The Green Mile, directed by Frank Darabont and released in 1999, is a poignant and thought-provoking film based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. Set in a 1930s Louisiana prison, the film weaves together elements of drama, fantasy, and the supernatural to tell a compelling story of human nature, injustice, and the power of empathy and compassion. The ending of The Green Mile leaves a lasting emotional impact and invites viewers to contemplate the moral dilemmas presented.
The Setting and Characters
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks): Paul is the head prison guard at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, where the film is primarily set. He is a kind and compassionate man who is deeply affected by the events that transpire on Death Row, particularly the case of John Coffey.
John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan): John Coffey is a black man who is sentenced to death for the alleged rape and murder of two young girls. He is a physically imposing yet gentle and intellectually challenged man. Coffey possesses a unique and unexplained supernatural ability to heal.
Eduard "Del" Delacroix (Michael Jeter): Del is one of the inmates on Death Row, known for his pet mouse, Mr. Jingles. Del's character arc involves his friendship with Paul and the eventual cruelty he faces at the hands of Percy Wetmore.
Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison): Percy is a sadistic and volatile prison guard who takes sadistic pleasure in tormenting the inmates on death row. His actions and behavior lead to much of the conflict in the story.
Hal and Melinda Moores (David Morse and Bonnie Hunt): The Moores are a married couple who adopt the mouse Mr. Jingles. They play a significant role in the story, both as witnesses to Coffey's abilities and as characters who provide insight into the moral dilemmas presented.
The Plot Leading to the Ending
The Green Mile unfolds as a retrospective narrative, with an elderly Paul Edgecomb recounting the events of 1935, when he was a guard at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Central to the story is the arrival of John Coffey on Death Row. Coffey is accused of the brutal murder of two young sisters, but his appearance and demeanor belie the heinous crime he's charged with.
As Paul and his fellow guards get to know Coffey, they discover that he possesses an extraordinary gift. He can heal people, taking away their pain and illness by touching them. This gift is revealed when he heals Paul's urinary tract infection and later cures the terminally ill wife of one of the prison guards.
Despite Coffey's innocence and miraculous abilities, he is eventually executed. The tragedy lies in the fact that his unique gift could have been used to make the world a better place, but the prejudice and racism of the time lead to his unjust execution. Throughout the film, viewers are confronted with themes of racism, prejudice, the abuse of power, and the inherent goodness and evil within people.
The ending of The Green Mile is a profoundly moving and emotional sequence that brings the film's central themes and character arcs to a climactic resolution. It is a sequence of events that evokes a wide range of emotions, from sadness to catharsis.
The Final Execution
The culmination of the film occurs with the final execution of John Coffey. The atmosphere in the execution chamber is heavy with sorrow and foreboding. Coffey, who is wrongly convicted and unjustly sentenced to death, is led to the electric chair.
This execution is particularly gut-wrenching because the audience is well-aware of Coffey's innocence and his extraordinary abilities. Throughout the film, Coffey has consistently displayed his innocence and a deep sense of empathy. He has healed the sick, shown kindness to Mr. Jingles, and saved the lives of those who showed him compassion.
Paul Edgecomb, who has formed a deep bond with Coffey and witnessed his healing powers, is visibly tormented by the impending execution. The emotional toll it takes on him is evident, and it highlights the moral dilemma at the core of the story. Paul knows that executing Coffey is a profound injustice, but he is constrained by the system and his duty as a prison guard.
The Healing Ritual
Prior to Coffey's execution, Paul and his fellow guards, Brutal (David Morse) and Dean (Barry Pepper), witness a miraculous and poignant moment. Coffey takes away the suffering of Melinda Moores, the terminally ill wife of one of the guards, using his healing gift.
This scene is a testament to the film's exploration of the complexity of human nature. Coffey's act of healing contrasts sharply with the inhumanity of the electric chair execution. It emphasizes the senseless cruelty of the system that is about to take Coffey's life.
The Final Goodbye
The moments leading up to the execution are profoundly emotional. Coffey, aware of the suffering and injustice he is about to endure, turns to Paul and pleads with him, saying, "I'm tired, Boss. Tired of bein' on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I'm tired of never having a buddy to be with to tell me where we's going to or coming from, or why." Coffey's vulnerability and exhaustion in this moment are heartbreaking, emphasizing his innocence and the tragic nature of his situation.
The actual execution is a harrowing and brutal event. Coffey is placed in the electric chair, and the audience is forced to confront the horrifying reality of the death penalty. Paul, who has suffered as much as anyone through the process, is compelled to carry out his duty as the head prison guard. The execution is agonizing, and it is clear that it serves as a condemnation of the brutality of capital punishment.
Following Coffey's execution, the film returns to the elderly Paul Edgecomb as he recounts the events from the nursing home. He explains that he and the other guards outlived Coffey due to his gift, which he had unknowingly passed on to them. Paul and his friends do not age as rapidly as they should, implying that Coffey's essence lives on within them.
The ending also provides closure for Mr. Jingles, Del's pet mouse. After Del's cruel execution using the "dry sponge" method by Percy Wetmore, Mr. Jingles is left alone. The mouse ultimately finds its way to Paul's nursing home. This subplot serves as a reminder of the enduring impact of the events on death row.
The film concludes with a sense of redemption and reconciliation. Paul, who has lived with the guilt of participating in Coffey's execution, has found peace and understanding in his old age. He believes that Coffey, despite his tragic fate, brought a profound sense of goodness and compassion into the world.
Themes and Symbolism in the Ending
The ending of The Green Mile is imbued with a multitude of themes and symbolism that resonate deeply with the audience:
Injustice and the Death Penalty: The film serves as a powerful indictment of the death penalty and the injustice it can perpetrate. John Coffey's wrongful execution stands as a testament to the flaws and inhumanity of the capital punishment system.
The Burden of Guilt: Paul Edgecomb's internal struggle with the guilt of his role in Coffey's execution is a central theme throughout the film. The ending provides Paul with a measure of peace and redemption, emphasizing the emotional and moral toll that the death penalty takes on those involved.
Empathy and Compassion: Coffey's gift of healing is symbolic of the transformative power of empathy and compassion. Despite the inhumanity he faces, Coffey consistently exhibits kindness and love, and his actions have a profound impact on those around him.
Legacy and Continuity: The ending suggests that the essence of John Coffey endures in the lives of those he touched. Paul and his friends, who were granted longevity through Coffey's gift, continue to carry the memory of his goodness and humanity.
The Unexplained and Supernatural: The Green Mile leaves certain aspects of the supernatural and unexplained, such as Coffey's abilities and the longevity of the guards, open to interpretation. These elements contribute to the film's mystical and thought-provoking qualities.
The ending of The Green Mile is one of the most memorable and emotionally charged sequences in cinematic history. The film's examination of human nature, justice, and the power of compassion continues to resonate with viewers
In conclusion, the ending of "The Green Mile" is a profoundly moving and thought-provoking culmination of the film's central themes. It serves as a condemnation of the death penalty and an exploration of the enduring impact of compassion and empathy in the face of injustice. The film's conclusion leaves a lasting emotional impact and invites viewers to contemplate the moral dilemmas presented, making it a classic in the world of cinema.