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Film / The Green Mile

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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 is 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.
  • Adapted Out: The film omits prisoner Arthur Flanders, assistant warden Curtis Anderson, the abusive orderly Brad Dolan and the unnamed doctor who faints at Del's execution.
  • 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 Jerkass 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 and is genuinely sorry for what he did, which makes his horrible death even sadder.
    • Contrasted by Wharton and Percy Wetmore, who John Coffey punishes 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.
  • Amoral Attorney: Downplayed with Burt Hammersmith. On the one hand, he is obviously bigoted toward black people and thinks they should be put down like mad dogs if they act out. On the other hand, he genuinely believes Coffey to be guilty of killing two girls, and his fear was born from the fact that his son was partly blinded by a dog.
  • Anachronism Stew: The film is set in 1935, but Louisiana did not start using the electric chair to execute criminals until 1940.
  • Angel Unaware: It's strongly implied that John Coffey is one, especially considering he remembers nothing about his past and his lawyer couldn't find any information on him, despite his enormous size.
  • A Rare Sentence: He infected you with life?
  • Asshole Victim: Delacroix. While his death was indeed gruesome and drawn-out, he did brutally rape and murder a young girl. Further, several other people died in the fire he started in an attempt to cover up his previous crime.
    • Wild Bill Wharton is a psychopathic child rapist and murderer who not only killed the Detterick girls, but gloated about it to John Coffey and seems to be delighted with the fact that Coffey's getting blamed for his crime. John Coffey mind-controls Percy into shooting him because of it. Although the rest of the guards are disturbed by Coffey using Percy for the deed, no one disputes that the victim deserved it.
    • Non-lethal example with Percy, who is mind-controlled into killing Wharton, the process of which ends up destroying his mind.
  • Bait the Dog: William Wharton is a total asshole who causes chaos for the guards, but he's very outrageous and very amusing, so like the rest of the Death Row prisoners on the mile, you wonder whether he really deserves it. It doesn't hurt that he directs a large part of his bad behavior towards Percy. Turns out he's the worst of them by far, enough to make Percy look positively sympathetic by comparison, and the real killer of the Detterick girls.
  • 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: John Coffey seems like the archetypical Gentle Giant, and he is. But boy, did Bill and Percy pay for their sins in overtime when John Coffey uses his powers and forces the latter to shoot the former, destroying Percy's mind in the process.
  • 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.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Played for Laughs during the scene where John heals Paul's UTI. When John grabs him, Del begins hysterically screaming and calling for the other guards because it appears that John is trying to seriously hurt him. Even afterwards, when it's more than obvious that Paul is fine, he keeps screaming for help, but Paul tells him to shut up.
    Paul: "Del, for Christ sakes, shut up!"
  • Blackmail: Percy is on the receiving end of this, regarding his failure to stop Wharton's assault and him 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The reference to Top Hat in the very beginning of the movie is actually recently released during 1935, and John Coffey especially wanted to see that movie as his last request.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Guess who actually committed the crime for which Coffey was wrongfully convicted? Wharton, who happens to be in the death row of the same prison at the same time as Coffey for an unrelated crime.
  • 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. Even after bursting into flame, he takes almost another minute to actually die.
  • 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.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Wild Bill. He grabs Percy through the bars of his cell and creepily kisses him on the cheek before grabbing his crotch and threatening to rape him. Also, he raped Katie and Cora Detterick, the crime that John was framed for.
  • Dirty Old Man: Toot-toot, the obnoxious janitor.
  • Dramatic Irony: Katie and Cora's family denounces John Coffey as he raped and murdered their little daughters, unaware of the fact that the real perpetrator of the crime was punished days ago.
  • Due to the Dead: In addition to the examples from the novel, a scene is added in the cellar where Paul delicately arranges a necklace around John Coffey's neck before sending him off to be received by the Holy Spirit.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Strongly implied. Despite all the horrible, loathsome things he does, Percy sheds a tear when John Coffey shows him Wharton's crimes, right before shooting him dead.
