Book/Movie Comparison: The Green Mile

Similar format to Everything Is Illuminated: After a brief summary, I’ll look at Characters, Setting, Theme, What Was Gained by Film Adaptation, and What Was Lost by Film Adaptation.

The Green Mile was written by Stephen King first as a serial novel in 1996. It’s the written account of Paul Edgecombe, an elderly man in Georgia Pines retirement home, writing about the year of 1932 on the E Block (“Death Row”) of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. He was the head guard, and tells the story of John Coffey, a large black man who is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two girls, but is much more than he seems. He tells about Percy Whetmore, an arrogant guard; Eduard Delacroix, an inmate, and his pet mouse, Mr. Jingles; and John Coffey’s moving story.

The movie came out in 1999. It was adapted to screen and directed by Frank Darabont. Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecombe, Michael Clarke Duncan plays John Coffey, and the rest of the cast is great, too.

Setting:

I thought the setting in the movie was great. Set in the deep South during the Depression, the film really captured the accents, the scenery, the dress. I envisioned the prison a bit differently, of course, but there were some great details. Even the sweat on their brows, you could tell it was the summer. It really captured the feel of the South.

Characters:

What a great cast! Michael Duncan as John Coffey was amazing. David Morse as Brutus “Brutal” Howell – I really liked his performance. And Dough Hutchison as Percy Whetmore – he plays a great weasel. He captured Percy’s cowardice, arrogance, and violence perfectly. Seriously, I could go on and on about the cast. Sam Rockwell was a little older than how I imagined Wild Bill, but he was just as crazy.

About the script, though, and how the characters were portrayed, I think it was very accurate. In the book, I had a hard time telling Harry and Dean apart, so I’m glad in the movie, Dean was considerably older than Harry. They gave a few of Brutal’s best lines to Paul (“What am I going to tell God at the judgment seat when he asks why I killed one of his miracles? That it was my job? My job?” paraphrased, of course) – but I understand that he was the main character and needed to have the position of the leader.

There were other, small details that I saw differently in the book (I imagined Hal Moores overweight, his wife much older, and Delcroix more haggard), but those are going to happen with any movie. When reading the book, the characters come to life in your head and you get used to them that way. All in all, the basic essence of these characters were kept intact in the film.

Theme:

The book has many moral conundrums. It’s hard to even put them into words. For one, racism is rampant in the South. One man (a reporter in the book, Coffey’s defense in the movie) compares Negroes to dogs. I honestly think they toned it down in the movie, the n-word is used plenty of times in the book (not by the guards), and it’s made clear that even if the guards could prove Coffey’s innocence, people wouldn’t want to hear it because he’s black.

(Warning: spoilers from here on out!)

A major issue towards the end of the book is killing an innocent man. Coffey has the power of healing, and the guards feel like they’re killing one of God’s gifts to men. They have their jobs to think about, in the middle of the Depression, but this pales in comparison to his abilities. Hal Moores, even after his wife is healed by Coffey, signs Coffey’s death warrant. The story makes you think about the justice system, how far you’re willing to go for a job, the injustice of society (and the whole world), and helplessness.

Coffey’s abilities go beyond just healing. He is super sensitive to the feelings of the people around him. One powerful scene in the book that I wished had been in the movie was when Coffey stood in the room with “Old Sparky” and said something along the lines of, “Pieces of them are still in here. I can hear them screaming.” But they added in a scene where Coffey felt Delacroix’s pain, which I think strengthened his empathic abilities.

What was heartbreaking to me was the line, “He killed them with they love. It’s like that all over the world.” I think this encompasses a major theme, how people are ugly and cruel to each other, and justice is only sometimes given. Percy and Wild Bill probably got what they deserved, but at the same time, John Coffey was killed even though he was innocent, and Delacroix had to endure a horrible death. Like I said, it’s hard to even put into words what the story says about mankind. It’s full of good and evil.

Lost:

There was a short story about Paul in Georgia Pines with a cruel employee that reminded him of Percy. Adding this to the movie would have made it too long (it was already three hours), but it definitely gave his old age another dimension. We also didn’t see Jan’s death, but I think the realization that the gift Coffey gave him was, in a way, a curse was made clear in the last few minutes of the film.

Gained:

I think the repeated visual of the light bulbs bursting during Coffey’s bursts of power added to the story since we couldn’t get inside of Paul’s head. I also thought Coffey showing Paul what he saw as opposed to Paul going to investigate was a good move for the film – it shortened it, and made Wild Bill’s crime more real and moving to the viewers.

 

I really enjoyed this movie. I can understand why it was nominated for a Best Picture at the Academy Awards. An amazing story. Sad, for sure, but a lot of great stories are.

 

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