Frank introduces Karl to his mother Linda, as well as her gay friend Vaughan. Despite Vaughan's concerns, Linda allows Karl to move into her garage. This does not sit well with Linda's abusive boyfriend Doyle.
Karl quickly becomes a father figure for Frank, who misses his father dearly and despises Doyle. Plus, he likes the way Karl talks. For Karl, Frank becomes the little brother he never had. Karl eventually reveals that he is haunted by the task given to him by his parents when he was a small child: to dispose of his deformed, unwanted, newborn brother. In a pivotal scene, he visits his father (Robert Duvall) and tells him that killing the baby was wrong. Karl says he used to think about killing him, but eventually decided he wasn't worth the effort.
Besides Frank, Karl also bonds with both Linda and Vaughan. In a poignant scene, Vaughan (John Ritter) discusses how a gay man and a mentally challenged man face similar problems of intolerance and ridicule in small town America.
Doyle becomes increasingly abusive with Karl and Frank, leading to a drunken outburst and physical confrontation with Frank. Though Linda initially kicks Doyle out of the house, she later reconciles with him. After Doyle confronts Karl and Frank again, Karl begins to realize that he is the only one who can bring about a change and spare Frank and his mother a grim fate. In premeditated fashion, Karl kills Doyle with a lawnmower blade, and then turns himself in (ironically having asked Doyle in advance how to call the police). He is then returned to the state mental hospital.
The nationally syndicated radio show The Big Show often presents a segment known as "Karl Childers' Story Time" in which a cast members reads a classic children's story in character as Childers.
The film is also referenced in World Of Warcraft and the New York Times Bestseller 'I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell'.