    • Explicitly during Del's execution, even though he’s the one who sabotaged it. Even he’s horrified by the results, though for purely selfish reasons.
  • 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.
  • Evil Is Petty: Literally every interaction between Del and Percy. At the beginning of the film, Percy breaks three of Del's fingers just for smirking at him.
    • Subverted when Percy stomps on Mr. Jingles as revenge for Del laughing at him after Wild Bill assaults him and he soils himself, but John manages to use his powers to revive him.
    • When Del is executed, Percy takes a moment while he's being tied to the chair to disclose that there is no such thing as "Mouseville", just to kill the one little reed of happiness Del still had.
    • It is also believed that this is one of the reasons that Percy refuses to wet the sponge during Del's execution, simply to get back at him for laughing at him.
  • The Executioner: This film centers on a team of these, tasked with executing convicts for the State of Louisiana.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: See Be Careful What You Wish For above.
  • 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 flaming corpse afterwards.
  • Foreshadowing: Despite everything being done by the book, Arlen Bitterbuck doesn't immediately die in the electric chair and requires a second jolt, hinting that such executions don't always go cleanly.
    • The fact that Jan and Paul have a college going son in 1935, when Paul is narrating his story.
    • In one of his first conversations with Warden Hal, Paul warns him that Percy's going to hurt someone bad someday if he doesn't shape up. He's right doublefold - first when he sabotages Del's execution with utterly horrific results, and second when he shoots Wild Bill Wharton.
  • 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)
  • 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 guilty for rape, murder and arson, manages to be more likable than Percy.
  • Heaven Above: One of Tom Hanks' urination scenes ends with him struggling so much he has to lie on his back and look him to the sky and say, "Oh God, why?" It also foreshadows the weirder events from later in the movie.
  • Humans Are Flawed: The reason Coffey accepts his execution. Coffey knows that not all humans are bad. That being said, he fully understands the pain and grief they cause each other on a daily basis (especially in the context of the film’s setting) that he’d rather just die than to take in anymore suffering.
  • Implausible Deniability: “I didn’t know the sponge was supposed to be wet.” No one’s buying it, Percy.
  • Irony: After getting Mind Raped by John, Percy is put into the same mental hospital he planned on working at.
  • Inelegant Blubbering:
    • Hal breaks down sobbing when John Coffey heals his wife.
    • While all of the guards are on the verge of tears, Dean is openly crying like a baby at John Coffey's execution.
  • 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.
  • Kick the Dog: Percy does this to Del four different times.
    • Breaking his fingers just for smirking at him at beginning of the film.
    • Stomping on Mr. Jingles; this is, thankfully, subverted when John revives him.
    • Right before Del's execution when he reveals that Mouseville isn't real.
    • Right after that when he intentionally botches Del's execution by not soaking the sponge, causing Del to die by being cooked alive rather than simply electrocuted.
  • 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.
    • Wild Bill taunts John Coffey with the memories of killing their girls, seemingly just to taunt him. So John "uses" Percy as a weapon to fill Wild Bill with lead.
  • 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.
  • Manchild: Two examples. Wharton, who’s on the psychotic end of the spectrum, and John Coffey, who is an innocent Gentle Giant. Percy acts like one too in some ways.
  • Meaningful Name
    • John Coffey, i.e. Jesus Christ- King even joked about how blatant it was in On Writing.
    • Percy Wetmore. Fitting, for the guy who talks a lot of talks but wets his pants in the face of trouble.
    • Inverted with Brutus "Brutal" Howell; despite being a rather intimidating powerhouse of a man, Paul acknowledges that he's really a very kind and noble person, who rarely uses his size and strength to intimidate or harm others... except for Percy and Wild Bill, who both deserve it. Could also be an averted case of Names to Run Away from Really Fast. Interesting that the main character's right-hand man is named
    • Paul Edgecomb: Who has the name of the Apostle Paul, tells us of John. Also, ee "combs" the "edge" between life and death, making sure that the condemned die cleanly.
