The Green Mile celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, so of course, we need to discuss it. However, the same old ideas get discussed in every other post about movies having an anniversary. The article starts with a summary of the film then tells the reader why they should love and revere that film. It’s a tired format at this point.
I’m not here to do that. I’ve done that in many other articles. I have lauded The Green Mile’s score, its acting, and its emotional factor. Everyone already knows about that.
What you didn’t know is that The Green Mile is just a knockoff version of Saving Private Ryan (1998), only with an electric chair and a prison instead of guns and a war. You say I’m reaching? I say you’re in for a wild ride because I have the reins and I’m fiddling for some action. So, ride along, partners.
There are spoilers for these movies down below so if you haven’t seen them then I suggest you stop now!
Tom Hanks as Our Moral Hero
Tom Hanks cannot play a bad person. He is naturally just a great guy and always plays someone the audience can root for. In both The Green Mile and Saving Private Ryan, his role is no different. Whether a sympathetic prison guard or a disillusioned teacher fighting in Europe, he is the epitome of a good guy. You just can’t help but love him.
Part of this could be because the movies were released only a year apart. The characters are similar in the less-than-ideal circumstances they find themselves in and the ethics which they hold close. Despite the occupation difference, one could be convinced that Captain Miller is simply Paul Edgecomb a few years later.
Tom Hanks is the reason that The Green Mile and Saving Private Ryan are such classics. No other actor could have brought the level of emotion and personality to the characters that Hanks brought. Honestly, that goes for most movies he stars in.
Hit You Right in the Heart
Both The Green Mile and Saving Private Ryan seem like they were made intentionally just to break people’s hearts. As soon as you get close to Captain Miller and begin to understand him just a little bit more, the Germans kill him off. After spending so much time getting to know and love John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), he is executed — by his friends no less! These heartbreaking moments make these films so great.
Despite watching these films over and over and over, I still tear up a little bit at the endings. Of course, they allow the story to come full circle and enforce their messages, but I really wish no one had to die. John Coffey was an innocent man who just wanted to help people. Captain Miller just wanted to save his men and get back home. But no, the writers had to completely destroy these characters by taking away everything they ever loved. Steven Spielberg and Frank Darabont, I would like a word with you.
I’m going to turn into a bit of an English teacher here but there is strong color symbolism throughout both films. The color that is most prominent in both films is the color green. In Saving Private Ryan, the uniforms and the general setting is green. In The Green Mile, the floor is a pale green and the title itself has the word “green” in it. Both have significant meanings for their respective films.
With Saving Private Ryan, green is obviously the color of soldiers. It is drab, symbolizing the drab life of a soldier, filled with routine and drudge. The green symbolizes uniformity, meaning that all soldiers are the same to those sending them to die. A green soldier is just another cog in the military machine.
In The Green Mile, the green is a lot more subtle (despite its titular presence). You only hear or see about it if you’re paying close attention. However, in this case, the green represents a sort of twisted version of home. Think about it: when people think of home they often think of green, well-manicured lawns. The tile of the prison represents that, but it is paler because it is a sicker version of a home. It’s twisted and less welcoming. It represents the odd yet still comforting circumstances the characters find themselves in.
Barry Pepper hasn’t starred in as many movies as some movie stars, nor has he played many main characters. He tends to be the background character — he’s there and we learn a bit about him as we move on, but he’s not the main focus of the story. In Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile, Pepper plays this background role once again.
In The Green Mile, Barry Pepper plays Dean Stanton, a young prison guard. He helps out Paul and the other prison guards when he needs to. He thinks that John Coffey is equal parts mystifying, terrifying, and wonderful. And he is the only one to truly breakdown in tears during Coffey’s execution. Other than that, we don’t get much else on his character, which is a pity considering the richness that could have come from him.
Saving Private Ryan provides the same type of role for Pepper. In that film, he plays Private Jackson, the sniper of Captain Miller’s squad. We get some pretty cool scenes of his sniping skills, especially the famous bullet-through-the-scope-into-the-enemy’s-eye shot, but he is still a background character.
Honestly, the thing that The Green Mile and Saving Private Ryan have most in common is the under-utilization of Barry Pepper.
Failing the Bechdel Test
Finally, something both of these movies fail to do is include women. We get some great scenes with Patricia Clarkson and Bonnie Hunt in The Green Mile, but we never interact with their characters for longer than a few moments. Most of the action is centered on the prison guards and the prisoners. Saving Private Ryan has little to no female characters. I can’t remember if any of the female characters we do see are even given names. However, this is a little more forgivable, considering the subject matter and the period the film is set in. To sum up, both movies will make feminists angry.
As lopsided as they may be in the gender department and the criminal misuse of Barry Pepper, they are still wonderful films! The Green Mile is my all-time favorite film. I could watch either of these films over and over for the rest of my life. The fact that they’re so similar isn’t surprising at all, considering that they are both magnificent films.
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‘The Green Mile’ is based on a story by Stephen King and has nothing to do with ‘Saving Private Ryan’!
Actually The Green Mile was written by Private Ryan after he was saved because he was so inspired by Tom Hanks saving him
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