The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
*River Song voice* Spoilers.
Shawshank Redemption is based on the Stephen King novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Why they removed the gorgeous Rita from their title still baffles me. I decided to see this because it’s widely considered the best movie of all time. Coming into the movie I had a hard time grasping that concept because I’ve seen The Godfather and I can’t imagine anything being better than that. Although I was sure my views won’t change, I was excited to see this classic. I wish I read the book before seeing the movie, but I’m also glad that my views of it were unspoiled.
The movie is narrated by Morgan Freeman (and his beautiful voice), who plays Red. Red has been in Shawshank State Penitentiary for a long time now and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be getting out anytime soon. He’s the guy you go to if you need cigarettes or alcohol or anything really, you know, like William Holden in Stalag 17. When a busload of new inmates or “fresh fish” come to the prison, he and his fellow inmate buddies start making bets as to who will be the first to break on their first night. Red bets on a guy he describes as having “a silver spoon up his ass”. That man is our main protagonist Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins.
Too bad for Red, he loses that bet. Dufresne doesn’t make a single sound. Who breaks? A character who is beaten to death by the prison guards because he wouldn’t stop his whining. He is Heywood’s (William Sadler) winning horse and none of them bother to know his name because it doesn’t matter. They, as well as IMDb, call him “Fat Ass.” Harsh.
Andy is actually a pretty strong and determined guy, much to the surprise and delight of his new buddies. Nothing seems to break him. Not even his first stint in solitary confinement or “the hole”. Not the fact that he’s sexually harassed by “The Sisters”, a group of men who seem to have developed a liking for him. And not even the fact that he has to serve two life sentences. I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that’s a long time. You see, he’s in there for murdering his wife and her golf instructor lover. Is he innocent? Honestly, I was asking that myself. He claims to be. But so does everybody else there in Shawshank.
Well, everybody except Red. He owns the fact that he’s guilty and just tries to get parole. Though we never really find out what it was he did, I have a feeling we wouldn’t care. Because a) He’s Morgan Freeman and b) he just has a good guy quality to him. He’s there to help. And he sure as hell helps Andy all the way to the end. Though he faces the parole board time and time again he always gets denied. And to the repetitive question of whether or not he thinks he’s been rehabilitated, his answers get more and more lackluster. Of course he says yes. Then an elderly inmate named Brooks (James Whitmore), whose experience sort of mirrors his own, is finally released. When Brooks ends up killing himself because he can’t cope with the outside world, Red fears that the same fate might happen to him and that maybe he’s been “institutionalized”. That maybe he’s been in there for too long and that he can’t be anything else other than an inmate at Shawshank State Penitentiary where he is needed and useful.
Red: These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.
Andy and Red develop a friendship. Red sort of takes Andy under his wing and helps him get the rock hammer (pickax) he requests. Red is in awe of Andy’s strength, integrity, and all around non-willingness to kiss ass. And even though Andy is not a violent convict, the people tend to stay away from him due to his quiet nature. That is, until he proves himself useful. He overhears Captain Hadley (Clancey Brown) complaining about tax inheritance. Andy is conveniently knowledgeable about such things and offers to help him out if in return he’ll get him and his friends some cold beers. In prison that is a luxury. So you can only imagine how much more his group of buddies like him after that. Especially since he himself doesn’t drink. Due to his skills he is moved from the laundry room to the library and then eventually to the warden’s office (really moving up the convicted felon ladder there, Andy). While in the warden’s office he does these tax fraud things and makes up a fake person to give money to and just does accountant-y things that my 19 year old non-tax paying self can’t keep up with. Speaking of the warden, he’s our main baddie. Warden Norton, played by Bob Gunton, actually organizes the murder of an inmate who seems to have knowledge on Andy’s case and who was even willing to testify to his innocence.
But all’s well that ends well. Remember the rock hammer? Andy Dufresne has been using it to create a tunnel out of the prison, hiding it with a Rita Hayworth poster. He tunnels through miles and miles of sewage filled with shit and gets away. But not without telling the authorities about what Warden Norton’s been up to. And eventually Red’s allowed parole and he and Andy meet up somewhere near the Pacific Ocean to start their new life together.
Red: I find I’m so excited that 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 a 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.
Now for my thoughts: THIS MOVIE WAS AMAZEBALLS. I finally understand why some people claim it to be the best movie ever made. Even though The Godfather still holds the number one title for me, this movie is a very close second. Morgan Freeman’s narration throughout the movie helps glue the scenes together and tells the passage of time well. He not only speaks for himself but also for the other prisoners and their experiences. No wonder that this is one of Morgan’s favorite movies among his filmography because he is just brilliant in it. Tim Robbins’ portrayal of an innocent man who still does his time with dignity was so great that he wasn’t overshadowed by Freeman. Director Frank Darabont colored everything in grey, which allowed the strong performances and lively characters to bring the scenes to life. It’s no surprise it’s Stephen King’s favorite movie adaptation of his books. That’s why I can’t understand how this movie was a box-office failure. My mind just can’t handle that. Especially when I found out that it didn’t even win a single Oscar. It definitely deserved praise for it’s non-depressing take on prison life even if events seem to be. This is a movie that has aged so well that it could have been released this year and it would not have been dated.
This film is full of life and heart-warming friendship. This movie isn’t sad. It’s true to its name. It’s about redemption and how one can live through hell and still make it out on the other side with hope.