Film / The Green Mile

1996 dramatic novel by Stephen King. Originally released as a Serial Novel in six installments. Eventually made into a movie in 1999, directed by Frank Darabont, who also directed The Shawshank Redemption, and starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan. And like Shawshank, it was an Oscar charmer, if not a winner.

The year was 1935. John Coffey, a Gentle Giant black man, has been condemned to die by the electric chair for the raping and killing of two young girls. What follows is a supernatural journey that not only reveals Coffey's wondrous powers, but proves he didn't do the crime. Sadly though he figures that he would better off in a world without pain and suffering, he still does the time, but the journey toward Old Sparky changes the compassionate lead guard's life forever.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: Though Paul's defense lawyer turns out to be wrong about John Coffey, his point about how people can be more dangerous than they appear to be turns out to be valid. Wild Bill was someone who the two girls knew personally.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Both Paul and Brutal admit Wharton's Moon Pie prank was pretty original after they put him in solitary confinement.
  • Adoring the Pests: This movie features Mr. Jingles / Steamboat Willy, a mouse found running around the death row cells. They decide not to kill him, aside from the Jerk Ass Percy, because of his unusual behavior: fearless in the face of humans, accepts food only from the regular guards, and his searching of the cells as if he's awaiting for somebody. Mr. Jingles adopts Eduard Delacroix when he arrives and entertains all with his spool fetching trick, even performing a show for the guards on another block.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Delacroix is guilty of a very heinous crime, but is actually well liked by the fellow inmates and guards, which makes his horrible death even sadder.
    • Contrasted by Wharton and Percy Wetmore, who John Coffey kills because they were bad men. Still, even considering their contempt for him, the guards are more than a little creeped out by what happens to Percy.
  • Anachronism Stew: The film is set in 1935, but Louisiana did not start using the electric chair to execute criminals until 1940.
  • Berserk Button: "Billy the Kid" Wharton does not care for it whatsoever when the guards call him "Wild Bill."
    • Don't mistreat the inmates in front of any of the guards (sans Percy), but especially not Brutal.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Before Del is executed, one of his victim's family members tauntingly remarks about how she hopes Del burns in hell for what he did. When Del's execution is sabotaged and he is literally being burned alive in front of them, the family members of Del's victims vomit in disgust at this and crowd towards the door in an attempt to avoid facing the horrific scene.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Brutus "Brutal" Howell, despite his nickname and imposing size, is a friendly, kind-hearted man who cares about the men on Death Row and is determined to treat them with respect and dignity. But it's not a good idea to piss him off as Percy does.
    • Coffey, while a Gentle Giant and innocent of his crimes, uses his powers to a very terrifying nature towards those he considers "bad men".
  • Big "NO!":
    • Del when Percy steps on Mr Jingles.
    • Paul and the other guards when Percy shoots Wild Bill.
    • An interesting case with Paul at the end of the movie. While he doesn't actually yell out no, the silence right before he has to execute John conveys this sense
  • Blackmail: Percy is on the receiving end of this, regarding his failure to stop Wharton and his sabotaging Del's execution to cover up being locked in the padded cell when they take Coffey to Hal's wife.
  • Blatant Lies: Despite being told beforehand that the sponge was integral to the execution, Percy says he had no idea that the sponge was supposed to be wet. Cue the most deserved punch in cinema history.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: Coffey is found holding the bloodied and raped bodies of two little (white) girls. The reason was that he tried to magically heal them back to life and failed.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Del's horrifically sabotaged execution. Without the wet sponge, Del wasn't simply electrocuted with relative ease. He was slowly and painfully cooked.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Paul and Mr. Jingles. Paul lies awake at night wondering how much longer he will live, considering that Mr. Jingles—a mouse; an animal that usually lives 1,000 days maximum—is now at least 64 years old.
  • Dirty Coward: Percy, especially in his freezing up during Wharton's attack on the other guards.
  • The Drifter: John Coffey implied that he was this his whole life prior to being incarcerated.
  • Establishing Character Moment: John Coffey is introduced to the audience being led by the guards to the Green Mile, with everyone remarking and even slightly terrified by his massive size. His Gentle Giant status is established when he asks if they can keep the lights on, as he is scared of the dark.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite the very blunt punishment they give Percy (and thoroughly enjoy doing so), all the guards are pretty horrified by Coffey's own form of karma towards him, even trying to forcibly stop him.
  • Forced to Watch: When Percy sabotages Del's execution, the result is so horrifying that even he is sickened by the sight of Del burning alive and tries to look away. Paul is so enraged at what Percy has done that he makes Percy watch the whole thing AND put out Del's corpse afterwards.
  • Gilligan Cut: After the "Moon Pie" prank.
    Brutal: Hope your bags are packed.
    Wild Bill: My bags are packed! I'm ready to go! Where we goin'? Let's go!
