Tuesday, August 07, 2007


THE GREEN MILE (1999, USA, Frank Darabont, from Stephen King novel)
On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God and he asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I going to say? That it was my job?

Have you ever pitied God? All-compassionate, all-seeing, the whole panorama of human cruelty and suffering – “people being ugly to each other” – spread out before His unblinking gaze? Or does the thought make you angry: if He sees it, why not stop it? Stephen King has spent a lifetime contemplating the world’s evil – horrifying, pervasive, ineradicable – and his story about two good men who meet on death row goes to the heart of those questions.

Tom Hanks is the perfect Paul Edgecomb, a decent man trying to do an indecent job decently. These are the 1930s, jobs are scarce, and he makes ends meet supervising executions and managing the prison block where condemned men live out their last months. He sees “the green mile” as an intensive care ward for souls in extremis, a humane place where men can prepare to face their death.

I avoided this film for years. Partly its reputation for horrific prison violence, and partly the impression that it treats its gruesome subject with the glossy style and smack-you-in-the-face manipulation of the director’s subsequent film THE MAJESTIC.

I judged wrong: the film falls much closer to its predecessor, the wonderful SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and is even more explicitly spiritual, even specifically Christian. And while there’s no denying that the simple-minded innocent John Coffey is clearly a Christ figure – you see it right from the start, check those initials – several elements confound a simple one-to-one symbolic correspondence between the godly inmate and God incarnate.

Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship praises the film for offering “a powerful picture of the dignity and worth of men on death row. It shows us that God’s reach extends even to the least of these, the ones the world would only too happily forget.” There are grisly depictions of electric chair executions – the film challenges the morality of capital punishment, though not simplistically – but there is great humanity as well. We see characters wholly and convincingly given over to evil, others striving to hold on to, or in the inescapable grip of, a Good overwhelming enough to inspire a certain kind of fear. A good that’s powerful enough to make a difference, but at a price.

There is a consideration of mortatlity and inquiry into the nature of God, there is the Problem of Evil, but mostly there are finely drawn, memorable characters and – trust Stephen King for this – the appeal of good old-fashioned story-telling. Look away from the screen when you must, but don’t miss seeing this compelling portrayal of a compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice that may be divine.


Available at Videomatica


Darrel Manson said...

Ron, I'm glad you got over your misgivings and found this one. I think my only real objection is that it is such a blatant Christ-figure. It really could have used a touch of finesse. But still well worth watching.

Ron Reed said...

Yes, definitely blatant. But helped by the fact that he's a conflicted Christ-figure, and that what he experiences challenges/confounds the Hanks character's view of a benevolent God, rather than simply deepening his faith.