Sunday Matinee #19 The Shawshank Redemption
Get busy living, or... (fill in the blank, you know this one!)
Hi, big thinkers and movie goers. Welcome to a new R-Rated Movie Club entry. I hope you had a good weekend and wish you well as you prepare for the week to come. I appreciate your readership as I have fun with this creative outlet. There’s a new Coming Attractions for you today, here we go.
Coming Attractions: Feature Presentation Preview
A Simple Plan is coming up later this month. My design work on this essay started in the winter and now it’s spring time and I have to say, it’s a very different experience watching a winter setting when the weather has finally hit the 70s near where the movie was shot! Here’s a brief excerpt from the upcoming Feature Presentation:
I started designing this essay during the winter season of Minnesota. On one hand, it wasn’t a great idea, because that meant it was cold and snowy outside and it was cold and snowy inside. We had a long winter, too, so even when I tried to watch the movie again in April, boom, here comes the snow. Seeing all of the stark contrast between white snow and black or dark landscape in the movie and in the world around me helped me realize two important things:
Color as symbolism plays a role in this movie.
Hank doesn’t wear enough winter hats.
It’s cold, Hank. Put on a hat. You don’t like that Lou accused you of “putting on airs”? Fine. Put on a hat.
At least Hank often wore a scarf when he went outdoors. Most times, the scarf was red and gray, a streak of color in the midst of a black-white palette. In one scene at the family farm, Hank wears his red and gray scarf while Jacob wears a jacket that nearly matches the design, covering his whole body. This movie doesn’t have a lot of color, so there’s something about this that intrigues me.
Red is an aposematic color in nature. Much of the palette of the forest, the marsh, the mountains is green, brown, and gray. Add in a splash of red or yellow and this is nature’s way of saying look out! Danger. It’s a signal from an animal to any would-be predator that I don’t taste good, I may be toxic, or I may even be poisonous to you, so just leave me alone. Wasps are a flying warning sign. Poison dart frogs are a well-named, beautiful warning sign. Even ladybugs are saying shoo fly, don’t bother me.
In the movies, red is often the color symbolizing passion, temptation, and high emotions. Dorothy’s ruby red slippers in The Wizard of Oz. Anger in Inside Out. Jessica Rabbit’s sparkling dress in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. The delicious red apple in Snow White. The girl in the red dress in Schindler’s List. The red front door of the “perfect” home in American Beauty. The lightsabers wielded by every Sith Lord in the Star Wars movies. In these and so many examples, when red is introduced on screen, it’s about heightening the tension, bringing attention to the emotion of the scene.
In A Simple Plan, red does both what it usually does in the movies while emulating what it does in nature. It symbolizes high emotions, tension, temptation, while also serving as a warning sign. Hank gets cut on his forehead by one of the crows. Still brings the money out of the plane, anyway. Hank wears a streak of red in his scarf because he’s in a little danger, but not as much danger as Jacob ultimately will be. Dwight has a red scarf and a strand of red blood trailing from his nose before Hank suffocates him. And of course, on the fateful night in Lou and Nancy’s house, the glow of the red light of that little tape recorder.
Over and over, Hank is given warning signs to stop (oh, stop signs are red!). He keeps going. Even when confronted with actual, factual red blood, he keeps going. Part of experiencing any story, be it a book or movie or a parable in scripture, is putting yourself in the shoes of the characters and asking yourself what would you do? Would you stop? Would you continue? …Would you be smarter? There’s a reason most of Jesus’s parables seem simple on the surface but end up more complex: nothing in life is black and white. There’s lots of gray. And red helps wake us up to that fact.
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Quotes With Notes
Full Text: Acts 1:6-14 (Revised Common Lectionary)
7th Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2023)
Sign up for a free course at EnterTheBible.org to learn more.
Context: The first chapter of Acts echoes the finale of the Gospel of Luke leaves off. The disciples are with the resurrected Jesus and he tells them he will ascend and they will be left with the Holy Spirit at their backs. In this powerful moment, they witness Jesus ascend to the heavens. Then they hear voices and turn back down.
