In 2003, Disney released one of the greatest family mystery movies ever, Holes. Based on Louis Sachar’s book of the same name, the film follows Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) as he’s sent to a juvenile detention camp for something he didn’t do. The camp sits in the middle of the Texas desert and it’s your basic Cool Hand Luke situation, as inmates are forced to work until they've learned their lesson. But Stanley’s situation is also highly metaphorical in that his teen prison represents purgatory.
The presiding theory about Disney’s Holes claims the desert juvenile detention center is a parallel to the limbo some Christians believe exists in between Heaven and Hell. This area is a place where souls go to wait out their time until they can ascend to the afterlife. While that might seem a little heavy for a feel-good family movie, Holes actually does a great job of keeping things positive, despite all the forced labor. As is the case in the Christian version of purgatory, it's possible to leave Camp Green Lake, assuming you can atone for past sins. In the case of Stanley, this leads to a wildly intriguing kids' mystery story that spans generations.
When Stanley's blamed for taking a pair of sneakers at a charity auction, he's found guilty and made to choose between spending 18 months at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile work center, or going to an actual juvenile prison. He chooses Green Lake, which is essentially purgatory.
Stanley could have chosen to go to prison (Hell), but instead, he opts for Camp Greenlake, a stand-in for purgatory. Some Christians believe souls choose to engage with purgatory; rather than go to Hell for their poor deeds, they can work off their misery in Purgatory until they learn their lesson.
Even though Stanley's initially told, "You’re not looking for anything. You’re building character," after a few weeks spent digging holes at Camp Green Lake, it's clear Warden Walker (Sigourney Weaver) has an ulterior motive - she's looking for a treasure that's been hidden for hundreds of years.
While there is a physical treasure, the chest of wonders hidden in the desert is also a metaphor for the eternal treasure of Heaven. The Bible states in 1 Pet. 3:19 that Heaven is open to the people stuck in limbo if they work hard enough, and in this instance, it means digging until riches appear in the Texas sand.
After losing his life for being loved by a white woman, Sam the Onion Man (Dulé Hill) is forced to walk the former lakebed where he met his end. This is another clue that suggests the desert of Holes is purgatory.
Supposedly, purgatory is full of souls who are wandering the afterlife, waiting for Heaven to open up and let them in. There's no hard limit on how long they have to wander, hence Sam's endless struggle.
Purgatory lasts forever; there's no beginning or end, it's all one big middle. Even though souls don't stay in purgatory forever, the period in which they exist there feels timeless.
The nebulous emptiness of purgatory is similar to the endless summer of Camp Green Lake. The camp isn't really a camp, and there's definitely no lake. The only thing at Stanley's disposal is the desert and the sun that beats down on him hour after hour. There's no rain, and even the cloud coverage is less than satisfying. The whole area is truly cursed.