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Headscratchers / The Green Mile

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  • Just before Delacroix's execution, Paul notices that Percy has applied the sponge without dipping it in brine first; the movie is very deliberate in showing us the look of panic that crosses his face. Surely a man of Paul's experience would know that that's a very bad idea; hell, the guy who operates the switch flat-out tells us how catastrophic it would be. So why in the name of hell does Paul let the execution go on without stopping it if he knows what's about to happen? Surely he can't be so worried about maintaining protocol that he would stand by and watch a roomful of innocent people get traumatized as the prisoner burns alive in front of their very eyes?
    • I got the feeling that he subconciously knew something was wrong when he noticed the floor was dry but he couldn't quite put his finger on it until it was too late. If you meant why didn't he stop it when he DID notice, it was too late, Delacroix was already as good as dead and stopping the execution to apply the sponge would just draw things out and make his death even MORE gruesome.
      • I'm talking before the guy pulls the switch. And I still don't see someone as professional as Paul just letting it go if he even remotely suspects something might be wrong, especially knowing that a complete sadist like Percy is running things.
      • Part of the reason Paul feels like he has to atone for his part in Del's execution is that he knows he should have stopped it. He makes it clear that he felt completely out of control during the proceedings, but never once does he try to excuse his lack of action.
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    • Why the hell didn't somebody just shoot Del in the head to get it over with? Surely that would be quicker than an agonizing several-minute-long roasting.
      • Because even in spite of the horrific circumstances, that would have been considered murder (or at the very least manslaughter). The best possible outcome is that whoever shot him would be out of a job, during the Depression—and with that kind of mark on their record, that man would have never worked in the penal system again.
    • It really annoys me that the guy putting on the cap (Harry I think) didn't notice either. I mean, you can clearly see with Bitterbuck's execution that he just about touches the sponge, plus the amount of water that was there made the hood wet too. Seriously, how did he just not notice after the emphasis they put on having the sponge wet earlier? AND all the other guards are watching. When Brutal did it there was water everywhere. Did not one of them see that there was no water at all anywhere? No one noticed there was no watery noise when Percy was supposedly dipping the sponge in? So many things.
      • I can see this happening, if you work in a disciplined team of guys who are always professional and can unhesitatingly count on that discipline and professionalism then you just do your own part knowing that the other guy is doing his (you could do it blindfolded and still expect it done perfectly). In this case everyone is so used to that level of professionalism that there is a Percy shaped blindspot in their mindset. They expect (foolishly) the same level of professionalism and aren't looking for any screwups. Also they know exactly what will happen if the sponge isn't wet, and forget Percy doesn't, so discount his curiosity (and dehumanisation of offenders) because no one could be that sadistic.
      • In addition to the "disciplined, highly scripted routine" element of the situation, it's also a (the only) very public operation that the crew conducts, with a premium on everything going smoothly. You might think that would make people more likely to keep things from going horribly wrong, but it actually makes them more reluctant to speak out on some vague feeling of "not rightness" unless they could see exactly what was wrong, for fear of ruining the "show". So when Paul subconsciously noticed the floor was dry, he wasn't about to leap out in front of the entire audience and say "wait, everyone, something's not right!" Instead he took the extra couple seconds to figure out the problem, at which point the switch was flipped.
      • It's been awhile since I read the book, but in the movie, Percy showed that he's not a completely stupid raconteur by telling Delacroix that there's not Mouseville, which draws looks of irritation, annoyance, and outright anger from the others who heard him. There's a better-than-even chance that they didn't notice (or connect the info about) the dry sponge due to their irritation, annoyance, and anger.
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    • Not only that, but Delacroix himself should have noticed there was no water in the sponge. Hell, he's the one they use to demonstrate proper technique anyway!
      • No he wasn't, you're thinking of the janitor.
      • And the sponge is always dry while practicing anyway, that's why percy comes up with his excuse.
    • In the book at least, Paul was about to speak when the switch got pulled. And then it was too late.
    • Percy puts the sponge on and the other guard, standing behind Del, immediately places the headpiece over it. Del probably didn't know the sponge was supposed to be wet, and in any case was probably preoccupied. Paul didn't look at the bucket and floor untl a few seconds before Percy said, "Roll on Two", and looked like he was about to speak right before the switch was thrown. His thought process was something like:
    There's the bucket. Something isn't right. There's always water on the floor from the sponge. The floor is dry. That means the sponge may be dry. Oh God, the sponge is dry! WAIT! and then it was too late.

  • There seems to be only one shift of guards working the Green Mile even though it's obviously a 24/7 operation.
    • They specifically mention day-shift guards, it's just none of them show up because they aren't important.
    • They also show the various guards working at different times. It's just that a certain group of them are friendly with each other so we see them interact more.

