The complete screenplay of The Green Mile with script notes.
The Green Mile, derived from a story by Stephen King, is a fine film, but a better screenplay. The entire tale is a direct homage to Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men, told from the perspective of the leading hand, Slim. The parallels are striking and this is far from an exhaustive list:
- Both are set in depression-era, rural USA
- Both are about a giant, slow-witted but decent man with astonishing physical strength. (Lennie in OMaM, Coffey in GM)
- Both feature a small, angry, aggressive protagonist. (Curly in OMaM, Percy in GM)
- Both focus extensively on a mouse to highlight the giant's character
- Both feature a thoughtful, classy good-guy who seems far to urbane for his environment. (Slim in OMaM, Paul in GM)
There are differences as well, of course. There's no equivalent of Steinbeck's George. The story could be described as what happens if Lennie doesn't have George to keep him out of trouble. Or maybe it's what happens if George doesn't have the heart to murder Lennie and leaves him to the legal system? I like to think, however, it's what happens if a man who seems a lot like Lennie is mistaken for being Lennie, though actually he's too gentle to ever carry Lennie's inherent threat.
Either way, the similarities are too numerous to be coincidental. Steinbeck's novel is really about the toxicity of hope when it finds an unlikely home among the ragged edge of humanity, the way the American dream becomes a dangerous obsession when it lives in people who are too far away from the heart of the society because wanting things you can't have makes your life untenable and miserable. It's also about friendship, arguably it's a buddy-story. That toxicity is barely echoed in The Green Mile, but it can be seen in Paul's life after the events depicted in the film. It is, after all, why the main story is told in flashback. The main difference is in the giant's story, if not entirely his character. Coffey might actually be innocent, where we know Lennie, despite his genial demeanour, is not. When the critical moment comes Lennie is accidentally alone with Curly's wife and there is inevitable tragedy. In comparison Coffey is deliberately taken to see Melinda and he does the exact opposite of harming her.
In The Green Mile we see the friendship develop in front of us, rather than seeing it delivered on a plate in the opening scene. The inherent misogyny of the classic tale is largely retained, though at least King and Darabont are willing to offer the woman who acts as a fulcrum of the tale a name, in OMaM she's called 'Curly's Wife'. The Green Mile is ultimately a more convoluted and warmer story, if less powerful, and the supernatural elements are seamlessly integrated so they seem almost inevitable, a clever trick indeed.
The film is a tremendous piece of work with world-leading performances from a great cast. If, like many adaptations, it loses some of its structure in the attempt to remain faithful to the original story, it remains true that Darabont is able to construct such a compelling narrative tale that we barely notice how long the second-act becomes. Such is the quality of the script, such is the strong, emotive directorial style. The Green Mile is also unusual in its setting. Almost the entire film is set in such a small physical area that it could be very simply staged in a theatre. Films usually show us the breadth of the world, something impossible on the stage, this almost feels like it's written for the boards like it's a companion-piece to 12 Angry Men.