It’s possibly the most frequently played film on cable, in my opinion. But would you look at that, The Shawshank Redemption has made its way on to Netflix. There’s really no escaping it.
That’s a true testament to the film’s top-tier quality in story, theme and overall execution. At its core, Shawshank is a film about time and loyalty; how two men serving life sentences ultimately become friends in order to make it in their harsh reality. And if you haven’t seen it already, I have two responses. Number 1. How? Number 2. Play it tonight.
Shawshank (the title prison) is a monstrous compound that really takes the viewer back to the days before prison reformations. Fun fact, the film was shot in an idle/defunct prison in Ohio, my old Buckeye State. The film is narrated by Redding (Morgan Freeman), who goes by Red. Red has been serving his life sentence from within Shawshank Prison and it’s obvious during his time there that he has become somewhat of a businessman with the inmates, getting them everything from cigarettes to tiny pick axes. Red also takes inmate’s bets, such as which one of the new inmates is going to cry upon their arrival.
Red bets on Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) to cry. Maybe it’s because he looks like he doesn’t belong. And he doesn’t, he’s an innocent man locked up for murder of his wife. Details of this unfortunate scenario are revealed overtime, but they take a backseat as Andy Dufresne’s reality slowly becomes what’s inside the walls of Shawshank rather than what’s going on outside. I like to think Red took his bet on Dufresne because he didn’t come off strong. But boy was he wrong. Not only does he not cry, Andy slowly but surely adapts to his new life in prison. Red’s narration proves a great tool to show how some prisoner’s views of Dufresne change over time for the better.
Dufresne is an incredibly smart man, and was a banker on the outside. He uses this to his advantage throughout the story to make his prison life easier for himself and those around him. He does not allow himself to be taken advantage of while at the same time being non-violent (quite hard to do while in prison). From a library job, the Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) begins to exploit his economic talents for his own gain, doing his taxes and keeping books. It’s without a doubt a rolling trope throughout the film to continually show that an inmate lifer like Dufresne is less corrupt than the Warden or even his sadistic prison guard captain Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown). Soon Dufresne becomes something of a star within the prison, completing taxes and pension plans for basically the whole prison staff.
Dufresne gets to a point where his popularity becomes too much for him to handle. There’s the good, like the time he’s able to secure beers for his inmate friends on the rooftop. Then there’s the bad, like when he gets thrown in solitary confinement by the Warden to keep Dufresne in his insidious back pocket. But no matter the trials or tribulation, Andy’s cooler head prevails, as he welcomes the reality of his situation.
But what’s most important to Andy Dufresne are his friendships and overarching belief that something greater is in the works. Most notably, his friendship with Red proves to be the main device from which the true story unfolds. Through this lens we can see why redemption is such a vital piece to this puzzle. Red’s interpretation of Dufresne highlights how redemption is being pursued, in all types of ways. Even in ways that aren’t revealed until close to the very end.
The pitfalls of prison life are shown through tragic endings and troubled integration as prisoners (usually unsuccessful) get parole. Life on the inside of Shawshank can feel preferred when you’re a lifer, and that’s a harsh truth. A storyline involving inmate suicides is poignant here.
Without revealing how things end, The Shawshank Redemption shows the ways in which spending a lifetime in prison can completely change a man. But through harsh times, men can find those things in life that are most important to them. Throw all the grandiose, materialistic things life supposedly provides for you, and all that really matters is the life you’re living and the people you are living it with.
Based on the short story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King, Shawshank showcases a King story that doesn’t necessarily follow the horror-centric route commonly affiliated with his work. There’s no ghosts, no demons, nothing supernatural whatsoever. Rather, the horror comes from the real life consequences of a corrupt prison system that cares very little for the security and integrity of everyone, not just the inmates.
Verdict 5 out of 5 Stars
The Shawshank Redemption is an amazing film, thanks in part to its suburb acting, incredible writing and direction from Frank Darabont, who acquired the rights to this story long before it became a film. Despite its poor initial box office performance, the consequence of being released alongside titans like Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, it still went on to the Academy Awards with seven nominations. At times it may feel like there’s no hope in Shawshank, but the film counteracts those moments with an ultimately uplifting story. There are laughs, tears and shudders throughout all 2+ hours, all of which I view as a testament to self worth and never forgetting your own truth. In these tough times we’re in, you will find that The Shawshank Redemption can inspire and comfort you.