What’s true of The Shawshank Redemption is really true of most of the movies I discuss here: though my pieces tend to focus on a specific reading, there are infinite potential applications. Again, I usually just focus on one to keep my writing somewhat coherent, but with The Shawshank Redemption there’s just too much on the plate to ignore. And so, we’re going to spread this out over the course of a few meals. Consider this the first in a three-part series on the religious applications of The Shawshank Redemption.
This first piece will focus on the film’s central character, Andy Dufresne. The most obvious connection for him is the Christ metaphor. Note the way Andy brings light and hope into the lives of the prisoners of Shawshank, especially that of Red. Andy’s sermon on hope, on having places in your heart that prison that can’t touch, is gospel to the broken and weary souls like Red, or the audience. In this way, Andy functions like an avatar for Jesus Christ.
One of the features that most signals Andy as a Christ insert character is the way he treats his fellow inmates at Shawshank. Though these men are despised and forgotten by the world, Andy advocates for their dignity and wellbeing. We see this first when Andy trades his financial counseling to Captain Hadley for a pack of beers to share with the other inmates. And we see it again and again through episodes like Andy getting funding for the prison library or helping Tommy prepare for his college admissions exams. The world sees only convicts while Andy sees them as men deserving of dignity and respect. And through Andy’s continual ministering, he brings out the best in these men. It’s very in line with how Jesus ate and dined with sinners and downtrodden of his time, to the chagrin of the judgmental Pharisees.
Likewise, Andy’s wrongful imprisonment recalls the unfair trial that sentences him to death on the cross. This colors Andy’s entire imprisonment like a sort of atoning sacrifice, and his eventual escape from Shawshank into an act of resurrection.
This is where things get really interesting for Andy as a character. Though he is the central character in Shawshank Redemption, it isn’t really his story. It’s not that we grow along with Andy, rather we take strength from watching him hold on to his goodness despite the efforts to extinguish his light. He isn’t really the one who goes through a change of heart. Red is.
I’ll discuss this in more detail when we get to Red’s character, but even though Andy is our “main character,” it’s accurate to say that Red is the one with the character arc. Red begins the movie as a cynical man resigned to a lifetime behind stone walls, and he ends the film a free man with hope in his heart. The difference came from his embrace of an unassuming man who came into his life and told him there was life outside of his prison.
Hmm… I wonder what the application is there.
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The Shawshank Redemption and Virtue Part 1: Andy