By Afra Nariman
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins
A wrongfully convicted man named Andy (played by Tim Robbins) arrives at Shawshank Prison, where “everybody is innocent.” Over the course of almost twenty years, he builds relations with the other prisoners, highlighted by a deep rooted friendship with a prisoner named Red (played by Morgan Freeman). Andy helps the warden, opens a prison library, and experiences the brutality of prison and the abuse of power perpetrated by those who run it. Andy and Red speak of what life could be like if/when they are released.
Although The Shawshank Redemption takes place primarily in one location, a prison, it can be considered an epic. Spanning almost twenty years, the film is full of deep conversations and insightful perspectives on prison life; the brutality of it and the reality of how you can become institutionalized; becoming so acclimated to it over time, that the outside world no longer appeals to you because after a certain amount of time, the world changes while you are in prison, leading to a fear of being reintroduced to society.
The idea of becoming institutionalized is illustrated by an older prisoner named Brooks who is released after 50 years at Shawshank. In a letter that he sends Andy and Red, he voices his fears and feelings of not belonging in the outside world; and he ends up committing suicide. Red, who has been in prison for about 40 years, fears the same sense of not belonging if/when he is released. When you become so accustomed to the brutality, but stability of life in prison, returning to a world that has changed without regard for your existence, is harder than you may think. This film shows us just how hard that transition can be for people.
An important element of The Shawshank Redemption is the commanding voice of Morgan Freeman narrating the story. His regular interference reminds us that the events of the film take place in the past, while Red is narrating from the present day. It also creates a calming, and grounded ambiance around the film that keeps us engaged and connected to the story and its characters as the years pass by, allowing us to understand Andy and Red’s lives at Shawshank in a more personal way.
Andy’s constant insistence on building a reputable library for the inmates is symbolic of the idea of living rather than merely surviving. Red also expresses the importance of living when he says:
Andy takes Red’s advice of keeping busy to heart. He seeks to create a human atmosphere for the inmates to not only “keep busy,” but to live as any human being deserves to. The persistence that Andy shows in his aim of staying human and wanting to provide that essence of humanity for his fellow inmates combats the negative effects that the prison system has on people. When you are treated as less than human and limited in your opportunities to be human, and often times become institutionalized in that, it is hard to feel hopeful and to feel human in general. At one point, Red even says:
To which Andy responds:
The value of hope is a prominent theme throughout the film. One powerful scene is when Andy sacrifices his own freedom and safety to play music on the intercoms for everybody to hear. In this moment, all the prisoners stop what they are doing and immerse themselves in the sublimity of the moment, as do we as we watch. Music can instill hope into hopeless moments. Music; all art, is a basic part of the human experience. In prison, people are restricted from many of the things that make them human, but Andy refuses to let that happen to him or those around him. He focuses on keeping Red hopeful for a future and to make him believe that there is a life for him out there in the world.
The Shawshank Redemption is a story about friendship in the face of a hostile environment that doesn’t necessarily nurture positive relationships with others. When Andy arrives in prison, Red takes him under his wing. He becomes Andy’s mentor and eventually his best friend. The two keep each other sane for the near two decades that they are in prison together. Andy pays forward this mentorship to an Elvis “stan” who joins them in Shawshank at one point.
There is so much to talk about and love about this film, but you have to watch it to get the full effect. The first time you watch this movie is a truly special experience. The Shawshank Redemption is a simple story on paper, but unfolds on the screen like an epic. It covers issues related to the brutality of prison life, the lack of humanity available to people in prison and the importance of friendship to get you through times that may feel hopeless. The ending of the film is one of the most heartwarming and appropriate endings of any film. Now Hollywood veterans Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins delivered one of the most touching portrayals of an evolving friendship over time that we have ever seen on screen.
At the time of its release, The Shawshank Redemption was not appreciated nearly as much as it has been over the years. It is arguably the most popular movie of all time, as evidenced by its 9.3 imdb rating (the highest of any film). There is something in this film for everyone; whether you are a student of film or just a fan of movies, whether you prefer independent films or Hollywood blockbusters — The Shawshank Redemption will provide everyone with a certain level of entertainment, meaning and sentimental value. This is definitely a must-watch for anyone who loves movies; and quite frankly, anybody who doesn’t love movies will most likely still enjoy this one.