The Allegory in ‘The Green Mile’

From the 1999 Film Adaptation, directed by Frank Darabont

In his analysis of Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of ‘The Green Mile’, Erwin Cabucos discusses the symbols that form part of the allegorical meaning of Stephen King’s original masterpiece.

‘The Green Mile’ (1999), directed by Fank Darabont and based on the novel of the same title by Stephen King, is an allegory of Christian healing and freedom. It represents Jesus Christ for today’s society in a world poisoned and imprisoned by perception, injustices, and a more deep-set malady—the darkness of the heart. The film’s setting, characterization, and plot cleverly portray a series of metaphors and analogies that help reveal the message of the film: physical healing and true liberation can be achieved in real kindness and pureness of the heart, but hatred, bigotry, and hostility are true illnesses and imprisonment of our time.

‘The Green Milebecause of the green painted corridor where prisoners walk on to face their execution. It must have felt like a mile.

To begin with, the character of John Coffey represents Jesus Christ in a multitude of ways. First, the initials J and C bear semblance to that of Jesus Christ. It’s repeatedly mentioned in the dialogue, where John introduces himself as ‘Like the drink, only not spelt the same’. The emphasis on the name and its relation to the drink are reminiscent of the Eucharist, the Christian belief of the real presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine. Second, the fate of being condemned and executed, even though he is innocent, is analogous to the biblical figure tried in the Councils of Herod and Pontius Pilate. Coffey, among the three executed figures along with Bitterluck and Delacroix, is likened to Christ with the two criminals in Golgotha. Third, and perhaps the strongest allusion of the character to that of the person in the Christian scripture, is the personality as the healer. John Coffey heals. He alleviates his boss’ urinary tract infection, brings a creature, a mouse, back to life, and restores the health of his warden’s wife’s health. They are reminders of Christ’s healing works; the woman who never stops bleeding (Luke 8:43), raising of the dead (John 11:38-44) and the blind man (John 9:32). The character of John Coffey in ‘The Green Mile’ strongly links to the biblical Jesus.

John Coffey is Darabont’s Hollywood Jesus – a representation of contemporary suffering servant who preaches love, kindness and compassion through words, miracle and action. You can’t help but notice the shining light behind him.

Furthermore, the connection of the character of Coffey to the Christian Lord is highlighted by the filmic portrayal of the title as the light of the world, from the gospel of John (8:12). Coffey is consistently associated with light. He is scared of the dark. At the onset he requests that light could be left in in his cell and during his execution, he asks that his face could be left uncovered. The character’s association with the image of the light transcends and more importantly, concretises his god-like nature, the opposite of evil. This is best portrayed through a mid-shot frame that turned into a close-up shot of the face of Coffey with a strong beam of light coming from the cinema projector behind him, creating Coffey like a religious icon popular in medieval religious art. When he heals, light glows brightly: Paul Edgecomb’s face, the mouse and Mrs Moore’s mouth and face go bright from the rush of God’s grace that come to them. Light bulbs go brighter and sometimes break due to the sudden surge of power in situations when healing completes such as in the room of Mrs Moore.

This imagery of brightness and influx of light becomes more dramatic when surge of compassion and care overwhelms Coffey, the guards and the crowd at the botched electrocution of Dale Delacroix. Excellent juxtaposition of the disturbing music as background to the psychotic behaviour of Bill Wharton, the burning of the mortal body of Delacroix, the smoke that wafts through the room, the combustion of the light bulbs around Edgecomb and the shuddering Coffey – all work together to create a sense of a great flooding of compassion as the strong theme of the film. Forgiveness is hinted in the narrative; something that is closely associated with light – a Christian, god-like virtue.

Mrs Moore and the strong light brought by the healing act of John Coffey, JC (as in Jesus Christ), reminiscent of the biblical miracle stories.

Like the traditional Jesus, Darabont’s Hollywood Jesus is a prophet. He foretells events and truth. In the New Testament Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well of her four husbands (John 4:17), directs the royal official to go home as his son is alive (John 4:50), and warns Peter that he will rebuke Jesus to the crow of the rooster (Luke 22:34). Similarly, Coffey can predict what Edgecombe is planning to say about offering him a chance to escape before his execution. He can also foretell that he would be taken for a ride towards Mrs Moore and in the end he can feel the darkness of the people in the room, saying: “There’s lots of folks here that hate me. Lots. I can feel it.” Moreover, like the traditional Jesus having divine nature, Darabont’s Hollywood Jesus is a mystique: he heals (Edgecomb and Moore), and he brings a creature back life, through the representation of the dead mouse. Just as the traditional Jesus looks up to heaven (Matthew 14:19) to give credit to the Father, Coffey looks up to heaven to blow the flies and slightly at the chair when he faces his death.

The rays of light that beam from the roof on to the cell of Coffey suggests similar image of the favour of God upon the chosen one. Just as the historical Jesus who had to fulfil the promise of the narrative of salvation, Darabont’s Jesus faces his execution with brevity and conviction. When offered with a chance to escape, John Coffey replies: “…I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pains… of feeling them… everyday, there’s too much of it. It’s like piece of glass in my head. All the time.” Coffey accepts his destiny as the prisoner, but by being so, he does not really consider to be one. Deep in his heart he knows himself that he is free and liberated from the real imprisonment – the shackling effects of hatred and hostility which end in death. Coffey subscribes and promotes the idea of true liberation, the pureness of the heart and kindness to others. These bring life, even everlasting life, as suggested by the age of Paul Edgecomb as the narrator of the film. Darabont’s Jesus points to real heaven.