    (Cut to Wild Bill screaming in protest as he's dragged back into solitary)
  • Gentle Giant: Coffey is practically the Trope Codifier. Brutal also counts.
  • Groin Attack: Wild Bill gives one to Paul during his little brawl with the guards. Since Paul has a UTI, this is even more devastating and painful than kicking a guy in the 'nads usually is.
  • Hate Sink: Percy is an arrogant guard acting as if he can do whatever he wants and is needlessly cruel and spiteful to the inmates. He has no redeeming features and isn't played for laughs in any way. Even Wild Bill is funny at times and it's telling that Del who's gulty for both rape, child murder and arson, manages to be more likable than Percy.
  • Hero Antagonist/Villain Protagonist: Del certainly isn't a hero, but in spite of being a Death Row inmate convicted of rape, murder, and arson, he manages to be one of the more endearing characters in the story, and mostly attributed to Mr. Jingles. In fact, Del is so upset over what might become of Mr. Jingles once he's dead, that Paul and the other guards tell him a little white lie about sending Mr. Jingles to a place called Mouseville, where they take in all kinds of mice that can do special tricks, and people from all over the world come and pay to see them. He even started hollering for help when he thought Coffey was going to hurt Paul. Meanwhile, Percy, despite being one of the guards, is a sadistic Jerkass and a Dirty Coward, who actually likes seeing the prisoners electrocuted, and goes out of his way to be cruel, such as stomping Mr. Jingles to death, and intentionally botching Del's execution in an act of petty revenge (as Del had mocked him for wetting his pants after Wild Bill attacks him); in fact, just before the switch is thrown, he makes it a point to tell Del, "Oh, by the way, there is no Mouseville, they made it up so you'll feel better. Just thought you should know."
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: John Coffey, despite technically awaiting execution for murdering two girls, turns out not to have a bad bone in his body.
  • Irony: After getting Mind Raped by John, Percy is put into the same mental hospital he planned on working at.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Wharton forces the girls to stay silent as he takes them out of their house by saying that if one of them makes a sound, he'll kill her sister.
  • Large Ham: Wild Bill, who is pretty entertaining but is such a disgusting, monstrous character.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Immediately after pranking Delacroix with a Jump Scare so that he falls and hits his head, Percy gets grabbed and groped by Wild Bill, causing him to wet himself in a panic.
  • Last Request: Coffey receives his choice of dinner on the day of his execution as is standard, and Paul begs him to ask for other things, including a chance of escape to which he and the other guards would gladly turn the other way. John assures them that he is ready to die. Even earlier in the film, John tells them that he's never seen a "flicker show", so a projector is set up and he is allowed to watch the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film Top Hat.
    John: (watching, entranced) "They's angels... Angels, just like up in heaven!"
    • Seeing Top Hat in his old age is enough to spook Edgecomb into telling his story to Elaine.
  • Magical Negro: John Coffey is a literally magical one. Though his role in the story only weakly conforms to that archetype. He does have the perfect moral saintliness down, and very much wants to use his powers to help people, including the (white) protagonist, the warden's (white) wife, and, unsuccessfully, the two dead (white) girls of whose deaths he was convicted. However, he has other roles in the story besides this, including using his powers to kill Wild Bill and break the mind of Percy, as punishment for being "bad men", and his lasting effect on the protagonist's life is not entirely positive, inflicting him with a case of Who Wants To Live Way Too Long?. He also lacks the trait of dispensing folksy wisdom or being Closer to Earth (quite the opposite, really) and the character and his powers are more of a central driving force of the plot than merely a device to achieve Character Development in the white protagonist.
  • Man Child: John Coffey is this, but only to a certain degree. The sight of stars in the sky, a handful of fresh grass, and seeing a flicker show for the first time is enough to fill him with childlike wonder and amazement.
  • Meaningful Name: Percy Wetmore.
  • Mood Whiplash: Paul intentionally invokes this to calm down Hal when Del's execution goes wrong. It works.
    Hal: WHAT IN THE BLUE FUCK WAS THAT? There's puke all over the floor up there. And that smell! I had Van Hayes open both doors but that smell's not going out for five damn years that's what I'm bettin'. And that asshole, Wharton, is singing about it. You can hear him up there!
    Paul: Can he carry a tune?
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Paul taking the most epic piss anyone has ever taken after his urinary infection is cured.
  • Nepotism: Percy's uncle is the governor, and he's always using his family connections to get his way.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Wharton does this initially, with nearly lethal consequences when he drops the façade and attacks the guards.
  • Older Than They Look: Paul and Mr. Jingles. He is 108 when he tells his story to Elaine, and the mouse is at least 64 years old.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Some of the more rational explanations in the book are turned into supernatural explanations in the movie. Instead of Paul figuring out who the actual killer was on his own, John Coffey gave him the information through his touch.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Harry Terwilliger gets his own back on Wild Bill after the latter urinates on him.
    • "Piss on me?" (cue the fire-hose)
  • Precision F-Strike: "What in the blue fuck was that?!" From Warden Moores, of all people, after Delacroix's horribly botched execution.
