Movie Review: The Green Mile (1999)

Posted: September 17, 2012 in Drama
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In 1935,  Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is in charge of death row in an Alabama prison.  They call death row in this particular prison The Green Mile because of the lime green floors.  As if dealing with dangerous prisoners isn’t bad enough, Paul is suffering from a painful bladder infection, and a power hungry prison guard named Percy (Doug Hutchison), who’s a sadist, and a bully.  Some prisoners are less violent than others.  Edward Delacroix (Michael Jeter) is a Cajon, he finds a mouse, names him Mr. Bojangles, and trains the mouse to do tricks.  The two people that join Del on death row, are very violent.  John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is accused of killing two little girls, they found John holding the dead girls, clothes covered in blood.  The second prisoner is a fast talking psychopath called Wild Bill (Sam Rockwell) who is a serial killer.  Paul sees John not as a killer, but a gentle childlike soul.  John offers to “help” Paul with his bladder infection, he grabs Paul by the groin and touches him, Paul suddenly feels no pain in his groin and his bladder infection is healed. But things never quite settle down on the Green Mile, Percy steps on Mr. Bogangles, and injures him, but John brings the dying mouse to life.  Percy also purposely forgets to wet the sponge when he is taking the lead on Del’s execution.  The result is gruesome.  Warden Hal Moores (James Comwell) wants answers for the botched execution, the warden is not in the best mood because his wife Melinda (Patricia Clarkson) is dying from a brain tumor.  Paul is even more convinced that John is not a killer, given his healing of Paul’s groin, and the mouse.  Paul now wants to smuggle John out of the prison, and give him a chance to heal Melinda.  Does Paul get John out of prison? Does John  heal Melinda?  Is John Coffey a killer?  Or has the system convicted the wrong man?  If John didn’t kill the little girl, who did?

This is a great movie because it works on two levels.  It works on a literal level, as the story of a possibly innocent man, being wrongly convicted, or it works on a spiritual level, as a simple man, who inexplicably works miracles, while awaiting his death.  The obvious spiritual comparison is John Coffey is Jesus Christ, but upon closer inspection, the Green Mile is a very superficial reading of the Jesus story.  John Coffey, simple man, condemned to die, works miracles, laments the sinful world around him. Jesus, a simple carpenter, performed miracles, laments the sinful world, condemned to die for the sins of the world.  But John Coffey’s miracles seem like some kind of cheap parlor trick compared to Jesus, he sucks the hurtful thing out of the person’s body, (except Paul’s groin) and coughs out powdery particles to signify that the person healed.  John Coffey unlike Jesus, gets tired, after healing someone, and can never raise a person, or animal from the dead, as Jesus did with Lazarus.  I bet Stephen King’s thought process began like this, what if Jesus was a big, black prisoner, on death row?  There is value in realizing that Jesus could be embodied in any phyical shape, spiritual people (including me) need to rid themselves of the blonde haired blue eyed Renaissance Jesus, and realize that Jesus was a Middle Eastern man, with dark hair and a swarthy complexion.  King uses the archetypal, simple black man character with supernatural powers at least once more, in the Shining, where a black caretaker has the ability to read minds in The Shining.  It’s clear that King wants you to draw the comparison, just don’t take it too far, Jesus never punished his enemies or did harm to them, that’s more an Old Testament conception of God, the all powerful, vengeful God, as opposed to the loving, and forgiving Jesus.  This is still a powerful story, amazingly well told, and emotionally draining, and deserving of a viewing whatever the nature of your spirituality.  Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan get most of the attention, in fact it was Duncan’s recent death that made me want to see it again.  Hanks understated performance is superb, Michael Clarke Duncan is incredible, although the character of the simple minded minority gets hard to swallow at times.  Duncan makes the character work, because the viewer believes Duncan is a gentle soul, despite his enormous size. Despite the two strong leads this movie works because of the great ensemble cast.  James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, David Morse, Patricia Clarkson Doug Hutchison, and Barry Pepper all give powerful performances.  Sam Rockwell is a little ham handed as Wild Bill, but it’s still an intriguing performance to watch.  This is a great movie, maybe even a better watch if you’re not aware of the spiritual similarities or dissimilarities with Jesus.

The Green Mile.  Miles above most movies.

  1. […] His friend, Elaine Connelly (Eve Brent) takes him outside. After that, they sit at a table and Paul starts telling her about his job during The Great Depression: a guard on the Death Row. And so, the […]

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