"The Holy Giant"
THE GREEN MILE tells the story of a death-row prison guard, played by Tom Hanks, and a prisoner with healing power. There are many strong Christian references in this movie to faith in God, going to church, and faithfulness in marriage, slightly marred by a few theological trouble spots and R-rated material such as violence and foul language.
Very rarely is a Stephen King novel translated into a powerful movie that rises above the horror genre. A case could be made that until now STAND BY ME is the only movie based on a Stephen King story that has any cinematic value beyond the horror genre. Now, however, THE GREEN MILE adds dramatic and spiritual weight to the Stephen King film library with powerful performances and a wonderful, though sometimes confused, recognition of a gift of healing from God.
At the start of the movie, in present time, an elderly Paul Edgecomb (Dabs Greer) is awakened by a nightmare in an old folks home. Known to sneak away during the day, he is moved to tears while watching an old movie on television, TOP HAT starring Fred Astaire. As he tells an aged female friend why he is so torn up emotionally, the movie flashes back to 1935 where Paul (now played by Tom Hanks) acts as the chief prison guard on the “green mile,” a row of cells holding death-row inmates, who are soon to face the electric chair.
One day, the green mile receives an enormous African-American man named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). John Coffey has been convicted of the murder of two young girls.
Paul is good at his job, keeping order with grace and wisdom. At the time of John Coffey’s arrival, however, Paul is stricken with a severe urinary tract infection. Every attempt at urination brings great pain. Strangely, John Coffey calls Paul over and grabs Paul. Paul is frightened, but when John Coffey lets him go, Paul is healed. He has no more infection and celebrates the healing with a vigorous night of lovemaking with his wife, Janice (Bonnie Hunt) (which is not depicted).
Later, a mouse scampers out onto the floor and makes friends with an inmate named Dell (Michael Jeter). This mouse is special, able to perform simple tricks, and Dell immediately takes a liking to him. Yet, one day, sadistic and cruel prison guard Percy (Doug Hutchison) steps on the mouse. Crushed flat, the mouse appears to be dead. John Coffey asks for the mouse and brings it back to life. Dell is overjoyed, and Paul is convinced that John Coffey is not only somebody special, but also innocent of his crime.
Meanwhile, Percy continues to bother the inmates and his co-workers. Everybody wants to see him go. Paul makes a deal with him. Percy will leave the green mile if Paul lets him carry out the final orders involving an execution. When Dell is strapped into the electric chair, Percy supposedly “forgets” to wet the sponge placed on Dell’s head, meant to transfer the electricity better. This act of cruelty yields a horrible, painful, fire-filled execution.
Finally, Paul sneaks John Coffey out of the green mile and takes him over to the home of the prison warden, Hal Moores (James Cromwell), so that John Coffey can heal Hal’s ailing wife, who is stricken with an inoperable brain tumor.
Eventually, John Coffey must face the electric chair, which gives Paul a severe guilty conscience. Not only does he think John Coffey is innocent, but he also thinks that it would be a waste to kill a man who holds the gift of healing. In the end, Paul finds out who really killed the two small girls, and two more miracles occur which give extended life to two characters.
Although the movie is a long three hours, Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, David Morse, and Michael Clarke Duncan give powerhouse acting performances, always very entertaining to watch. Likewise, every supporting cast member adds credibility, dignity or rich characterization.
There are many strong Christian references in the story. Paul is recognized as a believing churchgoer. He loves his wife and is faithful to her. He recognizes that John Coffey’s healing power is from God, and, when Paul says a miracle occurred, a partner asks, “a ‘Praise Jesus’ kind of miracle?” and Paul says, “Yes.” When Paul realizes he has to take John Coffey to the electric chair, he has a problem of conscience. Paul tells his wife and John Coffey that he can’t imagine taking a man who holds such a marvelous gift to the electric chair. Paul says if he does so, he is afraid to stand before the judgment throne of God. The audience also hears utterances of thanks to God and talk of repentance.
There are four theological problems, but ultimately, they don’t completely spoil the truth, wonder and joy of this movie. First, a minor character believes a simple St. Christopher medal can keep a person safe from harm. Secondly, having a much longer than normal lifespan is considered a curse because it forces one to see loved ones and beloved colleagues die. This contradicts the Bible, which says that a long life is a gift from God. Thirdly, the movie suggests that special supernatural powers can be transferred onto another person simply by touching him instead of receiving the powers directly from God. Finally, when John Coffey performs his healing wonders, special effects are added which border on hocus-pocus hokum. Coffey breathes out fly-like particles after each healing, supposedly the detritus of the disease he has just cured. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with these displays, they just are a little hokey and look too magical. Underplaying the special effects would have made this an even better dramatic movie.
