Friday, May 25, 2012
GREEN MILE, THE
(December 1999, U.S.)
I saw THE GREEN MILE in late December of 1999 the day before my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I flew off to Dallas, Texas to welcome in the new Millenium with her family. We did not go to the movies when we were in Texas, so THE GREEN MILE was the LAST FILM OF THE TWIENTIETH CENTRY I went to see in a movie theater.
(And clearly, that is something only I could give a damn about!)
So who else but Frank Darabont, the director of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) could have possibly done justice to author Stephen King's other great prison story? No one, in my opinion. As prison films go, this is perhaps the one that really grabs for the heart because you come to care a lot about every decent character on screen. Decent is key here, because it's not only the corrections officers in charge of Death Row inmates at 1935's Cold Mountain Penitentiary that grab our attention for worthwhile film characters, but the inmates themselves. The men we come to know live their lives as calmly and as peacefully as possible while waiting for their day of execution in the electric chair. We don't necessarily know what crime they committed and frankly, we don't care. Because criminals or not, the film portrays them as men with souls filled with regret and penance. John Coffey (played by Michael Clarke Duncan), a giant black man convicted of raping and killing two young white girls (he didn't do it!), is a different story entirely. Coffey shows all the characteristics of being a "gentle giant": keeping to himself, soft-spoken, fearing darkness, and crying often. Soon enough, though, John reveals his extraordinary powers of healing. The man in charge of Death Row, Paul Edgecomb (played wonderfully by Tom Hanks) is the first to believe that John is not just a mere man, but an angel on Earth. I suppose if YOU had a painful urinary infection that was taken away from you with just the grip of John's hand and watched the tiny little squished life of Mr. Jingles the mouse return with just one breath from John's mouth, you'd likely think the same thing, too.
Let's get back to the word DECENT for a moment, because as much as we are capable of caring for many of these men in the film, we're just as capable of hating and despising two others. Prison guard Percy Wetmore (played by Doug Hutchison) is a snivling little antagonist who deserves nothing more than to having the living shit beat out of him...twice! Newly arrived inmate "Wild Bill" Wharton (played by Sam Rockwell in the first film I ever saw him in) is truly a sick, criminal bastard (HE killed those two young white girls!) whom we can't wait to see fry in the chair (we don't, though - he gets shot to death instead). I don't know if this is the story's actual intention, but it can clearly bring out both sides of love and hate from those who watch it.
The character of John Coffy has often been referred to as a "'magic Negro' figure" — a term coined by director Spike Lee to describe a stereotypical fictional black person depicted in a fictional work as a "saintly, nonthreatening" person whose purpose in life is to solve a problem for or otherwise further the happiness of a white person." Whether you agree with that allogation or not is up to you, but if you remember some other films that were released shortly into the new century, you may recall that THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and Harold Ramis' remake of BEDAZZLED also featured black men in the same position of almost angelic, sound judgement who were meant to serve the problems of white men. In that case, do we assume that one race is wiser than the other? Not me. I personally think we're just about as smart and as stupid as the next person.
Stephen King as a story teller never ceases to amaze me in that he can write bone chilling horror like CARRIE, SALEM'S LOT and THE SHINING and yet can also turn out stories that touch our hearts like STAND BY ME (written as THE BODY), THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (written as RITA HAYWORTH AND SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) and THE GREEN MILE. I'm currently reading one of his latest works called 11/22/63 which is by no means scary, but rather a wonderfully detailed time trip back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. It, too, may make a great film if done right by the right person. Frank perhaps? Maybe. I still haven't seen THE MIST (2007), though.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Paul Edgecomb: "What do you want me to do John? You want me to let you run out of here, see how far you can get?"
John Coffey: "Why would you do such a foolish thing?"
Paul: "On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job?"
You know, for a guy who's a complete atheist, that last line never fails to get me every time.