The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 10: Redemption

September 28th, 2012 by

Last week and this, I am exploring theological themes in relation to screenwriting, considering them metaphorically because in my view, we see these themes in movies all the time. By understanding them, we can use these theological themes to enhance the meaning and depth of our stories.

For background on the general subject, you may read my introductory comments in Part 1 here.

Today in Part 10: Redemption.

Generally redemption means deliverance, rescue. In theological terms, it can mean atonement for guilt. For our purposes related to screenwriting, I prefer this: To free someone from bondage.

Metaphorically bondage can translate into being tied to some event or circumstance in the past, a character bound to it emotionally, even spiritually. They are not free to move on with their psychological development, and certainly not toward Unity, unless and until they confront this bondage and resolve it. If they do, they achieve redemption.

Consider these movie examples:

* The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice Starling lives is bound to the murder of her father [a sheriff] when she was 11 years old. The guilt she feels about his death was concretized in the experiences she had on her uncle’s Montana farm — the spring slaughter of the lambs — and her attempt to rescue one of the animals, which she was unable to do. As Hannibal Lecter — her Mentor — determines, if she can save Catherine Martin [kidnap victim], she can silence the lambs. Unstated is this dynamic: Clarice also needs to slay Buffalo Bill as a blood sacrifice to achieve redemption for her father’s death.

* In the Line of Fire: Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan is bound to the assassination of President John Kennedy, a death he believes he should have prevented. Decades later when a shrewd assassin appears on the scene, Horrigan is determined not to let history repeat itself. In order to redeem himself, Horrigan must stop this assassin from killing the current President of the United States. If he can succeed, he will achieve redemption.

* The Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne is bound to the murder of his wife and her lover. Although this is a crime for which he is wrongly convicted, Andy comes to realize through his tenure at Shawshank that he is guilty of having driven his wife away, complicit in her adultery and eventual death. Andy’s redemption lies in the hope he instills in his fellow prisoners — from little things like getting them ‘suds on the roof’ to playing a Mozart opera over the loudspeaker system to big things like expanding the library. Andy’s life well-spent behind bars ‘earns’ him his freedom through his escape. But his redemption is not complete until Red, finally freed from prison, faces a choice — “Get busy living, or get busy dying”.
It is Andy’s influence — fanning the flames of hope — and a promise Red makes to Andy that keeps Red from following Brook’s path toward suicide, balancing out the death of Andy’s wife.

Redemption is a powerful ‘theological’ movie theme. It provides a simple, understandable psychological dynamic with a clean beginning, a clear ending and a satisfying resolution.

What examples of redemption can you recall in movies?

For Part 1: Sin, go here.

For Part 2: Conversion, go here.

For Part 3: Predestination, go here.

For Part 4: Salvation, go here.

For Part 5: Doubt, go here.

For Part 6: Guilt, go here.

For Part 7: Forgiveness, go here.

For Part 8: Incarnation, go here.

For Part 9: Hell, go here.

Would you like for me to continue this series? If so, let me know in comments.

5 thoughts on “The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 10: Redemption

  1. storynotes says:

    thanks for this series. Hollywood has always been concerned with writing faith in film.

  2. budowriter says:

    This is probably my favorite theme of story.

    Love Shawshank as well. ‘Get busy living or get busy dying.’

  3. Thanks for this series! I haven’t seen stuff like this before, and I’m glad to have it.

    If you got more, I’ll read it. Of course, I enjoy just about everything that comes out in this blog.

  4. Thanks for the series, it’s extremely informative. I’d like to know if you would use these elements to construct a story, for example would redemption come first or salvation?

  5. […] views related to who they are and how they should act.” Among the concepts examined are guilt, redemption and forgiveness. Meyers defines a character’s redemption as the act of freeing him- or herself […]

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