It’s already been 10 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.” Written by Kadi Lynnith
On a basic level this movie presents the difficulty for some to believe 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. So, hit up your local movie rental store and celebrate the 10th anniversary of another great Tom Hanks film.