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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Green Mile can be found here.
Retired prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) relates to fellow retirement home resident Elaine Connelly (Eve Brent) the story of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a man accused of murdering two young girls. However, there's more to the kind-hearted Coffey than can be seen.
The Green Mile is based on the 1996 novel of the same name, written by Stephen King.
It is not explained in the movie. In the novel, Bitterbuck (Graham Greene) is sentenced to death after killing a man in an argument over a pair of boots. Del (Michael Jeter) is a convicted arsonist, rapist and murderer.
Water, particularly salt water, is a good conductor of electricity. Having the brine-soaked sponge causes the electricity to move in a more efficient line, thus killing the prisoner faster. Without the sponge, the electricity would simply disperse over the body, meeting with a lot of resistance, causing the body to cook, and death would be much more agonizing, as seen during Del's execution.
The easiest answer that we see in the film is that there wasn't time. When Paul figures things out, Percy (Doug Hutchison) has given the order, Jack (Bill McKinney) has already thrown the switch, and it's much too late to stop things and rewire Del so that he'd suffer much less. The scene is depicted in real time, but doesn't actually happen that way. There are two things going on at once: (1) Percy's management of the entire execution and his orders being followed ("Roll on two!" the order to throw the switch), and (2) Paul's reaction to the revelation about the sponge, the consequences that will inevitably result, and the reaction of the witnesses gathered in the room. It's all done very well to give the viewer a sense of the sequence of events involved, however, it's not actually "real time" as we know it. So, by the time we see everyone's actions and Paul's reaction, it's too late.
Whenever a sentence of capital punishment is carried out in the United States, the law requires people be present as witnesses to see the convict actually die. The witnesses are all volunteers. In most states, if not all, the victim's family is also given the option to attend the execution, as is the case in this movie.
This is not fully explained in either the movie or the novel. When Coffey tried to revive the little girls, he mentioned that he tried to "take it back", suggesting that sickness and death are phenomena that can invade a person, but can also be taken out again. Think of it as the physical manifestation of whatever disease or sickness John "sucked" out of those he helped. In the short story The Little Sisters of Eluria, King describes "Doctor Bugs", which are parasitic organisms that first heal people so that they might feed on them slowly. It's been tossed around that Coffey's "bugs" may or may not be the same kind of organism, though there's no confirmation one way or the other or even that they are bugs.
At the time of their murder, there was no link between the girls and Wild Bill Wharton (Sam Rockwell). He was simply a drifter who worked for food and a place to sleep, and he had moved on by the time the girls went missing. When they were found in the arms of John Coffey, a poor, simple-minded, imposing black man who was saying, "I tried to take it back, but it was too late," that was proof enough to everyone that Coffey was guilty.
Paul had no physical evidence to prove that John was innocent. Just saying that John showed him what really happened through a psychic link wouldn't exactly go over well. John's knowledge of the details would have only convinced a jury that John indeed had committed the crime. Then, Percy shooting and killing Wild Bill ruined any chance of him ever admitting to the crime. On a less pragmatic note: John Coffey himself admits that, prisoner or no, his life is one of constant pain and suffering, as a result of his sensitivity to the evil in the world. To quote him directly:
I'm tired boss. [...] Mostly I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. [...] It's like pieces of glass in my head all the time.
Paul finishes telling his story about John Coffey to Elaine, but she doesn't seem convinced, so he takes her on a walk out to the abandoned cabin where she is introduced to a mouse sleeping in a Marsh Wheeling cigar box. It is Mr Jingles, whom Paul found after John's execution and whom he has been taking care of over since. Paul feels that John "infected" him and Mr Jingles with his gift of life, admitting that he is 108 years old, and that he believes this is his punishment for letting a miracle of God die in the electric chair. Following a vignette of Paul attending Elaine's funeral, Paul says in a voiceover: 'We each owe a death...there are no exceptions. But oh God, sometimes The Green Mile seems so long."
Percy Wetmore is the nephew of the Governor of Louisiana's wife, so he had political connections. If Percy felt that he was being mistreated, he'd simply call his mother or the Governor himself and complain like a spoiled child. The other argument is that it's a different time period. In the 1930s it was much easier for an inhumane person like Percy to work at such a job. The laws hadn't been changed to, say, profile a person like Percy for his mental illness. In modern times, a condition like Percy's would've been discovered either through psychoanalysis when he applied for the job or because he'd caused a tragedy to happen. In the time the film was set, it wouldn't matter if Percy had been abusive toward a prisoner like Del, people would think Del was getting his just desserts for his crimes. The sabotage of Del's execution is something that might not have gone unnoticed by the proper authorities, however, Paul, Brutal, Dean, Harry and Warden Moores are able to cover it up since their jobs are at stake as much as Percy's would be. Percy, however, might have come out clean because of his connections to the governor's office.
Because of the accidental "gift" John Coffey transferred to the mouse while holding the mouse during Del's execution. John says later that the mouse felt what he felt. When Paul takes John's hand and sees what John saw of the murders, John gives him the same gift, although this time purposefully. However, there is no indication that Mr Jingles will live "as long as" Paul Edgecomb, only that they both will have extended lifespans. Coffey's healing of Paul and Mr Jingles was as much a curse as it was a gift: the price that Paul pays is that he'll outlive everyone he loves, such as his wife, his son, and Elaine.
As old Paul says at the end, "We each owe a death, there are no exceptions. But oh God, sometimes the Green Mile seems so long". His concern seems somewhat justified: by the end of the movie, Mr Jingles is at least 64 years old, about sixteen times the lifespan of a normal mouse; if the same logic applies to Paul, that would mean he could theoretically reach an age somewhere between 1300 and 1500 years, though it's ambiguous as to whether he is still able to die from external causes.
Paul Edgecomb is 108 years old and still alive. His wife Janice was killed in a bus accident in Alabama in 1956. Melinda "Melly" eventually died of a heart attack in 1943, and her husband, Warden Hal Moores, died of a stroke in 1941. Brutus "Brutal" Howell died of a heart attack while eating a fish sandwich, Harry Terwilliger died in 1982 of intestinal cancer, and Dean Stanton was stabbed in the neck by a prisoner four months after John Coffey was executed. William "Wild Bill" Wharton was shot by Percy Wetmore in 1932, and Percy went catatonic and lived in mental institutions until his death in 1965. Mr Jingles died of old age in 1996.
Like Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King occasionally has a cameo in the movies based on his stories, but he does not appear in The Green Mile.
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