Monday, June 9, 2014

How Does "The Shawshank Redemption" Teach Spirituality?

This one is in the same vein as the "Avengers" post I did awhile back.

"The Shawshank Redemption" has recently become a new favorite movie of mine.  It's a gripping movie with a great message of finding hope in a hopeless environment.  And that's only the beginning of the veiled spiritual references.  The adventures of the main character, Andy Dufresne, can be seen as a metaphor for the story of Jesus.

Andy is an innocent man accused of a crime he didn't commit, who gets thrown into the worst prison imaginable, much the way Jesus was a blameless man who went to execution.  However, like Christ, Andy refuses to crack under the strain of the setting he's in.  Also, like Christ, Andy is a man who wouldn't be readily accepted because of his background.  Andy was a banker, and any person in debt wouldn't want to be friends with a banker.  Jesus came from Nazareth, and people at the time believed that nothing good come from Nazareth.  The man who becomes Andy's best friend, a man named Ellis "Red" Redding, once commented, "I could see why some of the men took him for snobby.  He had a quiet way about him.  He had a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here."  So, almost immediately, you can see that Andy has chosen to be in the prison, but not of it.

He receives some harsh treatment from both the men who run the prison and the gang of perverts that inhabit the place.  But, as I said, he refuses to crack.  Andy is a smart man who decides to put his skills to work any way he can.

He first does this as he and his fellow prisoners are working to tar a roof.  Andy overhears the cruel captain of the guards complaining about how he just inherited a large sum of money but he will most likely be taxed out of most of it.  Andy risks life and limb to walk over to the man and give him financial advice.  Not only does he end up accepting Andy's help, he also agrees to supply each of Andy's friends with beer to drink to motivate them more on the job.  (Wasn't Jesus' first miracle supplying his friends with drinks?)

Andy's skills do not go unnoticed.  Soon, he's working in the library where his persistence earns the library both funds and books.  He also ends up doing taxes for all the guards from both Shawshank and other prisons, as well.

Unfortunately, what is used for good can also be used for evil.  The corrupt warden uses Andy's skills for some shady purposes.  He has Andy doing money laundering using fake identities for bank accounts.  Jesus' naysayers also tried to use his goodness against him.

One scene I would like to address was a very beautiful scene in which Andy locks himself in the warden's office and starts playing a portion of an opera over the loudspeaker.  Nobody knows what it's about, of course, but the men are captivated by the sheer beauty of the sound.  And just for a moment the other men have hope and a feeling of freedom.

Andy is punished, of course.  After he gets out, he comments that music is a good way to keep hope, to which the cynical Red responds, "Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope drives a man insane.  It has no place on the inside."

On that note, I would like to mention a character named Brooks Hatlen.  He was an old man who had been in Shawshank most of his life.  He had been there so long that he had become used to the prison.  He depended on it.  When he was finally released, he didn't know what to do with himself because nothing made sense to him.  He eventually hanged himself.  In a way, Brooks serves as sort of a tragic reminder of what happens when we become too deep in sin.  We become comfortable within the bounds of the life we're living, and the thought of leaving it behind can be terrifying.  But, it's necessary.

I would like to focus on the character of Red.  He's "a man who knows how to get things," which is how Andy first comes in contact with him.  The two men form a bond over a course of time.  And Andy works hard to inspire the same spirit of hope in Red that keeps him going.  "Get busy living, or get busy dying," Andy says.  At first, Red worries that this might be a suicide threat from Andy, until the next day when it's discovered that Andy has escaped (in a scene that very clearly brings to mind a picture of a certain empty tomb), and that isn't all he's done.  He's gone to all the banks with the dirty money and removed it all (Andy giveth, Andy taketh away) and exposed the corruption at the prison.  Red misses Andy, but knows that it's the way things should be.

One theme running through the movie that is sometimes used as a joke is how all the men see themselves as innocent victims of circumstance.  Red is the only man willing to admit he's a guilty man, and as a result he's the only one who is "saved", if you will.  Before Andy left, he gave Red instructions on where to find a certain hidden box and he also comments on his dream to go start a business in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  Red is eventually released on parole, and at first he seems to be walking the same path as Brooks.  The only thing that keeps him from ending it all is his promise to Andy.  He eventually finds the box with a note, telling him that "Hope is a good thing.  Maybe the best of things.  And no good thing ever dies."  Andy says he'll be waiting for Red over on the other side of the border "with the chess board waiting" because he'll need a partner with Red's skills.  This is very much like Christ's promise to be waiting for us on "the other side" with a better home for us.  The ending scene where the two men are finally reunited is thoroughly satisfying.

I should note, however, that while all this is well and good, I wouldn't recommend the movie for general audiences.  It contains much foul language (over a hundred profanities, approximately sixty of which are f-bombs), violence (brutal beatings and some implied homosexual rape), and the beginning of the movie contains a relatively explicit flashback of an affair Andy's wife was having with another man.  (This affair is said by one of the characters to be a sin, which it is, but still...)  Also, some Christians may be offended that the corrupt warden in the movie is portrayed as a religious hypocrite who uses the Bible for his own ill purposes.  But let's not forget that Christ's main opposers on Earth were also the hypocritical religious leaders of the day.   If I had to put an age range on this movie, I would say older teens and up.

I think I'll conclude this little article by giving some hopes similar to Red's words at the end of the movie.

I hope I can make it to Heaven.  I hope to see my friend and Savior and be embraced by Him.  I hope the Other Side is as wonderful as I've always imagined it.  I hope.