Study Guide

Sling Blade Genre

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Drama, Independent Film

As a drama, Sling Blade is all over the place. It's dramatic, sure, but it has elements of dark comedy, Southern Gothic, and even Western.

Roger Ebert said in his review, "If 'Forrest Gump' had been written by William Faulkner, the result might have been something like 'Sling Blade.'" You read that right. Ebert is comparing Billy Bob Thornton to William Faulkner, a giant in American literature. It isn't a crazy comparison. Thornton may never have written a novel, but William Faulkner did write screenplays, and both men drew upon their deep Southern roots to craft their stories.

In fact, Sling Blade feels like a modern Southern Gothic tale. It's deceptive in its apparent simplicity. It's a story that draws us in with a straightforward narrative but that makes us think about complex moral questions. And it's got the darkness and weirdness of all true Southern Gothic stories.

Also, being an independent film, Sling Blade is able to explore various genres without ever truly committing to one easily digestible mood. The beginning, with Karl being interviewed in a dark, dark room, reminds us of The Silence of the Lambswith a thick Southern accent. From there, the film transitions to a Southern Gothic-style drama.

The rest of the film is a Western of sorts. Karl is the new man come to a small town, a sheriff type who by the end of the movie will take the law into his own hands. In Westerns, bad guys wear black hats, and good guys wear white hats. There are no cowboy hats in Sling Blade, but if there were, what color hat would Karl wear? We think he'd look good in a checkerboard pattern.

This mixture of genres and moods fits in with Southern Gothic, which, like Southern cooking, is best when a bunch of ingredients are thrown together in a big pot and left to simmer.

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