The Shawshank Redemption’s 20th Anniversary
Why Christians Love This Movie
Before I get into the meat of this article, I’d like to offer a little teaser: this summer I had the joy of visiting the prison where they filmed 90% of the movie The Shawshank Redemption, and I’ve included a few of my pictures from the visit at the bottom of the article, in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary. In addition, the video above features some rare deleted scenes from the movie.
IMDB ranked The Shawshank Redemption as the greatest movie of all time. Other film organizations and sites have ranked it in the top five.
Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker accused of murdering his wife. The jury finds him guilty — even though he swears adamantly that he is innocent — and the judge gives him a life sentence. The rest of the film walks us through all of his experiences in Shawshank Prison where, as the title of the film implies, he eventually finds redemption after befriending an inmate named Red (Morgan Freeman).
There’s much more to the story than that, but I’m being vague about the plot purposefully. In case you haven’t seen it and you plan to, I don’t want to spoil anything for you.
Be warned: it’s an R-rated movie, thanks to its gritty, violent, sometimes queasy depiction of prison life. Yet, despite all of the dark, unedifying-to-the-spirit content, Christians love this movie — me included.
So why has this film captured the hearts of so many people in the faith-based crowd? After all, besides being R-rated, the only character claiming to be a Christian in the film (though he clearly does not have the love of Christ in his heart) is the warden of Shawshank Prison, and he’s the villain — and a particularly evil one at that.
In addition, the filmmakers based the movie off of a Stephen King novel. King isn’t exactly known as an apologist for the Christian faith.
So what gives?
I think the answer is simple. The author and the filmmakers touched on one of the most potent truths in human existence. It’s a truth that God has quietly sewed into the fabric of Creation and human nature: we were made for something bigger and better than this finite, evil-stained world.
There’s a divine restlessness that we all feel. Ecclesiastes 3:11 touched on it when it declared that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (NIV). It’s in our nature to crave something beyond everything we see around us. Until we find the only true freedom there is — Jesus Christ and the eternal life and forgiveness that He has secured for anyone who believes in Him — we are all living in a spiritual prison.
Once you watch the film, it doesn’t take long to see how the film can work as a symbol for this deep hunger for the eternal — for an everlasting, final freedom from all the suffering, sin, and trials of this world. In the film we witness all of the suffering that Andy endures in prison. Yet, in the midst of it, bright epiphanies of hope, grace, and joy come to him and give him strength. But those moments are just the beginning. Ultimately, those things point his heart to something far greater, something beyond the walls of the prison, and in this great hope — a hope that his friend Red calls “dangerous” — he finds his “Shawshank redemption.”
People in my life have used the word “dangerous” or even “crazy” when I talk about my hope in Christ and the assurance of eternal life that I have because of the Cross. But during moments of discouragement, there have been many times when the powerful truths from The Shawshank Redemption have returned to my mind and filled my heart with renewed strength.
It’s amazing how God can use something as simple as a movie. And, 20 years later, this movie is still encouraging me.
The following pictures were taken during my recent visit to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH, where they filmed The Shawshank Redemption. These photos include shots of the prison’s exterior and interior, some of the movie swag that the studio left behind at the prison, the room where they filmed the scene with Brooks where he carves his name in the wood (that room is actually an old administrative room in the prison), one of the movie props (the framed picture with the Bible verse), and a view of Andy’s tunnel that he tried to dig in his cell wall. (Besides the pics below, you can view all of my pics from the visit — and there’s a lot of them — at this blog post.)