Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute. He is a professor of Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, and Contracts at the National Paralegal College, a counselor at the American College of Education, and a founding board member of Salt and Light Global. Washington is a co-host of "Joshua's Trial," a radio show of Christian conservative thought. A graduate of JohnMore ↓Less ↑
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. … It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments every last man at Shawshank felt free.
~ Red, “The Shawshank Redemption”
I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.
~ Andy Dufresne
The men of Shawshank experience Mozart.
[Suggested background music for this column: "Canzonetta sull'aria" from W. A. Mozart's opera "Marriage of Figaro."]
During this blessed season of Advent, I usually write a Christmas essay. This year, however, due to the extreme need to restore moral, competent and constitutional leadership in office at all levels of government, I am considering writing several essays on various aspects of the eternal Christmas story. It is my prayer that we return to a republic founded under God that will help redeem America and eventually the world away from global socialism, liberal fascism and voluntary genocide; to move society back to reason, liberty, market capitalism, natural law and to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” based on a novel by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont, features Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Clancy Brown and Bob Gunton. The protagonist, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is an introverted dreamer, a young bank executive who was falsely and tragically convicted to life in prison at the notorious Shawshank Prison for murdering his neglected, unfaithful wife and her lover while in the act of passion.
Andy was innocent yet suffered years of threats, brutal beatings and gang rapes at the hands of his fellow prisoners as well as regular physical and psychological abuse from the prison guards and by the notoriously sadistic warden (Samuel Norton), which echoed the stereotyped Elmer Gantry characters Hollywood loves – portraying Christians as the Bible-thumping, psychopathic idiots who delight in torturing people. Dufresne once again runs afoul of the warden’s oppressive rules by captivating the entire Shawshank Prison by the most unlikely act – playing an aria over the prison intercom system from Mozart’s immortal opera “The Marriage of Figaro.”
In the scene after his punishment (two weeks in “the hole” – solitary confinement in a 4-by-4 room in total darkness), Dufresne comes to dinner with Red and some of the other prisoners looking as fresh as a rose, with a glowing, joyful countenance, and to the astonishment of his fellow prisoners seemed to imply that those two weeks in the hole was as easy as spending a delightful evening at the opera.
But how? Because Dufresne wasn’t alone. “Hardly felt the time at all. I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company,” Andy said. When one of the prisoners mistakenly queried if the warden allowed him “… to tote that record player down there [in the hole] huh?” Dufresne corrected his fellow prisoner’s misperception:
(Andy:) No, Mozart’s music is here (pointing to his head) and here (pointing to his heart).… That’s the one thing they can’t confiscate, not ever. That there are things in this world not carved out of gray stone. That there’s a small place inside of us they can never lock away, and that place is called hope.
Red, Andy’s stubborn, cynical friend, could take no more of this dreamer’s foolish talk and abruptly said:
(Red:) Hope is a dangerous thing. Drive a man insane. It’s got no place here. Better get used to the idea!
Dufresne immediately countered with the memorable line: “You mean like Brooks did?” Red, seeing that he had been bested in his false argument of placing hopelessness above hope, despair above redemption, left the dinner table embarrassed, defeated and in anger.
Near the end of the movie, when Red was finally paroled after 40 years in prison, as the pressures of freedom filled his mind with incessant thoughts of suicide, he stood atop the same table in the same boarding room that Brooks had hanged himself a few years before, but instead of following Brooks to the grave, Red, next to Brook’s epitaph (“Brooks was here”) scrawled his message (“And so was Red!”) with a voiceover of ideas Andy had told Red just before his dramatic escape (redemption) from Shawshank Prison – Get busy living or get busy dying. … That’s the g–d— truth!
The movie “The Shawshank Redemption” has nothing directly to do with Christmas, yet indirectly the theme of redemption permeates the entire narrative (particularly in the lives of protagonist Andy and his prison friend, Red). This enduring leitmotiv of redemption is related to us and to all humanity especially during this Christmas season where themes of the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between God’s love and man’s sinful nature was united by God’s sacrifice of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
It was Morgan Freeman’s character (Red), the hopeless cynic, who comforted himself for 40 years that the oppressive walls of Shawshank would become his tomb, yet in his own simple and profound way Red taught us the real meaning of life. This untutored rustic; this violent man who pi–ed away his life in a single moment of rage when he killed another man over essentially nothing. In a great paradox of mercy and grace, God would use this most unlikely man to teach us all about the transcendent, miraculous, inexplicable redemption of Jesus Christ – a priceless gift God gave to all mankind, yes, even to all the world.
If you want the exact place in the movie where Mozart met the miraculous, the scene where thousands of hardcore prisoners were held in rapt attention, see the “Marriage of Figaro” link and go to 2:00.
Soliloquy by Red
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away. And for the briefest moments … every last man in Shawshank felt free.