Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Green Mile.

The Green Mile (Frank Darabont, 1999)

(Note: I apologize for the slow bloggin' of late. Holidays and such. But I'll pick it up soon. Forthcoming on the blog: Nicholas Sparks Week, more films about childhood and dogs, and the epic Titanic post with assistance from known cold-weather fan and friend/current houseguest of the blog Ellen Barr. Stay tuned.)

Category: Sad movie about death row inmates. Capital punishment used to be one of the most prominent hot-button issues in this country, but it seems like lately it has been surpassed by a number of other things, including abortion, gay marriage, and the Edward/Jacob debate. At this point it’s mainly one of those conversations that you can always bring up if it’s a slow news day, like whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. The death penalty is legal in most states; fifteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished it, including my home state of New York. (Liberals.) 

Not to get too political here (and I don’t really mean this in a political way, although I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but not in a loud or obnoxious way, I hope, and if for no other reason than this), but it feels kind of shocking to me when I read on the news that someone has been executed in the United States. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked (there were fifty-two executions in the US in 2009, and over 3,000 inmates on death row as of 2010). It’s just that it’s illegal in pretty much every other developed/Western country. I don’t mean to incur the wrath of the Mitt Romney types who worry about the US turning into France, but France might have something here. (If not anywhere else, those dirty cheese-eaters.)

The Green Mile is, I believe, the first film I have watched for this blog that falls into the category of sad movies that are over three hours long (three hours and eight minutes, to be exact). We’re upping the ante here. Soon to be covered in the blog are Titanic (three hours, fourteen minutes), The Sorrow and the Pity (four hours, eleven minutes), Angels in America (five hours, fifty-two minutes) and Shoah (eight hours, twenty-three minutes). My posts on these films will increase in length correspondingly, as the blog’s policy on eating one’s vegetables is very different than my personal one.

My familiarity with this issue: There’s obviously a great deal of dramatic gravity in the stories of death row inmates. (And in the case of Michael Clarke Duncan in this movie, actual gravity. He’s a hefty one!) I would add that for me, there’s also a certain degree of morbid curiosity that I hold about it: whether or not these people feel remorse or continue to maintain their innocence, the whole eleventh-hour appeals for clemency thing, and of course the actual executions themselves, which are often attended by spectators. (I myself tried to snag tickets for Timothy McVeigh’s execution on StubHub, to no avail.)

As mentioned before, I feel that I'm pretty solidly anti-death penalty. And while I suppose I would want to kill someone if they did something terrible to my family or friends, it’s probably not a good idea, in that situation, for the government to allow me to make that decision. Like in one of the presidential debates in 1988, they asked the supposedly soft-on-crime Michael Dukakis: what if somebody raped and murdered your wife, would you support the death penalty then? Which is just such a fundamentally unfair question to ask in a presidential debate that it seems laughable now. It’s one step above, “if you like it so much why don’t you marry it?” The point is that we have laws, which are informed by morals and all that, and the idea that the state clearly says that murder is moral in some cases does not sit well with me. Added to which is the list that I linked to earlier; the idea of killing someone who was later found to be innocent is unfathomably awful. Basically what I'm saying here is that I am the sort of person who archives e-mails in Gmail rather than deleting them.

Many movies on the subject have been critically acclaimed, and for good reason. I recall being very moved by Dead Man Walking when I watched it (although that may have been during my high school Susan Sarandon fangirl phase), and I will be watching Monster’s Ball for this blog in the near future. (I hear there’s a hot hot Billy Bob Thornton sex scene!)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “It's just another normal day on the Green Mile for prison guard Paul Edgecomb. That is until huge John Coffey is sent there. Unlike the hulking brute that Coffey looks like, he is in fact kind at heart. Whilst watching over Coffey, Edgecomb learns that there is more to Coffey than can be seen.” I love how this starts. Makes it seem like a wacky comedy. Here comes huge John Coffey with his hijinks! Good Lord these are terrible.

