Unraveling ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

By Therese Gardner, Edited by Julia Wilson

Prison. Not a likely movie I would typically write about, but The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all-time favorites. It is simply a classic adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982). The film itself, released in 1994, was written and directed by Frank Darabont.

The story, narrated by Red, follows a banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), sentenced to life in the Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her other lover. While Dufresne does his time over the course of twenty years, he becomes friends with another prisoner, Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman). Although Dufresne denies guilt and Red continues to go up in front of the parole board, the two form an unlikely bond and begin a money laundering operation led by the warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton). Eventually, Red and Andy become friends with another inmate, known as Tommy Williams, who reveals that another prisoner has claimed responsibility for the crime Andy has been convicted for.

Andy then tells Norton of this information who refuses to listen and instead places Andy in solitary confinement. Norton has Williams murdered and Andy threatens to discontinue the laundering. After two months in confinement, Andy is released and the next day his cell is found empty. Norton finds a tunnel Andy had dug with a rock hammer that he had escaped through revealing details of the laundering. When the police arrive at the prison, Norton commits suicide to avoid arrest, and Red is paroled. Red and Andy are reunited in a town in Mexico.

The friendship between Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) is essential to the way the story is told. It is a beautiful story detailing how two men sentenced to life in prison become friends and find a way to remain hopeful in the midst of so much despair and heartbreak.

The title itself is almost an oxymoron, as typically prison and redemption would not be in the same line. It is another aspect of the film that makes the story worth telling and goes against the convention of what a prison drama is. Redemption, defined as being saved, signifies the realization that the two men the story follows have been caught in a predictable, mundane daily routine of prison life. Thus, the two form a friendship in which they push each other to maintain hope and deviate away from remaining cogs in the machine.

A timeless film that’s seemingly depressing is rather brilliant and graceful in the way it presents life, humor, and the power of friendship to encourage those to hold onto a sense of self worth and value, despite the system working to strip that away. The unraveling of time and life within this film is a marvel to me that many others should appreciate as well.

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