  • It's pretty hard to get over the somewhat flabbergasting episode when the benevolent guards take John Coffey to Hal's house. Okay, he's good. Okay, he's cured a certain painful condition that had plagued the protagonist. Okay, he's effectively resurrected Delacroix's pet mouse. But he's still a man that's been condemned to die on an electric chair for child rape and murder. - Umm... So what? We'll just let the man roam about without even such a basic a precaution as having him handcuffed, and then we're gonna let him walk into our boss's house, disarm him when he tries to figure out what's going on, and then he's free to walk in all by himself right into the boss's wife's room. Yeah, Mr. Not Actually A Child Rapist, come on in. Work your magic... Sorry, everybody. It's just hard to get over. What a bunch of 100% genuine heaven-pants idealists those guys had to be in order to even think of such an undertaking. Talk about willing suspension of disbelief. Talk about Hollywood. Yeah, this sure qualifies as a rant.
    • The movie is set in 1935 Louisiana and Coffey is a black man. Given his race and his extremely gentle nature, it's abundantly obvious to all of them (except maybe Percy) that he didn't commit the violent acts he was convicted of and can therefore be trusted.
      • What exactly does his race have to do with him not committing crimes? Because that sounds like you're saying him being a black man plays into it being obvious he didn't. And that's kinda... racist. Just a bit.
      • ...Yeah? 1935 Louisiana was pretty racist. When it's a fairly common occurrence for a black man to be convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and the alleged criminal black man gives not even the slightest hint that he would do something like that, it's a pretty safe bet he didn't really do it.
    • I'm not sure if you and I saw the same movie, because I saw a very good set of precautions in the hands of every man escorting Coffey to the Warden's home: shotguns. Every man with Coffey was an armed, trained guard that obviously has been in more than one scrap and would, in the event of Coffey attempting to escape or act violent, would not hesitate to put him down.
    • The objections are raised. Paul answers them, and adds that he believes Coffey is innocent... and the rest of them semi-agree that they feel the same way. They even explain to Coffey that if he tries to run, they're going to shoot him, and Coffey agrees to it. And he's never all by himself, they follow pretty closely behind him the whole time. And besides all of the precautions they take, keep in mind they've brought him there to perform a miracle, so, y'know, maybe calm down a little.
    • It's well-established in the novel that Coffey, in addition to having healing powers, can also hypnotize people who are near him. By the time he got to Melinda Moores's room, he'd essentially put a spell on every one of the guards. It's never outright mentioned in the film, but some visual cues (especially in the interaction between Coffey and Moores) indicate that, for whatever supernatural reason, it's exceedingly difficult to stand between Coffey and someone he intends to help.
  • Why couldn't John Coffey bring back the two dead girls?
    • It seems John Coffey can only save person who has just died for a short period of time, and the two girls may have died for quite some time before he found them. It was briefly explained with the case of Mr.Jingle, the mouse. John did not say that he will save it,but rather said " There might still time..." This indicates that there is a certain limit to his power.
      • Yes, he says when the angry mob finds and confronts him, "I tried to take it [the girls' rape and murder] back, but it was too late." He even tells Paul this when he's first placed in his cell.
    • It could also be the case that it was simply too much of a strain for him to bring back two dead people at once. Just curing Melinda Moores of her tumour was hugely taxing for him, so trying to bring back someone who's dead (and has been dead for some time), especially someone who died so horrifically, could have been a seriously huge strain on him.
    • Isn't that how he got convicted of the crime in the first place? Wasn't he trying to bring the girls back to life, but when he was, he was caught, and presumed that he was the one who kidnapped and raped them?
      • Yeah, pretty much. Plus, a black man in the deep south in the 1930s being caught with two young white girls who have been brutally raped and murdered? Even if he hadn't said it, he probably wouldn't have had much of a chance anyway.
  • I'm curious about something. Paul believes that his longevity is God punishing him for killing John. I don't doubt that, but what I don't understand is why God punishes Paul: yes, it was his job, and couldn't do anything about it, but he clearly didn't want to execute John (and neither did any of the other guards for that matter), and even tries to plead with him to let them help him escape so as not to face the consequences of crimes he didn't do. Now, I'll try to avoid sparking a religious dispute the best I can, but God gives us free will, and John wanted out - he was feeling the pain and suffering of the world around him, and couldn't take it anymore - he wanted to be put out of his misery. John even tells Paul that on his Judgement Day, to tell God he killed him out of the love and kindness he had for him. So, again, John has the free will to choose to be put out of his misery, and although Paul doesn't want to see him die, he goes through with it for John... so why should Paul still receive punishment?
    • Where specifically does it say that Paul's long life is punishment from God? It's Paul's theory, not canon, and it's never confirmed. Maybe Paul has some screwed-up views on religion. Maybe King was just trying to be dramatic. But until we get a scene where God Himself says "your long life is punishment for killing John Coffey", it's all just Paul's theory.
    • I took it that it was a gift that John gave Paul (in fact, I think Paul actually stated it it), but Paul has come to see it as a punishment from God for killing one of his miracles. It may not actually be a punishment, but Paul certainly sees it as such and even he expects that one day his time will run out.
  • What are the bugs coming out of John's mouth when he heals someone.
    • I believe they're flies.
    • In pretty much any work, flies or locusts or any swarm of buzzing insects is a shorthand symbol for pestilence. Since Coffey's power seems to extend to curing people, they likely represent the displacement of their ailment.
  • Another question regarding poor Del's botched execution. One of the things that apparently made it so horrific for everyone was "the smell," Hal even remarks in his tirade that it would probably take about five years for the smell to completely disappear. What exactly would a man burning alive smell like?
    • There are numerous different accounts about this. One of the most common descriptions is that it smells like roast pork, but with Del's execution, it was probably much, much stronger (small enclosed room and all that). Plus, just knowing that it comes from someone burning alive would probably just make it that much worse.
      • Take a fingernail clipping and stick it in a candle flame—the smell is more sickening than you'd ever expect. Now multiply that by a few orders of magnitude....
    • Er, not to be morbid but other than the screaming, there's not a lot of difference between burning a man alive and burning him dead. If you've ever been downwind of a crematory (where dead human bodies are burned under extremely rigid and professional circumstances, with precautions in place to deal with the odor), it still smells rather like a cheap roadside barbecue joint. As the troper above points out, the execution took place in a small, enclosed area where this wasn't supposed to happen, and any ventilation would have been 1930s or even earlier—so at best, a few fans set into the walls. It was probably horrific.
  • The book's freaking timeline (the movie fixes it to some degree). Paul's longevity doesn't completely fix it. The last chapter takes place in 1956 and states that Paul was 64 and Janice was 59. Earlier, Paul says that he married Jan when he was nineteen - which would make her fourteen when they got married. And in order for them to have two grown, married children by the time Paul was forty in 1932, that means Jan would have to have been (liberally assuming that "grown" means eighteen) seventeen when their first was born. Complicating things further is that they have a third grandchild graduating from college at that point, which means that their third, not first, grandchild was born when Jan was about 34. I know the thirties and fifties were different times, but were they THAT different?
    • Believe it or not, it wasn't unheard of back in those days, especially in the south, for love-struck "kids" (as in teenagers) to run away and get married in secret. That was a plot point in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, where a pair of youngsters try to get married in secret (though part of it was because they were from feuding families, so their fathers didn't approve). Seinfeld kind of poked fun at this with Izzy Mandelbaum (Lloyd Bridges) having a son who appeared to be the same age, but his explanation was, "I got married in high school."
    • Believe me, it wasn't strictly a Southern phenomenon either. My grandparents (who were both born and raised in Maine) were born in August 1922 and September 1927, respectively, and were married in November 1942. Granted, the fact that my grandfather got drafted exactly a week later (literally - the wedding was November 6, the conscription order I've seen is dated November 13) may have had something to do with them not waiting, but you get the idea.
    • Well, sure, it's said outright that they got married young, but even if we accept that they got married that young, in order for the timeline to work, they would have to have become grandparents in their (or at least Jan's) early 30s, plus their children would have to have been married and having children in their mid-teens. It feels extreme, and would have been an easy problem to fix by making Paul and Jan a little older and/or shrinking the age difference between them.
    • Seems to me like a case of Writers Cannot Do Math. This is not unprecedented with Stephen King, if you notice some of the dates in Carrie, for example.
  • Some people seem to think that Coffey is much, much older than he looks, and has lived a very long life. Even so, he only looks like he could be anywhere between twenty-five and forty (people tended to physically age quicker in the past, due to issues like poverty, disease being more common and poor nutrition). This would suggest that he reached a certain point where he stopped physically aging. However, Paul, despite getting some of John's longevity, still visibly ages. Is this because he only got some of John's power? And what the hell will he look like by the time he dies?
    • The answer to both your questions is that we simply don't have enough information about the nature and extent of John's powers to know for certain.
    • John Coffey is also a strapping man, tall and muscular. That implies a pretty good constitution and nourishment, which you might not expect for someone in Coffey's circumstances. It's reasonable to suppose that his healing abilities are what keep him in such good physical condition in spite of hardship.

