Our man movie series will largely follow the list posted over at Art of Manliness, 100 Must-See Movies: The Essential Men's Movie Library. It is our goal to showcase the value of cinema as a platform for letting story teach us about our world. Culture shapes and molds much of how we view the definition of masculinity. Movies serve as a platform upon which a cast and crew can convey their worldview and message. Movie goers are subjected to these viewpoints, whether cognizant of that fact or not. Our purpose in reviewing the films in this series is to highlight the good and bad of the movie, cross-examining it with what the Bible has to say about manliness.
These posts are in conjunction with the Men's Roundtable Ministry of Grace Church in South Carolina. For more information on Grace Church and MRT, go here: Grace Church Men's Ministry
Today's post is written by my friend David Allston. David is newly married and serves at Grace's Downtown campus.
The Shawshank Redemption is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of all time. When I learned I would have the opportunity to write a review on the movie for Men’s Roundtable, my mind started racing with possibilities for topics. Shawshank is one of the richest, most meaningful stories you will encounter. For those of you who are fans of the movie, forgive the narrow subject matter of the review. For those of you who have yet to see the film, stop reading this, purchase the movie, and watch it today. You will thank me later and your life will be richer for the experience. For the purpose of this review, we will focus on the theme of hope in the film, and how the idea of hope, as demonstrated in The Shawshank Redemption, can be applied to our lives.
The story is told to us from the viewpoint of Ellis “Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman). The hero of the story is a man named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a mild-mannered banker who is wrongly accused of murdering his wife and her lover. He is sentenced to two life sentences and sent to Shawshank State Prison.
Although Andy is the hero of the story, I believe that we are meant to identify with Red as we watch the film. Red’s story of Andy reveals the hopelessness of Shawshank. The prison is a place that is without hope. The warden and the chief guard make it clear from the start that they are in charge and that any attempts on the part of the prisoners to resist will be met with deadly consequences. Shawshank is a place that robs the men of their humanity; it strips them of their hope. It is a wholly unnatural place, broken and devoid of hope.
Andy stands in stark contrast to the prison, because he refuses to give up hope. There is a part of him that he will not allow the prison to have. He will not allow the warden or the guards to take his hope from him.
In this way, Andy is removed from the rest of the prisoners and by extension, from us. For the purpose of our discussion, we are going to focus on Red and another character named Brooks, an elderly man who is the prison librarian.
We are introduced to Brooks early on, and we see from the beginning that he is a kind and gentle man. He has been in Shawshank for over fifty years. The first great shock of the movie comes when Brooks is granted parole and threatens to kill a fellow inmate in order to stay in the prison. Why would Brooks want to stay in such a horrible, unnatural place when he has the opportunity to have freedom? Red explains to the men that Brooks had become institutionalized. He is an institutional man who has become so accustomed to life in Shawshank and his place there that life outside the walls of prison does not make sense. Brooks gets out and struggles with adjusting to the real world. He works at a grocery store and lives at a halfway house but is unable to make sense of life. In the end, life on the outside is simply too much for Brooks, and he takes his own life.
Near the end of the film, Red is paroled. Not long before he is paroled, Red tells Andy that he has become an institutional man. He says that his identity is in Shawshank and is unsure how to function outside of prison.
As we watch Red struggle on the outside, we fear that he too will decide that it is impossible to make a life for himself and end his life as Brooks did. Thankfully Red does not give up. Instead, he sets out on an adventure into the unknown.
“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.”
The primary difference between Red and Brooks is the hope that Red receives from Andy, who has gone before him. Hope is the defining element in The Shawshank Redemption. Hope makes life worth living and changes uncertainty from a crushing weight to a freedom that gives wings.
So what does this mean for us? After all, most of us have never seen the inside of the prison. Most of us have always been free and we have no reason to believe that this will ever change. So what do we have to learn from Brooks and Red? The truth is that we live in a broken world. What we know as natural is wholly unnatural. We were created for freedom and a life with Christ.
The sad truth is that even though many of us believe this, we have become institutionalized. We have become attached to the unnatural world around us. We find our identity in what we do and who we are here and now. We take hope in our jobs, money, relationships, or status. We have become comfortable and made our home with things that are not meant to give us life. We hear God’s promises for us and we are afraid to follow because we have grown accustomed to the lives we know. We long for prison when freedom is being offered. Why? Because freedom is unknown and scary. Prison, we know. Prison is safe and comfortable. What would it take for us to strike out into the unknown? What would it take for us to abandon the life we know for the life God offers us? It takes faith in the one who has gone before. It takes trust in the Savior who has made a way for us. He is the faithful One who has blazed a path and waits for us at the end of the journey. We must trust Him and hope in His goodness and His faithfulness to carry us to the Undiscovered Country.
Watching The Shawshank Redemption always drives me to reevaluate my attachment to the things that are fleeting. It forces me to look to the future and the hope that Christ holds out to me.
Will I be like Brooks and decide that the journey ahead is too much? Will I long to return to the chains that held me? Or will I be like Red and trust in the One who has gone before? Will I give up the familiar and strike out? What will you do?
- David Allston