The current essay is aimed to analyze the psychological background of the movie by Frank Darabont, based on Stephen King’s novel with the same name. The story tells about the people who appeared in Louisiana’s Cold Mountain Penitentiary, in the domain of sentenced to death criminals. This domain was called so as the condemned prisoners who walk to the execution are walking “the last mile”, and, as the floor was covered with the green linoleum, so, the domain got the name “the Green Mile”. The story is suitable for showing the psychology of someone, who is waiting for the execution (execution here is equal to death).
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The death penalty is the mean of punishing criminals accused of murder, rape, theft, and other crimes. Different countries and different cultures have their own deadly crimes that are why this list may be too long. Everyone on death row is accused of murder. Thus, Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham Greene), Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter), John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Bill Wharton (Sam Rockwell) are waiting for the X day. The behavior of everyone reveals the fact that people are calm (at least outwardly) when they know what to wait for.
The condemned clearly realize what is going to happen, and this realization calms them down. In distinction with the life imprisoned people, who are subjected to aggression, depression, and even suicide, people, sentenced to the death penalty, just wish to end up with everything, get forgiveness and leave this world as they deserved it. Their condition signifies that they are ready to carry the punishment, however, most of them regret the committed crime, and wish they had been forgiven.
Psychology of Death Penalty. Analysis of the Movie Characters
Originally, the death penalty was invented with several aims: to eliminate physical criminals, to prevent other people from committing crimes, and to avoid building huge prisons. The fact is that there are lots of opponents of the death penalty, especially among those who confess to Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism. Their position is closely linked with the notion that only God may give and take lives, while people are not granted this power. On the other hand, proponents of the death penalty claim that they help criminals to meet with God, and ask for forgiveness. From the viewpoint of religion, the people, sentenced to death believe that their souls will be presented before the Lord. They hope that their sentence will be sufficient, for granting them forgiveness. Thus, Arlen Bitterbuck is dreaming of paradise as he imagines it before the moment of execution. Eduard Delacroix fully realizes that he will not get forgiveness, and his only wish is the happiness and glory of his little friend Mr. Jingles (a talented pet mouse). The behavioral stereotype of Bill “the Kid” Wharton fully coincides with the behavioral pattern of a maniac as it is described in “Classic Psychology” by Thorne Shipley (p. 294). He would not refuse to execute somebody himself, as he is insane, however, he does not want to part with his own life. However, he could not avoid the deserved punishment.
Psychological conditions of the Characters in the Context of the Global Experience of Discussing the Capital Punishment
It is argued that there is no justification for torture and cruel treatment. The execution is compared with tortures, as it is the exclusive physical and psychological personal violence. It is impossible to measure the pain, which is distressed in the process of murder, and it is impossible to measure the depth of the psychological suffering before the approaching death. However, the movie shows that the least guilty was suffering the most. John Coffey felt the pain of the whole world, and he was the only one who could measure the depth of these sufferings. Nevertheless, he himself chose to die. Taking into account that Stephen King created this character with Jesus Christ’s initials (J.C.) this personage should be analyzed separately. Anyway, his psychological condition is described as autistic, and it tells us that his feelings can not be realized fully, as viewers can not estimate his inner condition.
Bill “the Kid” did not feel guilty, as the murder was a kind of amusement for him. He is in no way deserves forgiveness, though, some people may consider that his death was too fast and painless.
Lots of socio-psychological researches have studied the grave stresses which condemned men experience as a result of uncertainty. The feelings and the conditions of prisoners sentenced to death are similar to the feelings of terminally ill hospital patients, but aggravated with the restrictions of movements, and restricted visits. These conditions are described as “an austere world in which condemned prisoners are treated as bodies kept alive to be killed”. (Elliott, 1991)
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The execution itself is presented here like an abrupt junction from one system (world) to another. The corridor, located in a basement (where the executed bodies are shown) symbolizes the way to another life. Thus, the “green mile” is accepted as the way to death, and the corridor is the way to the other world. The other world is imagined differently by different characters, and these imaginations reveal the psychological background of the characters. Arlen dreamt of the times when he and his wife were young. Eduard wished his mouse could amuse people in Mouseville. John Coffey, in his turn, wished there was no pain in the world, and he never wanted to stay in the darkness.
