The film focuses on the life of Sonny, the kid in the run down truck that we are introduced to in the opening. Sonny is a poor boy, who has been somewhat abandoned by his parents. He's friends with the other poor kids in the townDwayne, and Billy most notably. Billy is deaf, and a bit on the slow sidehe's Sam the Lion's son and Sonny has a real soft spot for him. Sam the Lion pretty much owns the town. We find Sam and Sonny to have a complex relationship, and one that will end up providing a circular theme for the film. Sam owns the town's pool hall, movie theatre, and café and is well-known and loved by everyone. What Sam says, goes, and we get this image of Sam as the kind of old cowboy ruling over the land. The town has a kind of old glory day feel about itthe teenagers go to the movies at night and kiss in the back rows, they make out in cars and all seem rather innocent in their naiveté. However, there are more secrets to the town than are made apparent at first and we realize that this town is far from the perfect image of the west that we have been accustomed to in films up to this point.
For example, Sonny gets into a sexual relationship with his basketball coach's wife when she gets too sad for anything else to make her happy. Jacy, the town's classic blonde, ends up being very sexually confused and troubled due to the odd relationship between her and her drunken mother, who is having an affair. The town rich kids are all messed up, having naked pool parties and sleeping with one another. Basically, it's a town that is the result of a changing society with changing ideals. There are a number of times in the film, where the noise from a television is the only sound the audience hears. It seems as if television is part of the changing values of the townespecially after Sam the Lion dies. Once Sam dies, everything seems to take a turn for the worse. He leaves Sonny the pool hall and leaves the theatre in the hands of the old lady who had basically been running it before. Eventually, she needs to shut down the theatre, and even blames television as the reason why people don't want to go to the theatre anymore. Dwayne goes away to the army, he and Sonny get in a fight, and the preacher's son is even arrested for attempting to molest a little girl. It appears that with the death of the cowboy figure of the town, the whole town goes downhill, and at the same time, Sonny seems to be taking his place. He starts rolling cigarettes like Sam had, has his wild days with Jacy (coincidentally the daughter of Sam's old lover), runs the pool hall, and seems destined to simply follow in Sam's footsteps. The last scene, where Sonny returns to the house of his 40 year old lover, there is a loud laughter coming from the television. The conversation is serious, Mrs. Leachman is on the brink of nervous breakdown, Sonny has just witnessed the death of his friend Billy, Dwayne had just left for Korea, and Jacy was off at college. Sonny is the only one left, the last one standing. And the only sound of laughter coming from the sad house where Sonny is destined to spend the rest of his days with a married woman is coming from the television. The wild, wild west has been reduced to people in their houses wishing to be as happy as the people on the television. Instead, they have been doomed to live unfulfilling lives that will never live up to the standard of life in the old time western films in the closed down Royale theatre.