The Shawshank Redemption

Posted: September 18, 2012 by jperritt in Drama
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Often times when I see a certain film there’s needed time for reflection before deciding wether or not I enjoyed it; not so with The Shawshank Redemption. Of course reflection over the years has caused me to more fully enjoy the depth and greatness of it, but it has proved to be one of those rare films where I consciously thought,This is a uniquely great film, while watching it. It is easily in my top 10 favorite films and is on AFI’s top 100 movies of all time (#72).

I must give the common disclaimer that the film is rated R, and rightly so. It is set in a prison, therefore, the language used by the inmates is filthy and there are some other disturbing scenes that take place.

With those cautions in mind, this is a film I would recommend. Now, it has been quite some time since I’ve seen this film, so I’m going on memory here. Please be gracious if you can recite every line of the film from memory. Some of the themes I enjoy are friendship, loyalty, justice/injustice.

Something that has always intrigued me about this film is the fact that Stephen King wrote it. The man who is known for horror and aliens dressed like clowns, writes such an excellent drama (he also wrote the short stories that Stand By Me and The Green Mile are based on). I am not only surprised that King would excel at another genre, but some of the theology that makes its way into his writing has been interesting to me. Redemption, being one of those themes and the one I want to highlight today.

Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) is the supporting character and provides the narration of the film (this was before it was cool to get Freeman to narrate every movie). As some of the guys are talking in the yard one day, introducing themselves to Andy Durfresne (Tim Robbins), and telling of their various backgrounds, one thing they all share is the fact that they ‘didn’t do it.’ That is, each of them were innocent in their own eyes. Most, if not all, of the inmates knew they had committed a crime but it was apparent that they actually started buying into the lie they had been telling. You could tell they had been making a profession of innocence for so long that their hearts had become calloused to their own guilt.

One interesting aspect to Red was the fact that he admits his guilt. As Andy assumes to hear the same testimony from Red, he breaks the mold, exclaiming, “I’m the only guilty man in Shawshank.”

This is a similar profession of the Christian. The world tends to think of us as the other inmates in Shawshank. They think we are people who testify to the fact that ‘we didn’t do it’, however, we are people who did do it. Not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to call. Part of being a Christian is understanding and affirming what is said in Romans 3:10-12, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

It is a contradiction for the Christian to profess repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, without knowing, believing, affirming, and exclaiming that we are guilty. We are prisoners to our sin apart from this.

And yes, even after a true profession of faith in Jesus, we are still prone to our prison inmate lifestyle. Which is portrayed through the characters of Brooks and Red. They are both released from their bondage in Shawshank, but don’t know how to function. They both want to go back to prison. There are comforts there. Brooks even attempts to murder one of his friends, prior to his release from Shawshank, just because he doesn’t know how he will live outside of prison. Is this not true of the Christian? Old habits die hard and our indwelling sin keeps calling us back. But, as Red says, we must ‘get busy living or get busy dying.’

The ‘living’ we must be doing is living under a constant humility of our sin, a boastful assurance in the finished work of Jesus Christ and strength through the gift of the Spirit. Therefore, Red is a character that should resonate with the Christian. We are guilty, we are prisoners, we are free, and we must get busy living or get busy dying. We could say that the testimony of Ellis Boyd Redding echoes that of the Christian. He appears to be one who has been bathed in the blood of Christ. No wonder they call him Red.

  1. This is also one of my favorite films.
    Although I wouldn’t recommend that people read his horror books, I went through a faze when I read all of Stephen Kings’ novels. They are dark, and scary, and left me afraid of the dark for years, but his horror novels also deal with themes like redemption, sacrifice for others, etc. Very well written.

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