The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Story by Stephen King, screenplay by Frank Darabont. 142 minutes, rated R. Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
As for baptism, there is probably no better representation of what it signals than the most spectacular scene in a film full of stunning sequences. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), wrongly convicted of killing his wife, and consequently twenty years an inmate lifer in the hellhole Shawshank penitentiary, has understood at last that he is morally responsible, though he did not pull the trigger, for his wife’s death. His own insularity and emotional independence kept her at a distance, so much so that she fell for her country club golf coach. At last knowing deep-down his own guilt (see entry under confession), Andy is free at last and ready for new life, and that is what writer-director Frank Darabont shows, big-time. So it is no accident that his long-planned escape follows immediately after his recognition of that huge measure of personal guilt. And here Darabont waxes symbolic aplenty, especially thinking that Dufresne needs a good wash. In his exit from Shawshank, Andy soon discovers that the large pipe he must enter to leave the prison’s walls behind is a sanitary sewer, and through that flow of excrement he crawls, gagging and retching, for a half mile (says Red, his best buddy, and the film’s narrator) to finally emerge beyond the prison walls into the Shawshank Creek amid a thunderstorm. And there, though not the Jordan River, he is washed clean, first ripping off his offal-soaked shirt to let the rain and light cascade upon him, body and soul (1:59:28-2:00:34).
It is, to be sure, the most spectacular baptism ever filmed, both wordless and inexpressibly exultant (often, indeed, images leap beyond words, no matter how many, leaving viewers–in theaters, art museums, and science labs–fittingly silent–see also Terrence Malick’s The Voyage of Time). Free at last, free at last, and not merely of miserable Shawshank Prison but of the unrecognized personal moral darkness that has shadowed him for decades. Exultant, he thrusts his arms to the heavens, as well he should, for from thence cometh his help. His terrible crime, duly confessed, washed away, he then heads to a kind of paradise on the Pacific, and there, finally, he will again greet his dear friend Red. And there we glimpse exactly what life might and should be, in these days after the Fall: confessed, washed clean, made new, and full of welcome.
written by Roy Anker