Prison genre movies appeal to something inside me. I’ve watched dozens: The Shawshank Redemption, Jericho Mile, The Green Mile and The Hurricane to name a few. And, loosely lumped into the prison genre are prisoner of war and 2nd World War concentration camp themes too … Schindler’s List (more a Holocaust story) and The Great Escape come to mind.
“They ask questions of me”
I think they appeal to me on various levels. They ask questions of me. Questions that I don’t always want to dig too deeply into because I’m afraid I might come up short. Am I a decent human being? Do I still have hope or am I so jaded and cynical that there’s no oxygen for hope to thrive? Do I have courage? Am I a leader? Will I die for a cause? Do I have a cause? Am I redeemable? Is the system so broken that I can never make a difference?
Walk the yard with me and see how you stack up on this journey that you’re on.
Hope and inevitability
I’m cheering for the wrongly-accused, innocent man who needs to battle corrupt officials, malevolent gang leaders and a system geared in every way to destroy him. I’m either delighted when he gets out or distraught when he’s executed. This plot appeals to my sense of hope, in the first instance and my feeling of inevitability in the second.
This theme plays to three of my biggest fears … being falsely accused of something and taking the fall for it, being abducted by aliens and not being able to tell anybody about it for fear of being thought mad and a five cent coin falling off a 50-story building and hitting me in the head and killing me instantly. I know, I know … thousands of rands of therapy and still no nearer to a cure.
Can I be redeemed?
Prison movies appeal to my need for redemption too. I’m always interested to see if a guilty man can change, redeem himself and take that second chance to do something meaningful with the remainder of his life. The redemption theme plays on my fear as well. In these movies the majority of the prison population is by ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ irredeemable. The game is rigged and the outcome is inevitable. My fear is that I’m irredeemable too.
Benign and gracious system
These movies also appeal to me because I have hope that the system can be benign and gracious and not mad and malevolent. So, I’m always happy when a prison guard or warden turns out to be a ray of light and hope in a world of darkness and chaos. I gives me hope that I too can can emulate these special and rare beings and make a difference to somebody who is in a dark place.
Will I pee in my pants?
Concentration camp movies ask questions of my courage. Would I be able to stand up against a system that is abhorrent to anything that is decent. Would I be prepared to die to protect the innocent. Could I be an Oskar Schindler who saved 1200 Jewish souls during the Holocaust? Could I handle myself with honour and decorum and not pee in my pants when my death is certain?
Can I be a great leader in the face of insurmountable odds and inspire my men like Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, in the great escape from Stalag Luft lll in 1943?
Thanks for walking the yard with me. I’ll see you on the outside.