Shawshank Redemption (1994)


Our Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewer: Shannon H.


Prison is most often a scary place; being forced into confinement with an potentially unpredictable cell mate, getting on the bad side of a prison guard, or just the idea of being shut out from the rest of society for years on end can frighten anyone. Some individuals in the prison system change for the better and others do not. And some individuals make the best of their time by improving the lives of others and making prison life a little bit better.

Banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to two life terms in prison for the death of his wife and her lover; he maintains his innocence throughout his trial but is found guilty anyway due to circumstantial evidence. Andy is then sent to Shawshank Prison. There, he and other new prisoners are greeted by Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) who tells them that they are to never take the Lord’s name in vain and issues each of them a Bible. The men are promptly “cleaned” and sent to their cells.  At first, Andy is silent. Unlike some of the prisoners, he isn’t violent or foul-mouthed but very obedient and respectful.  He doesn’t speak to anyone but eventually warms up to a man named Red (Morgan Freeman) who is seen as the go-to guy for smuggling cigarettes and other items into the prison. The two of them become friends and Andy is welcomed into Red’s social circle. He asks Red for two things (although not at the same time); a rock hammer and a poster of Rita Hayworth. Although Red questions Andy’s intentions for the rock hammer, he manages to smuggle it in to him and Andy uses it to carve rocks as a hobby.

Andy starts to win favor with the administration by offering to do IRS paperwork for a prison guard in exchange for beer for some of his fellow prisoners while resurfacing the roof of the license plate factory. Eventually, prison guards from Shawshank and other prisons start coming to Andy to have their taxes done by him for free. His ingenuity leads to newfound responsibilities and then to the discovery that someone in a position of authority over him is corrupt. When a brutal murder occurs, Andy must discern how to prove his innocence, expose the warden as a crook and find a way out of prison.  

The film is rated R for very good reason. There is a great deal of profanity including at least 20 uses of the f-word, 35 uses of the s-word, 10 abuses of deity and other curse words. Sexual content and nudity are also present. A couple are seen frantically taking their clothes off and making love against a front door (only bare shoulders are seen). There are a few references to prison rape; a man is occasionally beaten for rejecting the advances of another prisoner. A man tells his friend that he made love to his girlfriend under a tree and then asked her to marry him. There are a few references to oral sex (mostly as threats). Brief side and rear nudity are seen with prisoners taking showers. A group of men hoot and whistle during a showing of Gilda featuring Rita Hayworth (Rita’s bare shoulders are seen as she is wearing a strapless gown, which gets the attention of the prisoners). Violence is moderate as men are constantly being beaten by other prisoners or guards. A few are beaten to the point where they spend time in the infirmary. Men are held up at knifepoint a couple of times. A gang of “homosexual” prisoners constantly beat up another prisoner for rejecting their advances. A prisoner is shot in the back by a security guard (gunshot wounds are seen but nothing graphic). A man commits suicide in his office by shooting himself (a gunshot wound is seen). Another hangs himself in his room in a halfway house. There are some disgusting references to relieving oneself. A man is seen standing at a urinal doing his business. A man escapes prison by breaking into and crawling through a sewage pipe; he vomits in disgust while doing this (the scene is gross but the vomiting itself is not graphic in nature). A man known for bringing in contraband items to prison mentions that he is able to obtain not only cigarettes but marijuana as well.

Spirituality does play a factor in The Shawshank Redemption. One of the few things issued to the prisoners at Shawshank is a Bible and as mentioned earlier, taking the Lord’s name in vain is prohibited by Warden Norton. However, it is clear that the warden acts like a hypocrite; he presents himself as a good Christian to his prisoners but has no problem with criminal behavior and using profanity (interestingly enough, he has a sign in his office that says “His judgement cometh and that right soon” which plays an important part near the end of the film). Andy, the only seemingly virtuous prisoner in Shawshank goes to creative lengths to expose the warden and his criminal activities. This reminds me of how Christ exposed the Pharisees and the money-changers in the temple as religious hypocrites. Aside from the hypocrisy issue, there are also themes of hope, redemption, and salvation. Red and Andy find hope and solace in doing good things for their fellow prisoners and in turn, make prison life better for their friends. During the film, Warden Norton tells Andy that “salvation is from within.” While some may interpret that to be a New Age concept, others might see it as that only a person can change that person’s life for the better. Christians like myself can see it in the sense that only we can accept Christ in our hearts for ourselves to be saved and not for anyone else. 

Above all, The Shawshank Redemption is an incredible film. It is virtually flawless (save for a few continuity errors) and the acting is stellar and the script and storyline excellent. Both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman shine as the title characters. Not surprisingly, it earned Oscar nominations (but it didn’t win anything). Aside from the film’s excellent production, it also has a message that redemption is possible despite the odds. We as Christians should realize that all things are possible with God and we can be a light unto the world by living every day for Christ just as Andy Dufresne made life at Shawshank tolerable for his fellow prisoners. Although I wouldn’t recommend this to children, I would recommend this to a Christian audience that isn’t too sensitive to violence or profanity.