The idea of a mental institutions can conjure up images of tiny cells with padded walls, patients in straightjackets, or people being lobotomized. It's scary stuff, which is why numerous horror movies, video games, and shows—like American Horror Story: Asylum—use it as an element of horror.
But in Sling Blade, the mental hospital is Karl's safe space. It's the outside world that scares him. Agoraphobia is a fear of the environment, but Karl isn't trigged by wide open spaces or Dixie Chicks songs. It's all that freedom and responsibility that frightens him. Paralyzed by an infinite number of choices, Karl feels much more uneasy than he did his freedom was taken away.
Questions About Freedom and Confinement
- What makes Karl want to return to the mental institution after his release?
- Bill Cox doesn't feel comfortable locking Karl in at night, but Karl doesn't mind it. Who is ultimately responsible for deciding how much freedom Karl should and shouldn't have?
- Do the townspeople fail by giving Karl too much freedom? Does the medical system or the justice system fail by giving Karl too much freedom?
Chew on This
Karl seeks confinement, but Frank feels trapped and wants freedom from Doyle.
Karl grew up in a shed, and as an adult, he sleeps in the back of the repair shop or in Linda's garage. Oddly, these places remind of him home and help him feel safe.