    • Eduard Delacroix: Delacroix means "Of the cross", with Delacroix fullfilling his role as the Penitent Thief being executed with the Christ-analogue of John Coffey. In contrast to Wild Bill's role as the Impenitent Thief.
  • Mercy Kill: What John considers his execution to be, despising all the hatred he feels in everyone around him.
  • Miscarriage of Justice : John Coffey is sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit.
  • 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!
  • Morality Pet: Mr. Jingles acts as this for Del.
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: Paul gets this reaction when he sees Percy stand outside Wharton's cell and reach for his gun.
  • Older Than They Look: Paul and Mr. Jingles. He is 108 when he tells his story to Elaine, doesn't look a day older than 80, and the mouse is at least 64 years old.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: 'You love your sister? You make any noise, you know what will happen.' The first lines we hear in the film, it's only later that we find out who said it and when: Wharton, during his murder of the Detterick girls.
  • Oscar Bait: A Magical Negro with healing powers and the gentleness of a saint becomes the victim of the Depression-era prison system, and the good man who enabled his execution must spend many, many years living with the guilt.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Paul's encounter with John Coffey granted him supernatural longevity (though not immortality), and as a result he has seen his friends and loved ones die, including his son.
  • Overly Long Scream: A rare example of this trope being played straight. Immediately when the switch is thrown during Del's execution, he begins screaming in ungodly agony, leading Paul to figure out that Percy didn't wet the sponge and Del is literally being cooked alive. He screams for the entire first half of the execution, and likely would have still been screaming right up until his death had his vocal chords not burned up.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Both Percy and Wild Bill qualify. Percy frequently calls Del a "faggot" and Wild Bill repeatedly calls John Coffey a "nigger".
    • Also, after his Moon Pie prank on Brutal, Wild Bill makes a joke comparing Brutal to "Little Black Sambo".
  • 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 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.
  • Prison Rape: Averted. Wild Bill threatens to rape Percy when he assaults him.
  • Prophetic Name: Eduard Delacroix — "of the cross" in French. His death is, to say the very least, excruciating.
  • Rape and Revenge: After learning that Wharton raped and murdered the two little girls, John 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.
  • Reality Ensues: As Will Wharton is dead by the time Paul learns of John's innocence, there's no actual way they can prove the fact, and even if Paul himself goes up to say that he 'saw' the vision proving the crime, it won't hold up in the court.
  • Retirony: Percy ending up a patient at the Briar Ridge Mental Institution, after being 'encouraged' to get a transfer there, with a few years to live at most. Call It Karma.
  • 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."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The other prison officers can't do much to Percy because he's the nephew of the governor's wife.
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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 in the modern day.
    • Dean Stanton isn't mentioned as having been murdered by another prisoner a few months later and isn't mentioned as being among the friends Paul has outlived (which could be significant given his relatively young age).
    • The description of Percys eventual death in a nursing home fire is unmentioned.
  • 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.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Despite being often cited as the Trope Maker for the Magical Negro, this film does a lot towards deconstructing it as well. John Coffey isn't a wise elderly man who the white characters look to as a source of guidance, he's a middle-aged man-child whom the main characters keep at arms length because he is a murderer of two children or so they think. In addition, his magic powers are shown to be agonizingly painful for him, to the extent that he willingly submits to being wrongfully executed because he's just so tired of living. Not to mention the fact that he's just as capable of harming the white people as helping them, as shown when he brainwashes Percy into murdering Wild Bill, destroying Percy's mind in the process. And because of him, Paul has become immensely long lived, but views it as just as much a curse as John Coffey felt about his abilities.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: “I am 108 years now, Elaine, I was 44 the year that John Coffey walked the Green Mile.“
  • 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. As he concedes remorsefully, though, he's not immortal; 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Wild Bill would rape and murder two, actually.
  • 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.


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