THE GREEN MILE also contains R-rated material, such as violence and foul language. The violence, however, is mainly corrective and not gratuitous. Thankfully, illicit sex is non-existent, but Percy does look at a few pornographic drawings. Marital sex is only implied with a few noises.
Very few movies in a year actually are kind to Christians, giving respect to them by giving realistic depictions. THE GREEN MILE, however, can be likened to DEAD MAN WALKING, where grace enlightens the lives of both criminals and jailers alike. It is sure to be an Oscar contender next year, and another feather in the cap of Tom Hanks, who can seemingly do no wrong in the 1990s. As a man and as a character, of course, he does wrong, but the joy of this, and other performances of his, such as FORREST GUMP, is that he recognizes a power greater than himself who gives life meaning, purpose and dignity.
Those who love metaphor, incarnational theology and/or movie evangelism, will love THE GREEN MILE. John Coffey is clearly a holy innocent or holy fool who exposes people’s sins and blessings. Moreover, the plot turns Coffey into a type of Christ who is innocently scheduled to die for the sins of others. Paul, moreover, is a type of Pontius Pilate who is ordered to execute an innocent man, who tries to get out of it and who is forgiven by the innocent he must execute. Throughout the movie there are many other metaphorical and allegorical elements which can lead people to Jesus Christ.
Regrettably, as noted, there is a confusion about the source of Coffey’s healing gift. There are elements which could be interpreted in an occult sense. Also, there is the abundance of profanity from men and women who claim to be Christians and churchgoers and who lived at a time in our nation’s history (the 1930s) when such language was rare.
Even so, THE GREEN MILE is a great, redemptive movie which can lead people toward the truth when viewed from a biblical perspective.
(CCC, O, FR, LLL, VV, S, N, M) Strong spiritual worldview from a Christian perspective about heroic, benevolent, church-going, faithful prison boss & his relationship with a man who holds miraculous healing powers accredited to Christ, with several utterances of thanks to God, appeals to God for mercy on souls of death-row prisoners, talk of repentance, hero talks about his fear of hell, hero talks about being fearful before God’s judgment throne, & a brief superstitious, idolatrous comment made by a minor character about a St. Christopher medal having powers to keep one safe, a sadistic, evil supporting character who receives his just punishment, & a false, religious element suggesting supernatural powers can be transferred onto another man simply by touching, rather than receiving it from God; 45 obscenities, 14 profanities, a few racial slurs, a few sexual references, & several scenes of urination, including prisoner urinates on guard’s shoe; moderate violence including an implied murder of two young girls, brief shooting resulting in death, sadistic prison guard breaks prisoner’s fingers by clubbing, a few smacks & slaps to the face, punching, brief scene of electrocution, & another graphic, drawn-out scene of electrocution involving burning; no depicted sex but implied sex between married couple & brief sounds of their sexual encounter, some sexual remarks by evil prisoner of intent toward guard, & sadistic guard looks at pornographic drawings; rear male nudity & upper male nudity; no alcohol use; no smoking; and, brief image of two dead girls, prisoner spits on prison guard & burning.
THE GREEN MILE offers dramatic and spiritual substance with powerful performances and a wonderful recognition of faith, repentance and divine healing. Tom Hanks plays Paul, the chief prison guard on death row called the green mile. One day, an enormous man named John arrives on death row, having been convicted of killing two small girls. John soon displays a miraculous ability to heal others. As prisoners come and go, Paul and John develop a respectful friendship. In the end, as John nears his appointed time for the electric chair, Paul finds out who really killed the two girls and receives his own miracle.
Although their movie is a long three hours, Tom Hanks and the supporting cast give powerhouse performances. There are many strong Christian references to faith in God, church going, faithfulness in marriage, and recognition that healing power may come from God. Despite several theological problems, and some violence and strong foul language, grace abounds in this movie. THE GREEN MILE can be likened to DEAD MAN WALKING, where grace enlightens the lives of criminals and jailers alike. Those who love metaphor, incarnational theology and/or movie evangelism, will appreciate THE GREEN MILE