Thursday, February 9, 2012

More Top Films: “The Shawshank Redemption”

Art does a pretty good job of pointing out what a messed up place the world is. Especially these days, when the culture has lost touch with any transcendence; when people have chosen to ignore any truth that goes beyond the material world. “The Shawshank Redemption” is an exceptional example of just such a story. It is a beautifully accomplished film with a well constructed plot about finding hope in a hopeless world. When one manages to get beyond the emotional response the story engenders, one is left wondering how it elicits such hope.

The mechanics of the story are simple. The prison is the world. Everyone in the world is guilty; if not of what the world accuses you of doing, then of something else. Life is punishment. Sometimes as a result of the guilt we bear; other times as a result of where we are and the evil all around us that we help create. In spite of all that guilt and evil, we are still human and that humanity drives some people to improve things—to discover and create decency. Above all else that decency is to be found in relationships and community. After a while, we become so adapted to this world that even though we are beings who long for freedom we are incapable of living as we were created to live. We fear freedom and cannot function outside of the prison.

Dufresne is different. In the first place, he is an innocent. (We love to tell stories about innocents. The same year that “Shawshank” was released gave us one of the best of these stories in “Forrest Gump.” These stories are always about humanity as it was intended, clashing with humanity as it has become. Ultimately, they are messianic stories, mirroring the ultimate innocent.) He does not belong in the prison world of guilt. He has an inner freedom that affects those around him. Everything he touches gets better.

Ultimately, the system becomes so tainted (even for a hell-hole such as this prison) that Dufresne decides to break free. The implication has been that everyone should respond to their individual experience of this prison-world as Dufresne did, improving things, and that we too can “chose” to free ourselves of this fallen world and transcend things when we want. The Shawshank redemption appears to be self-redemption. However, it is so nebulous that the hope it offers is no reality at all.

Humanism invites us to save ourselves, reality tells us we need help.

That being said, it is still an amazing film with a lot to say along the way.

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