Are We Still in Kansas, Mr. Capote?

by Thomas Kelly

How long is “The Green Mile” and where does it take you? Answering the first part of this question is easier than responding to the second part. In this reviewer’s experience, “The Green Mile” began in 1999 and ended in another millenium. However, there were moments when it was uncertain if that was to be the third or fourth millenium. Periodic checks of the wristwatch were required to ascertain whether or not the audience had been trapped by nefarious alien cinema mongers and incarcerated in a vortex where time is converted to taffy to be stretched as far and as thin as author Stephen King’s sense of reality.

Indeed, “The Green Mile” is very long, if not in runnning time, certainly in pace. But if flawless performances by a superb cast were scenery, the belabored journey to the distant reaches of real and unreal would make it all worthwhiole. Therein lies the key to answering the second part of our question.

When great acting takes on reality and socio-political issues, the illusion of seemingly real, though preposterously empowered characters, takes us all for a ride in any direction the cast and director may choose. We enter the microcosm of a depression era, Lousianna death row, populated with heroes, titans, assorted citizens of the very real world and nearly demonic mortals. But when mortal limits impose on the unseen argument behind the screen, inhabitants of the “higher” realms appear as readily as rodents from a magician’s coat sleeve to snatch the invisible argument from the gnashing jaws of reality. It is so easy to become enwrapped in the spell of the performances that reasonable takes on the invisible issues slide past the senses as easily as greased worms past a dead hen. In this case, the hen (mind) is beaten to death by an entourage of perormers who are inarguably masters of their craft. The characters range from admirable to hatable with the whole spectrum of humanity in between and the super human in the upper wave bands. The last appears as needed, to make the author’s case and soften the troublesome cell walls of reality. That is where “The Green Mile” takes us, to a jello-land where unstated arguments are supported on one end by stable legs of reason and on the other by uncongealed emotional aspic. The destination is a state-of-consciousness in which a rational approach to the issue of capital cimes and capital punishment is detoured through the bogs of a bayou which might accurately be called “Wishworld.”

But most of us do not live in Stephen King’s “reality,” although book sales would seem to indicate multitudes desire to, a pretty scary tale itself. Since Mr. King is the obvious master of this domain, any attempts to impose the limits of our more mundane reality on his are destined to fail. Perhaps some truth in packaging would serve well here, a disclaimer above the box office, something along the lines of “Caution: this film contains material which may be offensive to thinking minds. Patrons are advised to check their brains at the concession stand.” Then we would be better equipped to navigate a strange place where a crafty, hardened criminal carefully plots the moment of his escape from death row inside a prison instead of from the resort-like mental hospital with unguarded rooms and unbarred windows from which he is being transported.

We might also be more inclined to understand the all too common cinematic implication that our prisons are filled with the completely repentant, if not the totally innocent. Of course, in one sense this is quite true. If the political prisoners whom we call drug offenders were released and the war against drugs called off, the liberated resources might be applied to the prevention and solution of real crimes and the apprehension of real criminals. But there again is that pesky word “real,” an adjective which identifies the supreme nemesis of both Hollywood fantasy and Hollywood politics.

“The Green Mile,” to answer the compound question at hand, is much like Dorothy’s yellow brick road. It takes us to a similar place, although it is composed of a mushier substance.

Thomas Kelly is a writer and graphic designer in Encinitas, California.