    • Earlier on in the film, an old man scandalizes the other members of the retirement home by denouncing Jerry Springer:
    Elderly man: Why do we always watch this stuff?
    Elderly woman: It's interesting.
    Elderly man: "Interesting"? Buncha inbred trailer trash. All they ever talk about is fucking.
  • Psychopathic Manchild:
    • Wharton (type C) has an 8-year-old's sense of humor, but can be quite cunning, and is a rapist pedophile.
    • Percy Wetmore. His behavior is more along the lines of an out-of-sorts brat, except he is in the body of a death row guard.
  • Rape and Revenge: After learning that Wharton raped and murdered the two little girls John was found with, he uses his powers to force Percy to shoot Wharton dead.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Which is why Delacroix's crime was not mentioned in the film and why Wharton is such a disgusting character.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Warden Moores. He is gruff, but fair.
    • As the head guard on E Block, Paul is pretty reasonable and treats the prisoners fairly. Brutal is the same way, only bringing his sheer size into play when he has to help subdue an unruly prisoner.
  • Say Your Prayers: Delacroix can be heard muttering in his native French just before his execution. One of the words that can be made out is "Mary", suggesting that he is doing this.
    • A more lighthearted example is present during the practice execution, in which the Janitor pretends to pray.
    Toot-Toot: "Gettin' to my knees. Prayin'. The Lord is my shepherd and so forth and so on, sorry for all the bad shit I've done, all the people I've trampled on, I hope they forgive me, I won't do it again, that's for sure."
  • Retirony: Percy ending up a patient at the Briar Ridge Mental Institution, after being 'encouraged' to get a transfer there. Call It Karma.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Percy is still at the prison, and transferring to a better job, because he's the nephew of the governor's wife.
  • Shout-Out: A very relevant one in Top Hat, something of a Chekhov's Gun too.
  • Soul Fragment: John gives a "part of himself" to Paul.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mr. Jingles. In the novel, he finally dies of old age in the end. In the film, he's last shown sleeping.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Shawshank Redemption. A Christian allegory Period Piece about a wrongfully accused convict, based on a Stephen King story and directed by Frank Darabont, and featuring several of the same supporting actors.
  • Survival Mantra: "Heaven... Heaven... I'm in heaven..."
  • Take Five: Early in the movie;
    Paul Edgecombe: Percy, they're moving house in the infirmary. Why don't you go see if they could use some help?
    Percy Whetmore: They got all the men they need.
    Paul Edgecombe: Why don't you go make sure?
    (A pause)
    Paul Edgecombe: I don't care where you go, as long as it's not here at this moment.
  • Tears of Remorse: Del has these right before his execution.
    Del: I'm sorry for what I did. I wish I could take it back, but I can't.
    • Double Subverted with John Coffey. When the police found him with the two dead girls, he was sobbing that "he tried to take it back", leading everyone to assume he raped and murdered those two girls. While it turns out that John is innocent and Wild Bill was responsible, it still counts as this trope because he did feel remorseful about his inability to bring the two girls back to life with his healing powers.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Invoked by John Coffey on himself: He insists on having his execution carried out as planned, despite Paul's reluctance to do so and desire to help him escape; his explanation for this is that being The Empath makes it so painful and exhausting for him to live in a world filled with pain and evil that he would like to die to escape from it.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Paul remembers his son being grown during the events of the film, which he later realizes doesn't quite add up. He is an old man, after all; his recollection isn't what it used to be.
  • Wham Shot: The reveal that Wild Bill was the Dettericks' hired hand, and thus the person actually responsible for abducting, raping and murdering the two girls.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Paul ends up outliving all his family and friends because he receives part of the life force of the death row inmate John's healing power. He believes this is punishment from God for executing John. As a result he's very much alive in the present day and in fairly good health despite being over 100 years old. He's not immortal, though. Death will catch up to him eventually, but not for a very, very long time as seen with the mouse Mr. Jingles, who is at least 64 years old. And just for the record, mice normally only live less than four years. Do the math.
    • Gladly. Mr. Jingles wound up living around 16 times longer than the average mouse. Assuming that this will also apply to Paulnote , Paul would wind up living until at least the age of 976.
      • Then again, Mr. Jingles was 'juiced' by while being held by Coffey as he experienced out of control agony over feeling Delcroix's death, while Paul's 'juice' was given deliberately for a specific purpose. It's possible Mr. Jingles got a much, much larger dose and hence why he lived so impossibly long for a mouse, while Paul may still be alive for another twenty or thirty years instead of several centuries.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: Seen right at the beginning of the movie.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Wharton fakes an epileptic fit in an attempt to escape spending a few hours in solitary confinement. The guards are wise to his schemes at this point, however, and it doesn't work.
    • Maybe. He is throwing up by the time they put him in the padded room so it's possible it's a genuine fear reaction to being in there.