The Shawshank Redemption is a film directed by Frank Darabont. It stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. It was released in 1994, and it was based on the Stephen King short story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. It is currently the highest user rated movie on IMDB.com ,with a 9.2 out of 10 and over 500,000 votes. There is no question, this is one of the best movies to come out in the past two decades. But what is it about this film that makes it so… good? Certainly, it is perfectly directed and wonderfully acted, but how is it able to capture the attention and adoration of such a vast audience? After watching it over a dozen times (probably well over 20 times) I have found that the film borrows heavily from the Bible, and more specifically, the accounts of the life of Jesus found in the gospels. If any of you are rolling your eyes, I ask you to consider the following evidence and observations. As I go along I will assume that you have seen the film. If you haven’t, you should do so immediately.
- Like the gospel accounts, Shawshank is told, not by the main character, but by one who knew him personally. In the Bible, Jesus asks his followers, “What do you say about me?” Likewise, Andy asks Red, “What do you say?” In both cases the subject is personal, and the narrator’s relationship to the protagonist is a critical element of the story.
- Andy Dufresne is sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit. Like Jesus, Andy enters a condemned world an innocent man.
- The crime that Andy is accused of is the murder of his adulterous wife and her lover. In the Bible, the Church is often refered to as the Bride of Christ. When the bride chooses to “go to bed” with the world, she commits adultery in the eyes of God. Also, Andy’s wife is murdered immediately following her affair, which fits with the Biblical teaching about sin and death. Genesis 2:17 promises death for sinning. Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death. James 1:15 says,” after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” It is said over and over in a number of ways, but the point is the same. Red even states, “They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take.” The condemned are robbed of life.
- When Red speaks of his first impression of Andy he says, “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.” In the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of Jesus when he writes, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus was a poor carpenter, and not a stunning specimen.
- The Warden believes heavily in discipline, the Bible, and judgment. He attends church groups and encourages his inmates to read the Bible. When he meets Andy, he tells him, “Salvation lies within.” But the Warden is an evil character. He is a hypocrite and a liar and a murderer. The Warden is like those religious people who put on a holy face, but are dead on the inside. He does not love God, and uses religion for his own ends. In his office hangs the verse, “His judgment cometh and that right soon.” The Warden is subject to this judgment at the end of the film when he takes his own life. So even though he does not live by what the Bible says, he is still subject to what it says.
- Red says, “Andy was as good as his word.” Jesus is the Word of God. And only God is good. Jesus lived as he taught.
- When Andy tells Red about his elaborate means of cleansing the Warden’s dirty money, Red replies, “Did I say you were good? You’re a Rembrandt!” First, Andy cleanses the dirty money as Jesus cleanses the world of sin. Second, Rembrandt created many biblical paintings, and a number were of Jesus. Jesus is a Rembrandt in this way.
- There is a theme throughout the film of “coming out clean”. In a grand sense, Andy and Red come out of jail cleansed men. Also, Andy crawls through 500 yards of feces and “came out clean on the other side.” And, once again, Andy cleans the Warden’s dirty money, which he uses in his new life.
- “Everyone’s innocent in here”, is a phrase repeated throughout the film. If the world knew and accepted its sin and condemnation, it would turn to God in repentance. Jesus says, “The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts–so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them.” (John 12:40) Only after Red has grown close to Andy does he admit to being “the only guilty man in Shawshank.” Similarly, when Peter recognizes who Jesus is, he cries, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”(Luke 5:8).
- The Warden has Andy do “the hardest time there is.” This suffering is like that of Jesus who endured the cross and the weight of humanity’s sin.
- Andy uses posters of women to cover up his escape route. Remember, it was a woman (his wife) who caused him to end up in prison. Through a woman, Andy faced condemnation. And through a woman, Andy received salvation. In the Bible, Eve is the first to sin. Through the woman, sin and death enter the world. Then, Mary gives birth to the son of God. Through the woman, salvation comes into the world. Also, you can see the tunnel that Andy crawls through as a birth canal of sorts. Jesus says that people must be “born again” of the spirit in order to have life.
- Andy creates a character on paper, which he later adopts as himself when he escapes. This act of creation through the word reflects the creation of God’s word at the beginning of time. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God…Through Him all things were made” (John 1:1-3). The word becomes reality.
- Through the word, Andy also condemns the Warden. He kept all of his books, and he handed over all of the evidence when he escaped. Note that this word only has power once Andy has escaped. Likewise, the power of God’s word is found in the resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection, there is no hope of life for the believers, and there is no reason to trust God’s word. Christ is alive, and that’s why His word matters.
- If Andy had not escaped and started a new life, Red would have no hope once he was released. If prison is the world, then we can view the world outside of prison as the afterlife. His friend is alive and well, and that gives Red a reason to live. Jesus is alive and well, and that gives his friends a reason to live, now and into eternity.
- Consider that Redemption begins with RED. The character that receives redemption is Red. Red is redeemed by his friend, Andy. Red is also the color of blood. And it is by Christ’s sacrifice and spilled blood that mankind is redeemed.
- Andy tells Red in a letter, “No good thing ever dies.” This is the promise found throughout the Bible. Only God is good. And God is eternal.
- When Red has his third and final parole hearing, he has accepted the guilt of his crime. He says not a day goes by that he doesn’t regret it. But, he also says that he doesn’t give a damn what happens to him. He has accepted the truth of his own guilt, and he has stopped trying to save himself. He gives up his life, and in this way, he receives it. He is released. Jesus says,” Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)
- Andy escapes to the pacific ocean, which is a place that has no memory. The Bible states, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25).
The final thing I want to leave you with is my thoughts regarding the end of the film. These are the final words spoken by Red.
I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
Red walks toward Andy as he works on his boat, and the two look at each other and smile. Then they share an embrace as dear friends. This is the hope of those who live and die for Jesus Christ. When it’s all said and done, and this world melts away, we will stand face to face with the one who taught us how to live, and who gave us life. The relationship between Red and Andy is far closer to the relationship between Jesus and his followers than what many people perceive. To many, God is distant and cold. He is words on a page, or a created character. He is a dead figure in a dead religion. But this is not the case.
Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’