The psychological condition of this changeover is difficult to explain, however, the very sorrow of death makes feel creepy all over. The three deaths are shown differently. The first character that leaves the world is Arlen Bitterbuck. His execution is an optimum process, and he leaves this world with a calm face as a real Cherokee tribal chief (with dignity). He has nothing to fear, and his psychological condition is described as the condition of a morally stable human. The researchers point out (Hood, 1996, p.58) that such behavior is attributed to those, who do not regret the committed crime (revenge, restoration of justice, etc.), or believe they are not guilty.
The death of Eduard Delacroix is painful and agonistic. It symbolizes the punishment for his purposeless life and the cruel murders that he had committed (both intentional, and unintentional).
Surely, if life imprisonment was the only alternative to capital punishment, and there was no amnesty, it is doubtless that the abolition of the death penalty would be greeted as much of an improvement. Joseph Redenbaugh (in Bedau, 1964, p. 407) himself once wrote: “Based on inquiries made in this prison, I am inclined to believe that few prisoners would object to capital punishment if they knew there was absolutely no chance of their ever being released”
Psychological Energy of Execution and Executed
This issue is more metaphysical than psychological, however, it helps to describe the psychological condition which surrounds the accused. It is clearly shown in the movie that the death of every condemned man is awaited. Some people among those who are present at the execution wish the executed person (especially Delacroix and John Coffey) suffered seriously.
Instead of curing society, capital punishment offers to cut away the ill elements by throwing criminals out of society, and even out of life. This process can not help to avoid further crimes, as it makes people focus on hatred, violence, and malice – the destructive forces that lead to committing other crimes. These forces, instead of being eliminated, are liberated from any restrictions, as an executed criminal, if really an evil human, can impose a much more destroying effect on mankind as an alive human. The fact is that this criminal goes on living in the minds of those, who were waiting for his death, and these people experience negative feelings and emotions that dazzle them. Consequently, they go on seeing criminals in the people, who are actually not guilty.
Moral Issue of Capital Punishment
Arguing on the matters of the psychological condition of the condemned men it is impossible not to touch upon the moral issues of Capital punishment. The behavior of some episodic characters points out the righteousness of the execution (attendees of the execution and lawyer, involved in Coffey’s case). However, the necessity of capital punishment is seriously doubted: it is shown on the example of Eduard Delacroix, who seemed to be able to reform, and on the brightest example of John Coffey, who was not guilty. The psychological images of these characters claim for watchers’ sympathy. This sympathy becomes a part of the allover psychological background of the movie.
The practical result on the living, surely, is far from the only issue of capital punishment. However, discussing the righteousness of capital punishment we can not miss such questions as: Can the deliberate taking of human life ever be justified? What are the long-range consequences to a society that tolerates or encourages legalized murder? And lots of others. These questions are not risen directly in the movie, however, the atmosphere and the feelings that the movie produces make the audience think these issues over.
The psychological condition of the analyzed characters can not be described as stable. Some of them are calm and accept their death with dignity. Eduard Delacroix is subjected to agonizing death because of an intentional mistake. John Coffey is glad to die, as he no longer wants to feel the pain of the world. However, the common feature that unites all three characters who were executed on the Old Sparky is the readiness to carry their punishment, whatever strict it be.
The psychological conclusion that should be made is that violence breeds violence. Thus, the statistics show that the average murder rate in the twelve states without the death penalty is essentially lower than the average homicide rate in the states where capital punishment is legal.
Bedau, Hugo Adam, ed. The Death Penalty in America An Anthology. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1964.
Elliott R. Law and Human Behavior Social Science Data and the APA: the Lockhart Brief as a Case in Point, 15, (1991), pp. 59-76.
Hood, Roger. The Death Penalty A World-Wide Perspective. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
Shipley, Thorne, ed. Classics in Psychology. New York: Philosophical Library, 1961.