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 he still does the time
, but the journey toward Old Sparky changes the compassionate lead guard's life forever.
The movie provides examples of:
- 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.
- Age Lift: The actor who plays Percy, who is 21 in the novel, was 39 at the time. Also, Wild Bill was 19 in the novel, and is played by a 31 year old in the movie.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Delacroix isn't the villain in the film, and is actually well liked by the fellow inmates and guards, which makes his horrible death even sadder.
- Contrasted by Wharton and Percy Wetmore, who deserved a lot worse than their respective fates.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 pretty much 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: "I didn't know 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. Yeah, he'd probably gotten the death penalty even if he hadn't gotten stuck with a racist attorney.
- 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: Edgecombe and Mr. Jingles. It is assumable Edgecombe will live for 1000 years more (thirty times the normal human lifespan) until death finally catches him.
- 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.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Paul is choleric, Harry is phlegmatic, Dean is melancholic, Percy is sanguine and Brutal is leukine.
- 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. Having a urinary tract infection, this severely cripples him.
- 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. 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."
- I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Wharton forces the girls to stay silent by saying that if one of them makes a sound, he'll kill her sister.
- Large Ham: Wild Bill, who would be pretty entertaining if he weren't such a disgusting, monstrous character.
- 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 this to the max.
- 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.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Wharton does this initially, with nearly lethal consequences when he drops the fašade and attacks the guards.
- Older Than They Look: Edgecombe. He is 106 when he narrates the story in the nursing home. He has been a widower for over half a century and outlived several nurses already.
- Oscar Bait
- 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-Asskicking 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 James Cromwell, of all people, after Delacroix's horribly botched execution.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: After John MindRapes Percy into killing Wild Bill, the good guys say they understand why he did it to Percy, but ask why he did that to Wild Bill. They understand fully after The Reveal, but why did it take that long? Wild Bill was established as already on death row for murder. They knew he'd done worse than Percy, just not on-screen.
- They're specifically asking why John did it to Wharton. And they'd probably be right to ask: In the book it was mentioned that the two men didn't pass more than two dozen words past each other their entire time on the Mile, and half of those were when Wharton grabbed him.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Wharton (type C) has an 8-year-old's sense of humor, but can be quite cunning, and is a rapist pedophile.
- 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 Paul himself is pretty reasonable and treats the prisoners fairly.
- 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 of his connections.
- 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?
Paul Edgecombe: I don't care where you go, as long as it's not here at this moment.
- The Ageless: Edgecombe and Mr. Jingles.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Edgecombe took care of Mr. Jingles after Del's execution. At the time of the narration Mr. Jingles had lived thirty times the normal lifespan (two years) of mice.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Paul ends up outliving all his family 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. You do the math.
- Working on the Chain Gang: Seen right at the beginning of the movie.