The next movie on the list is the ‘Shawshank Redemption”. Since I had to go out of state for a wonderful trip to Tennessee, I had to rent the movie and watch it outside of class. All my classmates were telling me what a wonderful film it was, so I didn’t want to ruin it by watching merely the beginning and end.
To offer a quick summary, the film is mainly about two characters; Red and Andy. Both have been incarcerated in the jail Shawshank for murder. Of the two, Red is a vet of the institution (in the end of 40 years), and Andy is a ‘fresh fish’ (a new comer). As a backdrop we have the jail-system (crude and brutish), and the warp-minded and violent guards that run the cells. In addition to the guards we have a very two-faced warden, who wears a mask of religion as a Christian while accepting bribes and committing sins. This warden carried the appearance as a Christian, yet uses this to cover up the acts of various sins from laundering money, to murder, to lying, coveting, and almost all other major sins. Throughout the film one of our major characters (Andy) tries to find normalcy in a place where that is stripped away from you. Andy performs some bizarre and unexplainable actions for the mere feeling of normalcy. From shaping rocks, to creating a library, to taxes, to helping someone get their high school degree. He takes upon his various jobs that are found in the real world, and all-throughout Red is by his side, amused and impressed.
Now when I began evaluating the film for religious themes, it was obviously not as apparent as Kundun and Narnia. These last two films have had their religious themes tucked behind the story. Acts of Worship and Shawshank have merely hand religion sprinkled throughout the film; in what appears to be ineffective, empty, and hypocritical. In Acts, Christianity’s presence is all throughout the film but willfully ignored. In Shawshank, Christianity is used in a hypocritical manner.
That was the obvious backdrop of religion in the film, but what role did faith, the human condition, and redemption/salvation play in them? For that I had to look at the main character. It made me wonder who, in Shawshank, did the film really focus on? Was the message about Andy and his life in the ‘system’, or rather was the film focused on Red and his true redemption? Also, was Red redeemed through the corrupt institution he spent the majority of his life in, or rather was he changed through the actions of Andy? Through the offering of normality?
In both films two character play the role of the influencer. In Acts, Digna tried influencing and correcting Alex’s behaviors, while in Shawshank it’s Andy’s efforts to Redeem Red from the institutional life through normalcy and his offer to join him on the beach. Digna pays with her life; almost a Christ like sacrifice except one unwilling, and this payment is enough to fix Alex’s will and force her into seeking redemption from her drugs (which she does by calling her mom and becoming ‘saved’). Red on the other hand lives with the fear of being a useless old institutionalized nothing, and appears to take the same fate as the suicidal Brooks; yet it is the action of his faith in fulfilling a promise to Andy that leads him back to the man and the beach. It is Digna’s and Andy’s efforts that lead to Alex and Red from being freed from their deadly futures.
An interesting thing to note is the background of the film. In both movies we have an extremely unfriendly and harsh environment. From one of drugs and disease (Acts), to one of rape and corruption (Shaw. It is these environments in which we expect to find religion. It’s these harsh environment that we expect to hear the call of the human condition. Religion in itself is usually a system or belief that works to free and relieve one from pain, suffering, death, and his/her’s envrioment; yet in both films it appears either masked by hypocrisy, or numb and ineffective. After thinking about it, I was wondering if religion was playing a role at all, or if the focus was not on the role it was playing but on the role it was NOT playing. What if Alex would have accepted through faith the Christian message her parents were trying to offer early on? What if the Warden was as much a Christian on the inside as he appeared on the inside? Would any of our struggles have taken place? Would Alex have needed Digna’s death? Would Andy have found the desire to leave? Where in our first two films Religion plays the center role, the last two may focus more on the role religion does NOT play. The last two films may rather focus on the situations religion were designed for: suffering, disease, struggle, redemption, and hope. Yet in it’s place we find the human condition to live. In religions place we find the compassion of Digna, and the ingenious and hopeful efforts of Andy. Where man is considered subhuman (in the ghettos as a crackhead and in the slums of a jail) religion isn’t doing it’s job. Yet it’s not a testimony to the ineffective use of religion, but rather a testimony to that faith and compassion that adorns humanity. Alex’s faith leads her to spiritual and emotional salvation (thanks to that turning point at Digna’s death), while Red’s faith in Andy leads to a physical and emotional one as well (the physical and spiritual journey of finding the box under the rock). It is the compassionate efforts of two individuals that initially free two tormented people from a future clearly foreshadowed to be death.
Maybe it’s not about the role religion is NOT playing, but rather about two individuals who play the role OF religion.