Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

     Chances are you’ve been to or at least heard of, the Internet Movie Database, where you can look up huge amounts of information on past, present, and upcoming movies. On that site, there’s a list of the top 250 movies voted by users. For a while, “The Godfather” was at the top, but recently, the #2 spot took its place. What was that film? “The Shawshank Redemption”. And when I saw it for the first time a few years ago, I understood why. This is an extremely dark yet inspirational film, and it definitely carries with it themes that I can relate to as a Christian.

     Morgan Freeman narrates and plays Ellis “Red” Redding, a lifer sent to Shawshank Prison in Maine for murder. As he gets done with his twentieth year, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) comes in—a former banker accused of murdering his wife and the man she was cheating on, even though Dufresne claims he was innocent. From the start Andy strikes Red as odd:

RED (narrating): I must admit I didn't think much of Andy first time I laid eyes on him; looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. That was my first impression of the man. …He had a quiet way about him. …He strode like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place.

     And in the next several years that Andy is at Shawshank, he starts making a difference. At first, some rapist prisoners start abusing Andy and keep at it for two years. But during this time, he never loses it. One day, while he, Red, and other prisoners are putting tar on the top of a building, Andy takes a huge risk and recommends a finance plan to the harsh Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown), who in return gives to Andy and all his friends beer after work. This is a huge step in Andy’s new friendship with Red and the other prisoners. It also gives Andy opportunities to help other officers—and even Warden Norton (Bob Gunton)—with their financial issues. And finally, it encourages Hadley to beat up the head rapist and get him paralyzed, leaving Andy alone forever.

     In the years following, Andy works to improve his situation even more. He writes to the government to send books to expand Shawshank’s library and succeeds (one of the best scenes in the film is when he plays a Mozart record he has received through the prison loudspeakers). And he helps a new prisoner Tommy (Gil Bellows) finish his high school education. Tommy, it turns out, puts the pieces of his past experiences in prison and Andy’s experience together and realizes—he knows who killed Andy’s wife. Andy really is innocent. But the corrupt warden, who has benefited from Andy’s financial help, won’t help Andy with a release. He wants to keep Andy in Shawshank to help his own funds. So one day, after twenty years of being in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Andy can’t take it anymore. The next morning, the guards find that Andy’s cell is empty. Andy has escaped.

     How? I’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, hopefully you can see as well as I do the connection between Andy Dufresne and a certain Man in the Bible. Yes, that’s Jesus. Jesus Christ, whom the Apostle John refers to in his Gospel as “the Word”, “was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (1:2-3) He goes on to say in verse ten, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” This passage says that even though Jesus was fully God because he was with God at the creation of the world, he was also fully human because he was living in the world. And because Jesus is fully God, he lived without sin. He was the only human being to never sin. Andy Dufresne may be a sinner, but he was sent to Shawshank for a crime he didn’t commit. In that sense, he is as innocent as Jesus was when he died on the cross for our sins.

     Jesus also not only had several best friends in his disciples (just as Andy had Red and the other prisoners closest to him), but Jesus also challenged the authorities—particularly the Pharisees. Matthew 23 has Jesus declaring repeatedly: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” In “The Shawshank Redemption”, Warden Norton is a Pharisee. He tells Andy and other prisoners with him on their first day:

WARDEN: I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you'll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord—your [hide] belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.

     The warden may proclaim Christian faith to his prisoners, giving them Bibles and quoting Scripture during surprise inspections. But he lets his love of money corrupt him. And when Andy gets out, he takes with him money that he had essentially stolen from the warden while he had worked with him, along with files that show the warden’s actions that he sends to a local newspaper. Sure enough, after Andy’s escape, Shawshank Prison is investigated, Captain Hadley is arrested, and Norton kills himself in his office.

     But another aspect of faith that I found in the movie was how Andy actually escaped. Early on in his life sentence, Andy met Red and asked him for a small rock hammer. That way, he could keep himself busy making chess pieces out of rocks he found. But one night, he uses the rock hammer to carve his name in the cell wall, and a huge chunk of cement comes out of the wall. Until now, Andy had no hope of escaping. But now, there’s hope. And he tells the other prisoners this:

ANDY: There are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. …There's something inside... that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours.

RED: What are you talking about?

ANDY: Hope.

RED: Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.

     But that doesn’t stop Andy. And in the end, Andy escapes a rich man with an alias, Shawshank Prison is retaken over, and Red is accepted for parole, where he eventually finds Andy in Mexico. My prayer for you, the reader, is Paul’s prayer in Roman 15:13, that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”, and that you would constantly seek to be more like Jesus. As Andy writes Red near the end of the film: “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.”

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