The Green Mile (Darabont, 1999)

Impromptu viewing of the Green Mile last night, and actually quite enjoyed it. As with most 90s classics, I had no idea what it was about going in and was surprised it was about death row. I think I was confusing it with the Cider House Rules, because I thought it was about a hospital or doctors… but I digress. The Green Mile feels very much like a fantastic (as in fantasy) throwback to old Hollywood, with a little more gravitas (for better or for worse). Perhaps it’s the setting, or maybe it’s the inclusion of Top Hat, but it feels like something that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1930s… at least with a few edits.

I’m in a sort of scrambled thought process right now, my comma use will be abysmal and I will no doubt repeat myself nonsensically a few times. I’m almost at a loss for what to say, how to explain what I liked and disliked. What I did like was the message of respect and dignity we should afford to all human beings. I think it’s not so much about whether or not the death penalty should exist, but if it does, that those people should be afforded the dignity and respect that perhaps they did not extend to their victims. Humanity is a tricky thing, and I don’t think there will ever come a time when people won’t kill, hurt or abuse each other… it’s difficult, because the film does not dwell very much on the crimes the men committed, we are only assured they deserve their punishment by the solemnity of the guards. They don’t shed tears, they don’t seem to feel it’s not right, despite forming friendships with these men over the time they’ve spent on the Green Mile. They understand the weight of the punishment, and try to make the last moments of a person’s life as best as they can be. There is the odd exception on both sides of the bars, a particularly heinous criminal who seems detached from reality and a similarly detached guard who wants to smell death, at the expense of the idea that someone ought to have a fair and quick execution.

The film’s setting forces both the characters and audience to face issues of their own mortality quite immediately. It’s “Hollywood”, but so are some of my favourite films… it perhaps loses a little something because it relies on a fable like element, but it gains the innocence capable of believing in miracles. The fantasy element is fascinating, though I’m not entirely sure how well it works within the realm of the film. It’s obviously crucial to the story, I’m just not always sure the actual direction works exactly. John Coffey’s “gift” is as much of a burden, and his own desire to die underscores his ability to almost quite literally “raise others from the dead”. He is able to see the good and evil in this world, and he even says at some point that he is tired of always seeing the bad in people. It’s almost difficult to believe he even does at first, because he is so gentle and he seems to really care deeply for the world around him. Though, seeing what he does, it’s almost no wonder he is afraid of the dark. The burden he has been given is almost too unbearable to conceive, especially when it soon becomes obvious that evil and darkness cannot disappear, but is merely transferred from one place or person to another.

I’m still torn over how much exactly I like this film, it’s touchingly human, but it’s also too glossy at times for my taste. I’m not even sure what I feel walking away from it. It’s certainly an interesting film, and for recent Hollywood efforts it’s one of my favourites. Beyond that, I think time will tell whether my opinion will increase or fall apart.

5 responses to “The Green Mile (Darabont, 1999)

  1. I read it YEARS ago and don’t remember much of it, but of what I do remember, Stephen King’s book was much better than Frank Darabont’s typical schmaltz-fest (well, shouldn’t say “typical” since The Mist was a dramatic (and welcome) departure from Darabont’s typical orgies of schmaltz like The Green Mile and Shawshank).

  2. I’ve never read any King, and I haven’t seen Shawshank. For schmaltz, it’s actually quite good… though yes, overbearing. I was surprised that it mostly rang true. It’s in the second half that it starts to sort of fall apart.

  3. All of King’s books are better than his movies. Although to be fair to the filmmakers there really isn’t a way to turn a 600+ page book into a faithful movie. I think that’s why The Mist worked. The Mist is one of King’s shorter efforts (240 pages) so it translated much better than movies like Needful Things (731 pages) and The Dark Half (496 pages).

  4. I hate you! No I don’t, I wuvs you 😦

    Actually just a few days later, I’ve mostly completely forgotten it/don’t care much for it. It’s more like indifference

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