What I thought of the movie: Well it’s quite slow. As can be expected from a movie that is over three hours long. But there’s some good stuff in it. All in all I definitely liked it. This is the movie that Frank Darabont made immediately after making The Shawshank Redemption, also a prison film based on a story by Stephen King, and so the comparisons here are kind of obvious (even though they’re about different things, at heart). And obviously it falls short of Shawshank, as the vast majority of other movies that exist do. I’d say The Green Mile is less successful partially because the material just isn’t as good (i.e., no baller narration from Morgan Freeman), and partially because, in general, things are never as good the second time around. Plus it’s just SO LONG.

But like I said, there’s a lot to like about it. Tom Hanks is awesome, as always. (He’s even charming while suffering from a urinary tract infection. Yes, that is a major plot point in this film.) Michael Clarke Duncan and Sam Rockwell are particularly good playing characters that could have easily been caricatures. There is a cute mouse named Mister Jingles. I liked the spiritual/supernatural elements of the story, although sometimes the visual effects are kind of laughable. The real heavy stuff at the end resonates very well, and that kind of makes the whole three hours worth it. Also, a character actually says, “What happens on the mile, stays on the mile.” Who knew the Vegas tourism bureau was a friend of the blog?

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: As a renowned claustrophobic with a healthy fear of authority, I have done everything possible in my life to stay out of prison. So far I’ve been successful. But as this movie shows, it is possible to be thrown in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, which is just about the scariest proposition of all time to me. I’ve seen movies, like The Fugitive, where the wrongfully accused person stoically maintains their innocence (occasionally getting emotional, but remaining calm for the most part). I cannot picture myself doing that. I can picture myself screaming, non-stop, from my arrest through my incarceration, trial, sentencing, everything. Just non-stop wailing. Michael Clarke Duncan gets scared of the dark in this movie, but aside from that he’s pretty calm.

I do really enjoy movies that feature Christ figures, because figuring out all the allusions to the story of Christ makes me feel smart. Like Duncan’s character, John Coffey. Look at those initials! That can’t have been an accident. And also he literally heals people by touching them and brings mice back to life. I don’t remember whether or not Jesus brought mice back to life, but I’m sure He could have if He wanted to. The portrayal of John Coffey was actually kind of controversial at the time, with Spike Lee citing it as an example of the “Magical Negro” archetype (defined as “a supporting, sometimes mystical stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble”) I’m literally terrified to type anything more on this matter. I love the song “Magic” by B.o.B. And I do love Spike Lee’s films. 25th Hour is one of the great Taste My Sad films (here is an open invitation for all friends of the blog who have not seen it to see it and write a guest post about it). So, take that as you will.

How I felt after the movie was over: The last half hour or so of the movie packs a good wallop. So while I was certainly sleepy, I was also quite moved for a little while. Then I started thinking about how much I want to watch The Shawshank Redemption again. I feel bad slagging off this movie in comparison to Shawshank, but at the end of the day it just feels like a less talented sibling. Not untalented, just less talented. To which celebrity can The Green Mile best be compared? You guessed it: Frank Stallone.

1 comment:

  1. The Green Mile, in its seven book installment form, is actually a much more in depth book. The plight of the other inmates is discussed more thoroughly and it plays out like most of Stephen King's work -- ragtag group of individuals who ultimately become a family to fix something (i.e. Tom Hanks' UTI, Patricia Clarkson's cancer and foul mouth, Tim Curry in IT, etc.) I would recommend it as more of a book-on-tape experience.

    Ultimately though what is most sad about the Green Mile is the plight of John Coffey. Coffey is set-up as a sacrificial lamb from the beginning and suffers at the hands of those who choose not to understand him. While this has obvious racial overtones (i.e. Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird), it also says a lot about the criminal justice system and the death penalty as a whole. I agree that it would be terrifying to be wrongfully imprisoned, but particularly among lower-income black men in "high crime" areas it is remains a very real concern. See The fact that Tom Hanks has to then live forever and watch all of his loved ones die is just another allegory for the punishment that we in society should face for (frequently) wrongfully punishing the innocent. Not exactly an original concept, but it does cut pretty deep.

    As for the 25th Hour, for me, the movie and book rank up there in the upper echelons of their respective genres. It's been a long time since I've seen it but I would gladly guest-blog/I look forward to reading your review.