Alphabetical Movie – The Green Mile
It is, I suppose, fair that The Green Mile will always be known as Frank Darabont’s second best prison movie. Being mentioned alongside The Shawshank Redemption should be fair consolation, right?
I think that The Green Mile is an excellent film that mingles hope and despair in equal parts. The films ending seems to provide a glimmer of hope after an absolutely devastating moment of despair but to me, it borders on nihilistic.
Before the fold, I suppose I should mention that just about any Alphabetical movie blog may contain spoilers. This one certainly will.
I tend to ignore the obvious Christ allegory of John Coffey because that is fairly straightforward. Coffey is clearly a Christ figure and he must be sacrificed because that is the way these things go.
Yet the fate of Paul Edgecomb is where the true darkness of the film lies. He is punished for killing Coffey even though the film makes it clear that he had little choice.
At the end of the film, he is imprisoned in a retirement home having watched all of his friends and loved ones die. If he makes new friends, he knows that he will eventually have to watch them die as well. He’s not immortal but if Coffey could extend the life of a mouse to sixty plus years, how long can he extend the life of a man?
It seems like a pretty severe fate for a man whose only sin was giving Coffey exactly what he wanted.
The film makes sympathetic characters of murderers to heighten the emotional impact when Coffey dies. If we can feel badly for Delecroix when he meets his fate, we are going to feel much worse for Coffey, who we know has done nothing wrong.
In placing two truly evil men in the midst of this story (one on each side of the prison bars), the film creates a deliberate contrast between the men we watch die and the men we want to die.
Of course, we want Paul to live. We like him. He is a good and patient man doing a job most of us would never do and we can see that he feels what he is doing is right. He has respect for the men in his charge but he seems to have no question that their fate is just.
The tragic irony for Paul is that he effectively must live out his life supervising more “executions” as he watches everyone he comes to care for die.
Is the film a commentary on the Death Penalty? It is, but the jury is out on what the film wants us to think.
Obviously, Delecroix is a sympathetic character. He’s on death row, though. He did something pretty horrible or he wouldn’t be there. By shielding us from his deeds, we are forced to focus on the man and not the crime.
When Wild Bill gets killed, though, we don’t really care. We are, in fact, happy. We don’t yet know the depths of his guilt but we suspected something like that all along.
Coffey, the character who is portrayed as the ultimate good, is the character who carries out a sentence of death on Wild Bill.
So, it would seem, the death penalty is not an absolute evil – even as the only people we see in “Old Sparky” are seemingly unworthy of that extreme punishment.
That Coffey wants to suffer that fate is telling. At the end of the film, Paul wants the same fate. Death is not something to be feared but something that we all “owe.”
The film seems to be telling us that good people die all the time and it is not something other good people can stop. If we go back to the Christ allegory, Paul is Pontius Pilate and Coffey was going to die. There was nothing he could have done.
But he pays the price because he should have stopped something he could not have stopped.
In both stories, god comes across as being sort of a dick.