Friday Night at the Movies: The Green Mile

MOVIE REVIEW: Jesus Walked the “Green Mile” (1999)

by Jeremy Berg

www.jeremyberg.org

And now for a throwback movie you maybe never thought of as a good Easter time tale with powerful echoes of the passion of Christ and the message of redemption.  

It’s already been 11 years since the release of The Green Mile (1999). The Stephen King film stars Tom Hanks as a Death Row guard and the massively large and mysteriously gifted prisoner named John Coffey played by Michael Clark Duncan. I finally saw it for the first time this weekend at the request of one of my youth group boys who has been powerfully moved by the Christian themes found throughout.  

Here’s a general plot summary:



“Paul Edgecomb is a slightly cynical
veteran prison guard on Death row in the 1930′s. His faith, and sanity,
deteriorated by watching men live and die, Edgecomb is about to have a complete
turn around in attitude. Enter John Coffey, He’s eight feet tall. He has hands
the size of waffle irons. He’s been accused of the murder of two children…
and he’s afraid to sleep in a cell without a night-light. And Edgecomb, as well
as the other prison guards – Brutus, a sympathetic guard, and Percy, a stuck
up, perverse, and violent person, are in for a strange experience that involves
intelligent mice, brutal executions, and the revelation about Coffey’s
innocence and his true identity” (Review by Kadi Lynnith).

On a basic level this movie presents the difficulty
many skeptics have in believing in the miraculous. At a much deeper level what
comes through very clearly — even to the casual observer — is the obvious
similarities between John Coffey and Jesus Christ as depicted especially in the
Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Here are some of the strongest parallels
between Christ and Coffey:

         
John
Coffey is a hated and despised man, rejected and unwanted because of his race,
reputation and size
. “He was
despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with
suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,
and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

         
John
Coffey is a striking blend of power and might clothed with Jesus-like meekness
and gentleness.
 He’s 8 feet tall
with barrels for biceps yet afraid of the dark and wouldn’t hurt a fly. “A
bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory” (Isaiah 42:3).

         
He has
the ability to see what’s inside people’s hearts. 
“For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks
on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam
16:7).

         
He is
characterized by “light” and cannot stand the darkness
. “I am the light of the world; he who follows
me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John
8:12); “God is light; 
in
him there is no darkness
 at
all” (1 John 1:5).

         
He has
the power to raise the dead back to life.
 “I
am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who
believe in me will live even if they die” (John 11:25).

         
He has
the power to heal sickness and disease; though it comes at a personal cost
. “Surely he took up our infirmities and
carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by
God,  smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

         
He
carries the weight of the world’s sin and takes onto himself the sum total of
all the world’s suffering, pain and evil
.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our
iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by
his wounds we are healed…and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us
all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

         
He is
unjustly accused and sentenced to a wrongful death.
 “He was assigned a grave with the
wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no
violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

         
He goes
willingly and quietly to his death, accepting the shame and scorn of his
mistaken accusers.
 “He was
oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;  he was
led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is
silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

 

John Coffey’s trip to the dying woman’s death bed
to heal her was resonant of a couple healing stories in the gospels. The
electric chair is an unmistakable modern-day crucifixion scene accompanied by
strange occurrences similar to the earthquake and torn temple curtain.
 And I’m sure there are many more I’ve missed.  

Unfortunately, the parallel ultimately breaks down
at the end as Coffey’s death doesn’t liberate Hank’s character Paul from God’s
punishment.  Instead, the movie ends on a sour and gospel-less note as
Paul is cursed to live a long, lonely extended life for taking Coffey’s
innocent life.

Still, this was one of the most powerfully moving
films dealing with issues of mortality, guilt, pain and redemption I’ve seen in
a very long time. I would recommend adding it to your list of annual
Easter movies right alongside “The Passion of the Christ.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Dan Knight

    I think you should watch the ending again. I did not view the long life as a curse. It was what would happen to a human life that actually ingested some element of the Divine Spirit.

  • Emily S.

    I think the names are worth looking at too, in trying to understand Paul’s character. John Coffey/Jesus Christ – JC. Easy to figure out. I believe that Paul’s character is a reference to Pontius Pilate, who only began to know Jesus at all while he was “on death row”. Who wanted to release him, but couldn’t. Who wanted to wash his hands of Jesus’ death, but must have known that he was still a large part of its occurrence.
    I think the end may have been implying what the life of Pontius Pilate might have like after the death of Jesus.


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