“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”  –Red (played by Morgan Freeman) The Shawshank Redemption

The first time I saw the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, the thing I remember most is sitting in front of the TV watching the credits roll at the end.  I was unable to move.

Such is the effect of great art upon the human spirit.

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of this memorable movie that is even more dear to my heart now, two decades and at least 3 viewings later.  Here are some fun facts about Shawshank:

  1. Stephen King sold the rights of his novella which inspired the screenplay for $ 1.00.
  2. Andy and Red’s opening chat in the prison yard, in which Red is pitching a baseball, took 9 hours to shoot. Morgan Freeman pitched that baseball for the entire 9 hours without a single word of complaint. He showed up for work the next day with his arm in a sling.
  3. The role of Andy Dufresne was intended for Tom Hanks. Tom passed on the project because he was filming Forrest Gump.  The role of Tommy Williams was intended for Brad Pitt.
  4. Despite its box office failure, Warner Brothers shipped 320,000 rental copies to US video stores, a figure a spokesman freely admitted was “out of whack” with the film’s performance in the theaters. A Warner Exec who loved the film ignored the math and gave the order.  His gamble paid off, Shawshank would prove to be the most rented film of 1995.
  5. In the original novella, Red is “a middle-aged Irishman with graying red hair”.
    Red actually uses the line “Maybe it’s ’cause I’m Irish” as a joke in the film.
  6. The famous scene where Andy turns up the music of “The Marriage of Figaro” in the prison yard was completely improved by Tim Robbins. He thought it would make for a great moment in the film.
  7. After the film gained popularity, Ted Turner sold the television rights to TNT, his own network, for much lower than normal for such a big film. Because it is so inexpensive to show, the film is broadcast on TNT all the time. (well that explains it, you are thinking …)
  8. Warden Norton opens the bible where Andy Dufresne hid his rock pick it opens to the Book of Exodus, which details the escape of the Jews from Egypt.

A few thoughts about Shawshank:  I am so glad Tom Hanks was busy with Gump.  As much as I love Tom Hanks, the character of Andy DuFresne has become real to me BECAUSE, Tim Robbins, who portrayed him exquisitely, was a lesser-known actor and so I think first of the character, and then remember who played him.  If Hanks had played DuFresne, I think Hanks would be the one I remember first.  Ditto Gil Bellows who played Tommy Williams, the young convict DuFresne teaches to read so that he can get his G.E.D.  For a character with such heart, we needed an actor with whom we could more easily identify than Pitt.

The undying message that permeates the story for me is this:  there are ways to be in prison even when you are free, and ways to be free even while you are in prison.  It’s a matter of how you choose to view the situation you are in, and the things you hold onto that enable you to rise above the conditions in which you find yourself.

And, knowing that, and doing it are two different things.  Still.  We do know people, non-fictional people, who rose above their situation leaving us both an example and the gift of hope that we can do the same.  Huge figures like Jesus of Nazareth;  controversial figures like Nelson Mandela;  humble artists like Sixto Rodriguez whose appreciation for his gift came decades after he first picked up a guitar and opened his mouth to sing.

And most of all the ordinary heroes we read about every day who give their blood, sweat, and tears so that others might have a better life.  Those who organize the Special Olympics;  those who work the night shift in Nursing Homes;  those who teach the disabled how to do the things we take for granted.

As this new year dawns upon us, my hope is that those who have found their way to rise above their conditions will receive more attention and that the Spirit of Creation will continue to run wild. inspiring the artists of the world to continue to make films, write books, design buildings, paint, photograph, and produce art that reflects truth so real we cannot look away.  Truth that stirs the gifts of perseverence, resilience, and artistry within each of us.

19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert… for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” — Isaiah 43