Sep 1, 2010

The Green Mile: the novel and the film

"Van Hay rolled on three and The Chief surged forward again, twisting a little from side to side in the grip of the current. When doc listened this time, he nodded. It was over. We had once again succeeded in destroying what we could not create. Some of the folks in the audience had began talking in those low voices again; most sat with their heads down, looking at the foor, as if stunned. Or ashamed."

Stephen King's The Green Mile was first published in 1996, one volume per month - all six were New York Times bestsellers. The film version - directed by Frank Darabont - was released in 1999.

I first saw the film when I was in ninth grade, in school, in a movie/novel course I took. I remember liking it more than the other films we watched during the course (like Piano and Fried Green Tomatoes). After that I've bought it on DVD and rewatched it quite regularly. I bought the book last year and now finally found the time to read it. And it was at least as good as the film.

 Paul Edgecomb is an old, old man, living in an old folks' home. He begins to write a book about his past - the year 1932 (1935 in the film, for some reason), when he worked as a guard in the Death Row of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, called the Green Mile, because the colour of its floor. In that year John Coffey came to the Mile, condemned to die for a horrible murder of two little girls. As it happens, Coffey changed the lives of the prison guards forever.
 Of the movies based on books, some are obviously bad (like P.S. I Love You, the film almost ruined the book), some okay, but don't work if you don't know the original material (Harry Potters, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), some are great even without having read the book (Fight Club), of which some might get even better once you've read the book. Atonement is a great example, here. I think the film is brilliant, and the book is brilliant, and together they are extra brilliant - they complete each other, so to speak! The Green Mile falls under the same category. The book might help clear some things that were left a bit vague in the film, and I sometimes like that I have an image of a person in my head when I'm reading, meaning that I can imagine the book's Paul to look like Tom Hanks and so on. Call it a lousy imagination, but sometimes it helps! 

The book was a joy to read. 'Joy' might be a strange word, considering the dark and disturbing subjects, but it's simply very well written and I was always happy to pick it up. Stephen King is one heck of a storyteller.

Let's look at the characters and the actor playing them. They have some really great actors playing these great characters. I really like Tom Hanks, he's somehow always very warm, whatever the role. (Has he ever played a real bad guy? That might be interesting.) I like all the actors playing his collegues, too, Brutal and Harry and Dean... Dean somehow always gets my sympathies, maybe partly because of the actor, Barry Pepper. He hasn't starred in much, but I always like him. He's been in some war movies, like Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers, he played that sniper, I think. And of course the Babe farmer (I WILL remember his name some day without cheating, I promise... James Cromwell) as the Warden.

Not to forget Doug Hutchison, bringing the oh-so-disgusting Percy Wetmore to life in a brilliant way. (He was Horrace in Lost, later, and I never quite trusted him completely, because he'll always remind me of Percy.) Percy is one of these excellent characters, who you have to like because they are so easy to hate. He's cowardly, careless, cocky, intentionally mean, always combing his hair and hiding behind his connections to some important people. He gets what he deserves, of course, but time to time I had to slap myself for almost feeling sorry for him. Maybe because he's so young, after all? SLAP. Right. He's an a-hole all the same.

Speaking of a-holes, The Green Mile was also the first time I became aware of Sam Rockwell's awesomeness. Of course, it wasn't Rockell that the word 'a-hole' brought to my mind, but his character, William Wharton, or Wild Bill, as he likes to call himself. He's a so-called problem child, terrorising the Mile and the people working there when ever he gets the change (but unlike Percy, he does this from behind the bars). It's well put in the book: The man just doesn't care. Sam Rockwell is so good. I understood that already back in the ninth grade. And almost felt like putting a picture of him as my desktop wall paper, but somehow it would've been wrong, because of the, eh, nasty nature of the character. But he's fantastic all the same. Those teeth and all.

The casting of John Coffey was obviously vital for the whole film. If he didn't work, the film wouldn't have. Luckily Michael Clarke Duncan is very good as the enourmous, weepy, simple-minded Coffey (like the drink, only not spelt the same), who doesn't seem to understand what's going on around him, or even within him. I can't imagine anyone else playing Coffey, and that's usually a pretty good sign of a nailed role.

 Ouch, I almost forgot Eduard Delacroix, or Del, the little Frenchman, who 'tames' himself a mouse, names him Mr Jingles, 'teaches' him tricks and treats him like a son during his last days in the Mile (and on Earth, for that matter). Del totally ges my sympathies, poor little man. It's weird, you know he's done terrible things, but you can't help feeling sorry for him.

The Green Mile includes the most horrifying execution scene in the history of cinema, or that's at least what I think. Hrr. There's also that guaranteed tearjerker scene in the end, not once have I managed to watch it with totally dry eyes. Oh dear. The film is long, almost three hours, but it doesn't feel that long. Every minute is necessary, because the story is quite complex and all the scenes are needed for us to get to know the characters and care about them. And there are no boring moments.

Another thing about the book. In the film we meet the old Paul only in the beginning and the end, but in the book we visit him quite often. He talks about writing the story and so on, and I always liked those parts. Stephen King somehow knows what it must be like to be an old, old man.

...I don't know how to conclude this post. Well, by once more stating the obvious, I guess? The book is excellent. The film is excellent. It's an excellent story with excellent characters. And a touch of something magical.

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