Reviewed by: Debra L. Lewis
“The Shawshank Redemption” is one of those movies that I wished I’d seen on the big screen. Thanks to videos, however, all was not lost. Whether intentional or not, this film is about grace and hope, as well as the redemption that can occur even in the most dark and degrading corners of our world. Conceived and produced by the secular film community, this engrossing film stands as one of the most entertaining, thought-provoking dramas of this century.
But, it’s a film for mature audiences. It takes us to a setting that’s disturbing, uses language that’s raw, showcases supporting characters who are far from ideal role models, and reforms not one villain by the ending credits. It deals with sex and violence, but never in a prurient way. There are numerous brutal, occasionally fatal, beatings. No scene is foisted onto us to incite our own lust or rage, but clearly shows this type of action as harmful and wrong. The movie’s theme is redemption from a hellish place; it couldn’t have been made without these elements. I highly recommend watching it with an older teenager and discussing it together in the light of many of the points I bring up in this review.
The hero, Andy Dufresne, is wrongly accused of killing his wife and receives two life sentences. Steadily and quietly in prison, he wards off the bitterness against that injustice and the further hardships he suffers by doing good for others, even those that despise him. The narrator is Red, a hardened and resourceful inmate who repeatedly warns his friends that “Hope is a dangerous thing.”
The prison warden is a hypocritical fanatic who uses the Lord, the Bible, and the people for his own scheming, murdering purposes. Don’t let this characterization turn you off. It’s not the hackneyed Hollywood cheap-shot believers have come to expect. To make this moving allegory work, it’s a necessary depiction. In the best-seller of all time, a blameless Hero’s chief antagonist was the conservative religious coalition of the day that carried out a sinister plot in order to maintain its own political power. The picture is a truthful, thoughtful warning for Christian America today and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
In fact, there are many similarities between the heroes of “The Shawshank Redemption” and The Gospel. The central characters are both wrongly accused. One receives two life sentences and the other is crucified. Neither are readily esteemed by their contemporaries. Andy’s a banker—how can the average indebted-up-to-their-neck consumer sympathize with that? Jesus is a Nazarene—how can any good thing come from Nazareth? (John 1:45,46). While Andy is certainly flawed, the good work he does while in prison actually serves a ruthless political end that ends up holding him captive. Jesus was ridiculed and executed by the same people He came to free.
While the characters are believable and the script excellent, the cinematography provides the important “view” in the film. Thick walls, imposing fences, and confined spaces remind us of the oppression. The guards relentless marching and the heavy bars slamming open and slamming shut reinforce it. Dull, chipped walls in every room surround the dulled, chipped lives of utterly hopeless men. But the camera doesn’t linger too long in this kind of darkness.
Hope is scattered throughout this excellent film. Italian opera broadcast over loudspeakers and senate appropriations for library books. An ice cold one down your throat and the thought of a “place of no memory” (Hebrews 8:12). High school equivalency exams and a harmonica. Alexander Dumas and Rita Haworth.
Hope triumphs gloriously in the end. It only takes 19 years. Andy escapes the hard way and makes it possible for his friend to leave an easier way. A note to Red reads, “I’ll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready for you.” Strikingly similar to Christ’s words to us, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2,3)
In Christian theology, our Hope is certain and our good future already begun because of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—pictures you can’t miss in “The Shawshank Redemption” .