December 29, 1996 [Sling Blade]

It’s been about a month since I saw Sling Blade, and I keep hearing Karl’s voice thrumming like a resigned insect--and not in my head, not like Pete after watching The Fly (the one from the ‘50s, the big monster-Dad matched in fear and trembling only by the little elusive one, wizened and pleading for help); the boy was certain, at bedtime as he lay in the near-dark, that like Emily Dickinson he could hear a fly buzz.
No, it’s co-workers and people at the bus stop and behind me on the sidewalk grunting in assent that mm-HMM, they could have some-a those frenchfry potaters.  I get the gag, the throaty pleasure of doing that voice: like young Frank says, it’s a soothing sound.  But it makes me also think of a lawnmower at the back end of the yard, the blades beating like the wings of an angel--the kind who holds a flaming sword to cut down Things that threaten little children.  Billy Bob Thornton has shaped a character so mad/heroic that I half-expect him to don stiff Mycenaean robes and a mask and stand in front of a chorus to intone the poetry of lost childhood, time, and love--and the tenuous return of those things, momentary and amazing--as though the Minotaur were the victim, down down down in the high-walled passages, lost and hearing voices--but he finds the thing he must cut down, then stands there unmoving and waits for his breath to calm, and when he raises his face he’s in the open air with a little nervous boy, and he asks permission to hold him for a little while.
--And I turned away from that moment, I couldn’t bear the truth of this strange tale, on the surface uncanny but beneath as familiar as my own life--or the fear of where it could go: standing there with a hammer--I don’t know how I’ve come to be holding it--and then it’s something sharper, and I bring it down hard and lose everything to save the boy.
I don’t know if I could do it, could give it all up with one stroke--but Karl does, then smiles--Isn’t he always smiling? Isn’t it a smile?--and stands at the barred window like Antigone after pouring a little dust on her dead brother, certain she has done the gods’ work.


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