11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) | Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia Pictures
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, James Whitmore
Written by Frank Durabont, Stephen King (novella) | Directed by Frank Durabont
Context: After being released from decades of incarceration in a violent, corrupt prison, Red finds life on the outside very difficult. He remembers an old promise he kept to his best friend in prison, Andy, and comes across a message to him, an invitation to come and find him. Red resolves to do so, packs his things, and leaves. As he does, he repeats his friend’s advice.
Red: Get busy living or get busy dying. That's goddamn right!
Today’s entry has quite a bit of spoilers. The movie part is about the very end of the movie. The scripture part is about the very end of the gospel stories of Jesus. In this story, Jesus has overcome death on a cross and is resurrected. He tells the disciples they will encounter the Holy Spirit and he ascends to the heavens. That’s the end. Although really, it’s a beginning. In a way, it’s like Jesus said what we experienced together was but a prologue for what you will do when you partner with the Holy Spirit. The best is yet to come.
It’s a very cinematic moment. One can visualize the disciples all looking straight up into the sky. The wind would toss their hair, they would be in a teary, tight huddle, the music would swell with brass fanfares, woodwind trills, and timpani pounding. In a movie, you’d cut to the credits. I mean, that’s E.T., isn’t it? (If you want to see a wonderful satire of this, watch the ending of the movie Paul).
The disciples are “brought back to earth” when they hear voices ask why are you looking up? As if to say the real work to be done is here and now. You’ve got a lot before you. Jesus did the dying, and now it’s time to do something with this gift, so get busy living! From there, we get the Acts of the Apostles. Bible words can often just be Bible words until we remember they mean something. I sometimes have to smile when I watch people realize a United Methodist seeks out their method of practicing faith! It’s the same for Acts. It’s not some archaic nonsense word. This is their acts, their actions; this is what they do. We watch them get busy living. When they look up, they see death. When they look out, they see new life.
America’s Dads have likely watched The Shawshank Redemption around 10,000 times each on TNT. Maybe you’ve seen it once or twice yourself. This 1994 sleeper hit has an enduring legacy, partly because of its many wonderful themes, particularly around friendship and what to do with our lives. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) maintains his innocence despite his life sentence to Shawshank Prison. He tells his friend, Red (Morgan Freeman) that prison will break them if they aren’t careful. They have to get busy living or get busy dying. He gives him a cryptic clue to something hidden on the outside and Red promises to go to it if he ever gets out.
Andy escapes. He’s tired of dying. He gets to living. Red finally gets out, too, through the parole board. He ends up in the same boarding room as their mutual friend who was released years before, Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), who left a final message carved in the support beam near the ceiling. Red looks up and sees it: “Brooks was here.” Believing that he cannot make it on the outside, it’s what he carved before tragically completing suicide.
Red comes close to similar feelings as Brooks. What stops him is Andy and his message of hope. He keeps his promise to Andy and seeks out what is hidden and finds it: money and a destination. But more than that, it’s new life, new hope, new resurrection.
Red leaves the boarding house and the camera looks up to “Brooks was here.” We see another carving, “So was Red.” When Red looks up, he sees death, but when he looks out, he sees new life. He’s brought back to earth when he remembers what his friend told him, then he acts upon it.
If you’ve ever been told don’t wait because you want to act now, both of these stories are about acting now. The hope of the Holy Spirit says don’t just stand their looking up, that’s death. Look out, and see new life. Resurrection is all around you. Just get moving, get living. Don’t wait to live!
What have been the ways you’ve made the choice to live? Where have you gotten stuck? What keeps you going? When you look out, where do you see resurrection? Where do you see hope?
A Word of Encouragement
That does it, Dear Reader, we’ll see you next time. May you be open to the wonder that is around you and may it inspire you to live with generosity and kindness. And to today’s preachers, may gathering for worship with your community encourage you in your own personal faith journey. God’s peace and good movies to you!
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