The notion of the real heaven as the place to be is reflected in the absence of fear made apparent by Coffey’s willingness to face his execution, literally and metaphorically. He wants his face to be uncovered at the moment of his death. He died as per scheduled but his campaign for the real heaven is understood. First it is known through the lyrics of the chick-flick movie where two dancers move to the tune of “I’m in Heaven”, then explained by Coffey as he walks on the Green Mile where he relays his dream being in heaven with Dale and the two girls, and concludes in the lips of Coffey himself whilst at the electric chair: “I’m in heaven. Heaven. Heaven. I’m in heaven.” Not only that it is understood by the people around him, it is also felt by them. The guards are emotionally affected and in tears beside him. Such experiential element is indeed recognised upon the receiving of the truth of everlasting life. The repetition of the word ‘heaven’ simply cements the invitation of the film to value the eschatological teachings of the prophet: ‘heaven’ being the preferred state of humanity where kindness and compassion exist and where bigotry and racism do not.

The character of John Coffey (JC), the suffering servant of the ‘Green Mile’. He endures the grotesque way of sacrifice.

However, Darabont’s Hollywood Jesus is a morph from the classical Jesus of the Christian scripture because John Coffey is now the screen prophet who addresses the real illness of the time – the malady of the heart. The use of the character of Coffey from the African-American race alludes to the haunting experiences of slavery and the on-going racism in American society and the world at large against people of colour. Coffey is the instant perpetrator of the rape and murder of the two girls, condemned before a council of the neighbourhood of white men with guns and dogs, slapped and judged without dialogue or simple consultation. Coffey is the representation of the common victimisation of the helpless black suspects as direct reaction of perception and stereotypes that breed like a disease in the mainstream white race. The virus of this disease is represented by the flies that can be expunged from the innards through the mouth. The image of flies are remnants of the insects that plagued Egypt in the Exodus story (Exodus 10). This counter-racism message of the film is evidenced through the character of Wild Bill – the true white perpetrator undisclosed to all, except Edgecomb who has achieved illumination. It does take real illumination to acquire truth of this magnitude. Relying upon the messages of everyday texts and conventional ways such as Edegcomb’s reading of Coffey’s profile may not be enough; he does need to keep himself connected with Coffey, such as the interlocking of their hands in order to achieve such truth.

Such dedication to stay close to the Jesus and the truth should be consistent. The image of the handshake between Edgecomb and Coffey is depicted at various times: first, at the first meeting of two men during Coffey’s first arrival at the E block where Coffey makes the first move to show the gesture, second when Coffey reveals Bill Wharton as the real rapist and third when Edgecomb initiates to handshake Coffey’s at the electric chair before Coffey’s death. The film seemingly proclaims that the metaphor of being close to Jesus in a dedicated way is the way to real freedom and liberation from the real imprisonment of hatred and hostility. This trumpets the message of the film that behind the blinding stereotypes and racism is the radiating truth, and this could be achieved by going back to the principles of Jesus such as kindness, love and tolerance and by clinging to them constantly.

The consistent use of the handshake alludes to the call for connection with the sacred (JC – God) to achieve illumination of truth and peace of heart. Interestingly, the use of the black actor, hence the black coloured hand, connecting with the white in a handshake make signify sacredness – the true outcome of racial reconciliation in society.

Finally, the E Block is the metaphor of society’s bigotry and hostility towards the misjudged black prisoner, the meek inmate and the reformed captive. Yet within this site, the blessing of God is represented through the ray of light that beams from the ceiling. Day and night it is on, like the light of the tabernacle in the church that signals the presence of the Christ in the sacred place. Additionally, justice is shown through the events that take place in there: Billy Wharton and Percy Wetmore are punished accordingly. Percy’s homophobic attitude is diffused by the wetting of his pants as Billy Whartonmade fun of him.

Interestingly as well, the electric chair bears some stance to the bishop’s chair at a cathedral facing the congregation. The seating arrangement of the public that witness the execution shows similarity to that of the chapel where white people are faced with the reflection of their bitterness, resentment and vengeance.

This auspice is the setting for all the miracles that take place, real judgment that had to be carried out, compassion that overwhelms people, love that had to be felt, realisation through illumination and life everlasting that had to begin. The mouse and the narrator are still live. Indeed, the E Block is a metaphor for imprisonment and freedom and of illness and healing to send a message across that true liberation and healing are found in the mind and in the heart where god-like characteristics are attained. Institutions can be lunatic, bureaucratic and corrupt, and they can serve as extensions of mostly white officers and policy makers, depicted by the majority of the guards and the public who witness and subscribe to the outcome of their own judgement.

‘The Green Mile’ (1999) directed by Fank Darabont adapted from the novel by Stephen King is an allegory of Christian healing and freedom. It is a triumph of representing Jesus as the healer and liberator for the real malady of and imprisonment of our time. The narrative, the characters and the setting are used effectively to send a message that physical illness are not real sickness. They can be cured. But the real malady of our time is hatred and intolerance of all people, and they lead to death. There is therefore a call to Christian love, kindness and compassion, and to look forward to heaven.

This execution scene with a church-like layout and a T, cross-like, perspective at the centre of this high-angle shot, alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus at Golgotha, crystallising the allegorical representation of John Coffey.

How to reference this article?

Cabucos, E. (2020), ‘The Allegory in the Green Mile’, in, downloaded on today’s date.

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