When watching the Fred Astaire musical, Top Hat, Paul starts crying and leaves the room. Paul then tells his friend Elaine the story of his amazing life when he was senior prison guard during the Depression. Death Row or The Last Mile was his domain. Since his mile was the colour of faded limes, they called it The Green Mile.
1935. Paul has a terrible urinary infection but won’t see a doctor because a new prisoner’s arriving. The prison van is observed riding on the axle. Even barefoot, the ‘cuffed prisoner towers over everyone. Percy is told to stop yelling “dead man walking” so much. He regains his sense of authority by hitting a prisoner across the hand with his stick — breaking three of the man’s fingers.
John Coffey is incarcerated for raping and murdering two girls. He was found leaning on a log with a dead girl under each arm, saying that he couldn’t help it. The sheriff then holds him at gunpoint and spits in his face.
Prison guard, Brutal notices a mouse. He gives it some cookie — in the name of science. The mouse feasts. When it then disappears under the restraints room door, the guards empty out the room — but can’t find the mouse.
It appears the next day and another guard throws it some cookie. Then, Percy throws a trash can at the mouse and is reprimanded. While Paul says the inmates deserve leniency and Percy disagrees, it escalates and Brutal almost kills Percy. Percy shouts that anyone who touches him will be reported to his auntie, the governor’s wife, and fired.
The Warden, Hal, tells Paul there’s another new prisoner arriving. This one killed three people, including a pregnant woman. Hal also says his wife has a brain tumour the size of a lemon. The tumour’s so deep inside that they can’t operate. Hal doesn’t know how to tell her.
New prisoner Wild Bill Wharton convinces everyone he’s doped-up. But, he springs to life in E block and fights with the guards. Percy could rescue colleague Dean, but freezes up. Dean’s taken to the infirmary, leaving Paul alone to collapse slowly to the ground in pain because of his worsening infection.
John Coffey sees this and, with permission, grabs Paul by the crotch — making prisoners yell and lightbulbs explode. Afterwards, hundreds of bees swarm out of Coffey’s mouth. He then says that he’s awful tired and goes to bed.
Paul discovers the pain has gone. He pounces on his wife when he gets home and they have sex all night. Next day, Paul gives John some of his wife’s cornbread as a thank-you. Del’s named the mouse Mr Jingles and they both get some cornbread. When Wild Bill’s left out, he spits in Paul’s face. Wild Bill then manages to urinate on prison guard, Harry’s feet. Harry turns a fire hose on Wild Bill, pinning him to the back of the cell. When he’s soaked through and exhausted, Wild Bill’s dragged out of his cell and thrown in solitary, in the restraints room.
Later, Wild Bill buys a Moon Pie from Toot-Toot and stores it in his mouth. When Brutal comes near, he smacks his cheeks together, covering Brutal with chocolate. Wild Bill is thrown back in solitary.
Wild Bill grabs Percy as he passes by. He starts aggressively sweet-talking the diminutive, entitled Percy and Percy wets himself with fright. Del is pleased with this, since Percy broke his fingers earlier. Percy then swears everyone to silence or they’ll be fired. All he has to do is tell his auntie.
Percy stamps on Del’s mouse while it’s doing tricks. Del is tearful and very upset about this. John Coffey suggests he could use his powers to bring him back to life. In Coffey’s big hands, the tail starts moving. Then, a bright light appears and the mouse is reborn. Once the miracle is complete, hundreds of bees swarm out of Coffey’s mouth like before. The mouse scurries over to meet Del.
Del’s about to be executed. But, Percy hasn’t wetted the cranial sponge first as he should. When it’s too late, Paul notices no tell-tale drips of water on the floor between the bucket and the chair. Del’s form starts smoking and screaming and the audience starts complaining of the terrible smell. There’s a storm outside and big John Coffey is shaking and yelling. Wild Bill is rocking on his bars and hollering. Ceiling lights are exploding. It seems like Coffey is feeling what Del’s feeling. Del’s body now starts to catch fire in places. Paul forces Percy to watch the carnage he created and then makes him put out the fires on Del.
Paul discusses John Coffey’s gift with his staff. He wants to try John’s magic on the Warden’s wife Melinda, to help with her tumour. Paul and Brutal drug Wild Bill, causing him to pass out. Percy’s locked away in the restraints room. Wild Bill then reawakens and grabs John’s arm. At this sustained touch, Coffey grimaces and a light explodes. Wild Bill is whooping and yelling because he’s hurt the towering man.
Once outside again, under cover of darkness and with three guards, Coffey picks up a handful of grass and mud and fully inhales its scent. It’s 2.30 in the morning when the small group reaches Hal’s house. The Warden is startled, but John Coffey calms him and goes upstairs to where Melinda’s yelling from her bed. He then appears to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He comes away and her mouth is glowing. The pendulum in the grandfather clock stops swinging and the house shakes. Warm, yellow light travels from her mouth into Coffey’s. He then closes his mouth and she’s suddenly the picture of health.
John falls to the floor coughing. Melinda gives him a St Christopher pendant as a thank you. The prison guards must now almost carry the weakened John back to the truck. Brutal suggests John held onto the bees this time for a reason.
Coffey grabs Percy as he walks past his cell and allows his bees to swarm into Percy’s mouth. Afterwards, Percy walks, in a stupor, over to Wild Bill’s cell. Percy stands there, absorbing the insults, pulls out his gun and shoots Wild Bill several times in the chest. Percy’s wrestled to the floor and the bees then swarm out of his mouth.
Apparently, John saw into Wild Bill’s heart when he was grabbed earlier. John then takes Paul’s arm to show him the memory. Wild Bill is painting a fence and the two girls are playing. Later, Wild Bill breaks in and swears the two girls to silence before attacking them. Paul grimaces throughout this recollection. Coffey explains that it’s like this constantly for him and it happens all over the world. Still unresponsive, Percy’s sent to stay at Briar Ridge Mental Hospital.
For his last meal, John Coffey requests: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, okra and corn bread. John says he wants Paul to say a few words before his electrocution. Paul asks if John wants to be allowed to escape — as a thank you for all the miracles. This would be foolish, says John. John sees it as a kindness to be killed. He’s tired of life now — with everyone being ugly to each other. He’s tired of all the pain in the world. It’s like pieces of glass in his head all the time.
One last request is to watch “a flicker show”. They present him with Fred Astaire dancing in the musical Top Hat. John Coffey compares the dancers to angels from up in heaven.
In the execution room, the parents of the murdered girls are ready to watch John killed. John says he can feel the hatred for him in the room. The girls’ parents yell “kill him twice”. Dean is told to hide his tears of sadness. The girls’ mother says she hopes it hurts. John asks that the final, black hood doesn’t go over his face — he’s afraid of the dark. “Roll on two”. Ceiling lights explode as the current flows.
Back in the present day, Paul says that was the last execution he ever did. He takes Elaine to see an aged, white-furred Mr Jingles in a secret cabin. The mouse is too old for tricks, but appreciates the toast. He tells Elaine that afterwards, because John could feel Del’s violent death, some of John’s magic then transferred into Paul and Mr Jingles, infecting them both with life.
Paul is 108 years old. He was 44 when he met John. He feels cursed with immortality for letting John “ride the lightning” on his watch, for killing a miracle of God. Once Elaine dies, Paul starts wishing a lot for his own death. If God can make a mouse live so long, how long does he himself have left?
Starring Tom Hanks. Michael Clarke Duncan. David Morse. Rated 18. Dir Frank Darabont. Released in the UK 1999. Runtime 3hrs 9mins.