‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – Film Review and Analysis
"Get busy living or get busy dying..."
Few other modern films capture the power of the human spirit more than The Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Frank Darabont, released originally in 1994, and starring Morgan Freeman as Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne; this film was not originally successful in movie theaters when it was released to the general public.
However, since then, The Shawshank Redemption has become a cult classic which has skyrocketed in popularity even after its’ release twenty years later. It is often considered by film critics to be one of the best Hollywood movies of the 20th century. Personally, I have watched this film multiple times and consider it to be my all-time favorite movie. If I’m channel surfing late at night and I see that The Shawshank Redemption is on AMC, HBO, or another movie network, I’ll often stop what I’m doing to watch the film already in progress. It’s that good of a movie and is timeless in its’ themes and its’ overall message.
More so than just the brilliant acting by Mr. Freeman and Mr. Robbins, along with the great directing by Frank Darabont, the cinematography is quite flawless and the film has a consistent flow to it. It also has an engaging plot and setting that suits the overall themes quite well. The Shawshank Redemption is a very human story with a lot of powerful, and emotional scenes that have captivated millions of viewers. It’s rare to come across a film today that can tug at your heartstrings and make you really feel deep emotions about a fictional story and characters. The Shawshank Redemption is able to pass that test and remind you of what it means to be human. The film highlights the triumphs, the tragedies, and the deeper meaning that we seek within our own lives.
Andy Dufresne is a young, smart, and ambitious banker in Portland, Maine who is accused and later convicted of murdering his wife and her extramarital lover. At first, he appears to the audience as a cold, detached, and remorseless person who very well could have committed that awful crime. The other main character, Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, a long-time prisoner at Shawshank state prison is unimpressed by Andy’s appearance at first sight and remarks how “a stiff breeze would blow him over.” As the saying goes though, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Throughout the film, we learn through the eyes of Red more about Andy and what he’s like in terms of his true personality and character. We don’t know whether he killed his wife or not because he pronounces his innocence to Red and the other prisoners. Red is resigned to his life in prison and tries to make the best of it by being ‘the guy who can get you things.’ His friendship with Andy blossoms due to a simple, haphazard moment when Andy asks Red for a rock hammer to carve chess pieces. It’s an unusual request but it gets the two men to talk to each other and to break down the stereotypes that Red has of Andy, and Andy has of Red.
Andy must deal as best as he can with his new life as a prisoner whom may in fact be innocent of the crime that he was convicted of. As Red states knowingly in the film, “Prison is no fairy tale world.” Andy has to cope with the vindictive warden of Shawshank prison, played by Bob Gunton as well as the malicious head prison guard, Captain Byron Hadley, who is played by Clancy Brown.
He also must fend off some sadistic fellow prisoners who wish him physical harm and sexual violence. It is clear to the viewer that Andy, despite the injustices he has encountered in Shawshank and outside of Shawshank prison, maintains the ‘hope’ that he’ll survive his ordeal and eventually win his freedom. Despite his friend, Red, warning him about the dangers of seeking hope in a place where none can be found, Andy reminds Red that “Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
The most memorable scenes of this film still stick out to me after all of these years. My favorite is the famous ‘Suds on the Roof’ scene when Andy risks his life to give his fellow prisoners a one-time allowance of beers while they tar the roof of a factory by giving the prison guard, Hadley, some financial advice on how to deal with the IRS. Andy knew how much it would means to his fellow prisoners if they could enjoy a beer or two while doing hard work in the hot Maine summer sun. In that scene, he also showed a lot of bravery by confronting Hadley about if “he trusts his wife with money or not.”
Another notable scene that stands out to me is how Andy continuously asks the state of Maine for extra money to give to the Shawshank prison in order to build a memorial library in honor of another prisoner, Brooks Hatlen, who committed suicide regrettably after finishing up his sentence. Andy keeps writing letters for months on end but finally receives the funds he needs after a few years to build the memorial library. Because of this library, many prisoners like young Tommy Williams, who Andy takes a liking to, end up reading books and even receiving their High School GEDs (General Equivalency Degree).
Lastly, there is an extremely beautiful scene where Andy is collecting records for the prison library and ends up putting an Italian opera record over the loudspeakers for all of the prisoners to hear. He locks himself in the room so the guards and the warden can’t get to him. For a few minutes, the opera music flows openly through the walls and the bars of the prison. As Red puts it succinctly in the movie, “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free…”
After nineteen years in prison and many tumultuous events, Andy knows that his destiny no longer is meant just for the walls and bars of Shawshank prison. He dreams of a coastal city in Mexico known as Zihuatanejo, where he can run a hotel and begin his life anew. Andy implores Red to join him one day and help him out with his business since he’s a man who “knows how to get things.” While Andy remains hopeful and optimistic even when his future seems grim, Red is skeptical and dismissive of Andy’s “pipe dream.”
Despite the long odds, Andy doesn’t let the negativity get him down and puts effort toward realizing his dream of getting out of Shawshank and making his way to Mexico. This courage and perseverance shown by Andy has a lasting effect on Red by the end of the movie as they have become close friends who have known each other for almost twenty years. Red realizes the innate truth behind Andy’s belief in everlasting hope and to “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’”
Some people who have not taken the time to watch The Shawshank Redemption regard it naively as just another prison movie. However, this summarization is far from the truth. Similar to The Green Mile, it’s a story about finding hope in the least hopeful of places and never giving up on life when it seems rather cruel or unjust. It also has a constant theme about the power of male friendship and how Andy and Red have bonded together over the years despite their initial differences.
The Shawshank Redemption was never a summer blockbuster or a critically acclaimed behemoth of a film but it is widely regarded now as one of the best American films of all-time. Many people have cited this movie as having changed their lives for the better when they were going through difficult times in their personal or professional lives. Above all else, The Shawshank Redemption is a story about one man’s ability to remain hopeful during the most difficult and harsh circumstances. As Red states at the end of the film, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’ That’s goddamn right.”