Cultural Revolutions

A Marvelous Tragedy

Sling Blade, the recent hit film that rightly won Billy Bob Thornton an Academy Award, is now out on video. As viewers of the film know, it is a marvelous tragedy of classical simplicity. But what has not been mentioned is that it is also a tale told in the tradition of Southern literature. As the late M.E. Bradford reminded us, the protagonist in Southern literature is the community—not the alienated individual of modernism—and so it is in this film when a retarded man twice becomes a murderer because of his primitive decency, trying to uphold right in a society permeated with vice.

The story opens as the main character is about to be released from 25-years imprisonment in a hospital for the criminally insane. He is no longer considered a threat to society. His childhood and youth had been a horror of misuse by his family and community. His crime was killing his promiscuous mother's lover with a Sling Blade, and then killing his mother when he realized he had not committed an act of rescue and defense but an unwanted act of interference.

Upon returning home, he is befriended by some of the townsfolk and by a boy and his mother who have been taken in by a vicious live-in boyfriend. Tragedy ensues as the retarded man once more comes to the defense of decency in the only way he can—another murder. If you want to know any more, you'll have to rent the flick.

One hesitates...

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