Can a film which is rated R for a host of obscenities, produced by an entire cast and crew of nonbelievers, and which paints the only Christian as an evil hypocrite be the greatest Christian movie ever? Absolutely! Here are 5 reasons why the Shawshank Redemption is the greatest Christian movie of all time.
1. Mass Public Appeal.
Polls matter. Who cares that it was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. What do the majority of people think? According to the Internet Movie Database the Shawshank Redemption ranks as the number one movie of all time. Of course this doesn’t mean its everyones favorite movie but it does mean that its consistently among the top movies for the vast majority of people. Ask a person what their favorite movies are and chances are the Shawshank Redemption will rank at the top or near the top of that list.
2. Retelling the Story of Jesus
Watch for this! Andy’s unexpected escape is a clear and intensional allusion to the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Oh my holy God.” Just as Red and others go looking for Andy’s dead body, the disciples went looking for Christ’s. Just as Red and the guards found the cell empty and Andy alive so too did Jesus’ followers. But the comparisons don’t end here.
The entire film is meaningful in light of the gospel. Andy’s resurrection redeems Red, “the only guilty man in Shawshank.” In a clear reversal of its prison film genre (think of Cool Hand Luke or Escape from Alcatraz), the Shawshank Redemption depicts prisoners dreading NOT imprisonment, BUT freedom. And they dread it as they would death itself. Brooks, for instance, tries to kill Haywood when he finds he’s been paroled and later kills himself because of it. The prisoners of Shawshank are “Institutionalized.” Freedom for them means only to be empty and alone.
But there is life outside, a point Andy, Shawshank’s only innocent man, wants his fellow prisoners to see. He offers them rare and extraordinary reminders of the outside world, like a beer on a hot roof, angelic music over the prison’s speakers, and a library, built by breaking down the walls of the prison. In the process, Andy suffers greatly for these acts. But its Andy’s ultimate miraculous escape and life on the outside which means hope for Red. Because Andy lives Red will live also. He waits for Red, working the wood of a fishermen’s boat. All before a eternal sea.
3. Doesn’t Hide the Bad News
Should brutality, suggestive rape, and a constant stream of vulgarity cause us to shy away from this film? The Shawshank Redemption is rated R and for good reason. But so was the Passion of the Christ. And as with the later film, we find that the beauty of God’s redemption is often powerfully revealed in triumph over such evil things. The Shawshank Redemption shows the world in all its wretchedness and in so doing reveals the answer to be the more powerful.
4. Mirrors the Teaching of Jesus
So you think the Christian message should be more overt. Turn your attention to Jesus use of parables. Didn’t he teach in a way that concealed as much as it revealed? The parables were a kernel of judgement (Mark 4:11-12). Ones understanding and acceptance of them demonstrated who you were. Like the seed in the parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20), a person is judged by the way in which the word takes root. Like the parables of Jesus, the Shawshank Redemption is seed looking for the right soil.
5. A Common Reference for Believers and Nonbelievers.
Because the Shawshank Redemption is well loved by Chriristians and non-Christians alike its the perfect starting point for a conversation about the Good News. With peoples knowledge of the Bible ever diminishing and cultural references becoming all the more readily available, the Shawshank Redemption is an easily accessible gospel track. Like Don Richardson’s Peace Child or Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, its evidence of God’s continuing witness to a cultural that appears to have rejected Him.
If you’re looking for more secular films to dialogue with friends about your faith check out 10 Resurrection Films to Watch Before Easter.
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