In my last blog, I wrote about a beautiful moment of cinematic creation in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Since presenting this western movie to workshop participants across Asia, I since found out that this is one of the top ten movies for male audiences in China. The movie is a cinematic classic that inspires us to move beyond institutionalization and live our lives beyond the walls that both protect and stifle us.
In the previous blog, I presented what I and other workshop participants consider to be the most poignant moment in the movie. It is when the main character, Andy, chose to rebel and play opera over the prison loud speakers for the rest of the inmates in Shawshank Prison. The music had a profound liberating impact for the prisoners. In the beautiful words of Stephen King (yes, the same Stephen King who writes horror novels) narrated through Red, the main supporting character:
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 these walls dissolve away…and for the briefest of moments—every last man at Shawshank felt free.
These words were true of the prisoners of Shawshank Prison and for the audience as well as we are momentarily transformed to beautiful places of inspiration. I was fortunate to have shared this moment with numerous students and workshop participants over the years. An examination of the existential themes in the movie helped us to appreciate the additional depths in this beautiful story of inspiration. However, what I did not expect was for this moment of inspiration to “last” for more than a year as one workshop participant shared with me.
I showed this movie to workshop participants in Shanghai in May 2012, immediately prior to the Second Annual International Conference on Existential Psychology. Yet, it was not until June 2013 when I returned to Shanghai for another workshop that I discovered how meaningful and impactful the movie was. One young lady waited an entire year to share the following dream with me:
I dreamt that I was in a paper labyrinth chased by an assailant. In the midst of the chase, I was fortunate to find a large chest that offered concealment from my pursuer. I climbed into the chest and eventually found that I was not alone! To my amazement, I found another man in the chest with me, and he desired to kiss me! I was now caught between a rock and a hard place. The chest offered protection from the assailant but the man in the chest wanted to kiss me. What was I to do?
It was at this moment of feeling incredibly trapped that the operatic moment in the movie came back to me. I heard a voice permitting and urging me to listen to the music, even though I had no understanding of the words. The voice urged me to allow myself to be carried away from the walls of social convention. I knew the voice was permitting and encouraging me to follow the desires of my heart and kiss this man if I so desired!
It was a moment of liberation shared across the pacific from the East to the West, over a year’s time. The lady shared that at the time of the first workshop, she had recently discovered that her first boyfriend had married someone else. This brought up painful memories of their breakup along with her fears of being left behind and unwanted in a society that would have women married before the age of 30. Yet, the lady shared that Red’s words from the movie resonated in her heart: “You do not need to understand the music. The important thing is that you’re free to follow the music and the desires of your heart. You’re free to move on and let go of the past.”
I was stunned and incredibly honored to receive this unexpected gift across time. I could not believe that she waited one year to share this transformative moment with me. She held onto this moment for all this time anticipating our next meeting to offer and share her gratitude. These ephemeral moments are eternal! I was simply sharing some existential themes that further accentuated the beauty and tragedy of life, played out upon the movie screen. Little did I expect to find myself rewarded with the honor of participating in the liberation of a lady who was awakened to her soul in the midst of her pain and loss. How blessed and fortunate am I!
— Mark Yang