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The Shawshank Redemption: The epitome of hope, patience and time

Written by Archana Kapoor
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Sometimes things just get put on hold for no real reason; blame procrastination or tough luck! That’s what happened to The Shawshank Redemption – the 1994 classic and me. The film is based on the Stephen King novella, ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.’ I’ve wanted to watch this movie since ages, but for some reason it never happened. But as they all things happen in good time, so finally it happened; and my husband and I managed to watch it in the beautiful confines of our living room. Since the time the movie started, till the very end, we did not move from our seats. Such is the power of the film! But, what surprises me is the fact that though it is considered to be the greatest films of all time, when it was released it was a box office disappointment. I never understood that one! Without much ado, let me get into the plot of the film and later what I loved about it.

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The Shawshank Redemption - Courtesy Google

The Shawshank Redemption – Courtesy Google

The Shawshank Redemption – The Plot

The story is narrated by Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), a middle-aged Irishman who is a ‘lifer’ (sentenced to life imprisonment) at the Shawshank State Prison in Maine. He has been inside the walls of Shawshank Prison for a very long time and has become a leading entrepreneur. A man who can get you whatever you need:  cigarettes, candy, even a little rock pick that an amateur geologist might use. The arrival of new prisoners changes the mood in the prison. And so one day, as Red and his fellow inmates watch the latest busload of prisoners unload, they make bets on the new recruits, as to who will cry during their first night in prison and who will not. Red bets on a tall, lanky guy named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who looks like a lost babe in the woods and who he thinks will surely crack under pressure on the first night. Andy – a banker – is convicted of a double murder – his wife and her lover, even though he stubbornly proclaims his innocence and has been sentenced to life imprisonment at the Shawshank Prison in 1946.

To everyone’s utter disbelief, Andy does not cry, and poor Red loses the cigarettes he wagered. Andy surprises everyone with his demeanor at Shawshank.  Within him is a powerful reservoir of determination and strength that nothing seems to break him. Most of all, within him is a sense of hope that he doesn’t share with people especially at the beginning of his prison term. Though Andy is apparently innocent, and there are all sorts of details involving his case, after a while they take on a kind of unreality. Ultimately, all that counts inside prison is its own society – who is strong, who is not; and the slow and measured passage of time.

Andy and Red - Courtesy Google

Andy and Red – Courtesy Google

The story is beautifully mingled between Red and Andy. From time to time, measuring the decades, as Red goes up in front of the parole board, they calculate the length of his term (20 years, 30 years) and ask him if he thinks he has been rehabilitated. While the answer is most surely, yes, the fire goes out of his assurances as the years march past. There is the sense that he has been institutionalized. Like another old lifer – Brooks, the librarian, who kills himself after being paroled, he can no longer really envision life on the outside and survive. His narration of the story allows him to speak for all of the prisoners, who sense a fortitude and integrity in Andy that help him survive the years of torture. The quiet yet strong Andy will not kiss butt. He will not back down. He isn’t violent, just formidably sure of himself. And that irks a lot of people in the prison.

For the evil warden Norton (Bob Gunton) who proclaims, “Your ass belongs to me” as the new prisoners arrive; Andy is both a challenge and a resource. Being a Banker who was at a high position in the outside world, Andy knows all about bookkeeping and tax preparation, and before long he’s been moved out of his dreary and tough prison job, in the library. He is assigned to the warden’s office, where he sits behind an adding machine and keeps tabs on the warden’s ill-gotten gains. His fame spreads far and beyond, and eventually he’s doing the taxes and pension plans for most of the officials of the local prison system.

The ugly realities of prison life – the corrupt warden, sadistic guards led by Capt. Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown), and inmates who are little better than animals, and are willing to use rape or beatings to insure their dominance; do not change Andy’s determination and attitude. Infact, there are some key moments in the film which prove his grit. Like, when Andy uses his clout to get some cold beers for his friends who are working on a roofing job, when he befriends the old prison librarian (James Whitmore), when he oversteps his boundaries and is thrown into solitary confinement. He is also able to improve the prison library and bring some dignity and respect back to many of the inmates, including Red. What quietly amazes everyone in the prison is the way he accepts the good and the bad as all part of some larger pattern than only he can fully see.

Andy's friends enjoying chilled beer on the roof top

Andy’s friends enjoying chilled beer on the roof top

Andy, as played by Robbins, keeps his thoughts to himself most of the time. Red’s close observation of this man, down through the years, provides the way in which we monitor changes and track the measure of his influence on those around him. And all the time there is something else happening, hidden and secret; which is revealed only at the end. An end which I will not reveal now! It will suffice to say that it is a happy ending in a twisted way, but a happy ending nonetheless!

This is what the end looks like... the shocked warden and the big hole in the wall.. any guesses?

This is what the end looks like… the shocked warden and the big hole in the wall.. any guesses?

My thoughts on The Shawshank Redemption

The partnership between Andy and Red is very crucial to the way the story unfolds. The movie ain’t a mere ‘prison drama’ like many critics proclaimed. It is not about violence, riots or melodrama either. The word ‘redemption’ in the title is there for a reason. The horror portrayed in the prison is not of the supernatural kind, but of the sort that flows from the realization that 10, 20, 30 years of a man’s life have unreeled in the same unchanging daily prison routine. It is about survival and hope, of time and patience.  It isn’t a depressing story in any way! There is a lot of life and humor in the film, and warmth in the friendship that builds up between Andy and Red – a relationship that lasts beyond the walls of the mighty prison. There is enough excitement and suspense. The director, Frank Darabont, has painted the prison in drab grays and shadows, so that when key events do occur, they seem to have a life of their own

My verdict on The Shawshank Redemption

The film is an allegory about holding onto a sense of personal worth, despite everything that happens. One may find the film a bit slow in its middle passages, but perhaps that is part of the idea too, to give us a sense of the leaden passage of time, before the glory of the final redemption. Time after all is not necessarily kind to us, especially when it is long drawn time in the confines of a prison.

The solace? Despite not being the best of the best at the box office, the film received multiple award nominations (including seven Oscar nominations) and outstanding reviews from critics for its acting, story, and realism. It has also been very successful on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. And in my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that it is one of the best films of all time.

It is a must watch for every person who believes in hope and the positive power that it can unleash on its believers. Don’t miss it for anything in the world.

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About the author

Archana Kapoor

Banker turned Blogger, INSEAD Alumnus; life manifested in its complete liveliness is Archana. Looking at every aspect of life with a twinkle in her eye, she then garnishes things around her with something special. Check out for yourself in her amazing writing.

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