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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Green Mile is a 1999 movie based on a Stephen King novel in which a newly arrived death-row inmate has a miraculous gift. In the film's most graphic scene, a man is brutally killed by a botched electric chair execution -- the man screams in excruciating pain as his skin visibly and audibly sizzles; comment is later made of how the smell of the execution will linger in the prison for a long time. A large man is shown sitting in a field with two dead little girls in both arms. Use of the "N" word, another racial slur, and the obsolete "colored" designation. Frequent profanity, including variations on "f--k." In a tense standoff with a prisoner, one of the guards urinates himself. Themes of racism, criminal justice, capital punishment, miracles, and faith even in the direst environments, and the treatment of the elderly in contemporary society are conveyed throughout this movie, and should provoke discussion and debate between parents and mature teens.
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What's the story?
In THE GREEN MILE, Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks) is a Depression-era Louisiana prison guard. His responsibility is the prisoners on Death Row, called "The Green Mile" because of the color of the floor between the cells and the electric chair. New prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a huge black man convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. He is a gentle man with a mysterious power to heal. Edgecombe treats the prisoners with kindness, partly because it's the best way to maintain order, but also because he is a fair and compassionate man. In sharp contrast, another guard is petty and cruel, and a far more evil man than any of the prisoners.
Is it any good?
This is a thoughtful, intelligent movie with outstanding direction. The plot veers into melodrama at times, with at least one coincidence that is overly convenient, but the humanity of the guards keeps the movie on track most of the time. Hanks is the American ideal, just, kind, capable, decent. Bonnie Hunt's performance as Edgecombe's loyal, wise, patient, and very loving wife is a pleasure to watch. Doug Hutchison is terrific as Percy, the nephew of the governor's wife who is assigned to work for Edgecombe, and whose combined arrogance and insecurity lead to disaster. And Michael Clarke Duncan is deeply moving, showing us both Coffey's innocence and his dignity.
It's pretty easy to make a movie where the hero saves the Earth from asteroids or blasts the bad guys into smithereens, because those kinds of battles give us lots of very cool stuff to look at. It's a lot harder to make a movie like this one, holding our attention with heroism in small moments and unlikely places. Teens, who often feel that the problems of the world are too overwhelming to address, can learn from this movie that a small courtesy can have an enormous impact.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea that a person might have an extraordinary talent to heal, where that power might come from, and what the responsibilities and burdens might be. Must that ability be accompanied, as it is in John Coffey, with the agonizing experience of "feeling the pain of the world?" Can a person be a healer without experiencing the pain he relieves in others? Must a person whose entire existence is about healing be willing to destroy? What can be healed, and what can not?
The movie is primarily set in two institutional locations -- a prison and a nursing home. What are the similar and different ways in which these two places are shown, and how do they play into the movie's overall themes and messages?
What would be the challenges in adapting a novel into a movie? Are novels generally better or worse than the movies based on them? What are some examples of each?
- In theaters: December 10, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: June 13, 2000
- Cast: Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, Tom Hanks
- Director: Frank Darabont
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Integrity
- Run time: 188 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language and some sex-related material
- Last updated: February 13, 2020
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