  • When John Coffey was found at the crime scene, why didn't they think the most obvious thing? You know, "a criminal would never stay at or return to the crime scene." They should have also known how long the girls were dead, and how long the real killer would have been gone for based on that.
    • We're talking about Louisiana in the 1930s. A group of white men come across a black man holding the bodies of two dead girls. They're going to arrest him on the spot and ask questions later. Plus it was virtually impossible to tell the time of death back then.
    • He was holding the bodies of the two victims and saying "I couldn't help it; I tried to take it back, but it was too late." Black, white, or orange, what would you have figured the situation was?
      • I can't help but note that this is something more people who put up headscratchers need to keep in mind. To us it's extremely obvious that Coffey is innocent, because we know that's an aspect of the story (it's an obvious trope) and also because it lets us scornfully dismiss the people of the past as small-minded bigots, which is also a part of the intention of the story, arguably one of its small handful of "feel good" factors in letting us feel superior in judging the past. But in this case, the way the setup happened, and the time period, Coffey probably would have ridden the lightning for the rape/murder even if he'd been white. Even in more tolerant times he would have probably at best hoped for being sent to a mental hospital due to being ruled not culpable by reason of mental defect. Even today he might have at best hoped for exoneration by dint of DNA evidence ruling him out of at least having committed the rape.


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