Salvation Lies Within: “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

I absolutely adore this film. I notice something new everytime I watch it. “The Shawshank Redemption” was directed by Frank Darabont and released in 1994. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Darabont is one of the people responsible for the first two seasons of The Walking Dead. Based on “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” a short story by Stephen King, this film stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins and is considered by some (myself included) to be one of the greatest movies of all time. Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker accused, convicted, and imprisoned for the murder of his young adulterous wife and her lover, while Morgan Freeman plays Red, a resourceful convict and pillar of the community within Shawshank Prison. The two men become friends after a cautious introduction, and their friendship becomes the comforting current on which we float through the remainder of the story.

I cannot remember the first time I watched “The Shawshank Redemption.” I’ve seen it more times than I can count, so that original viewing is hardly relevant anymore, but I would be interested to know how I felt after watching it for the very first time. When I watch it now, I feel hopeful and inspired- despite all the terrible things that can happen to you, you can still save yourself.  The film’s score was created by Thomas Newman, who, as it just so happens, also worked with Darabont on another project you may be familiar with: “The Green Mile,” yet another story written by Stephen King (I’m sensing a theme here). His music sounds like sadness, pain, and resilience bursting at the seams of Shawshank prison. The score by Thomas Newman is beautiful- I often listen to this soundtrack when I’m feeling sorry for myself, or I’m struggling with a decision of little consequence because it reminds me of a story where insurmountable odds are overcome and it puts my little problems into perspective. This is a great example of the power of film within my life.

Red’s first impression of Andy is inaptly assumed: “He looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over.” There is something peculiar in the character of Andy Dufresne that we don’t see in the everyday film; Andy is a placid and patient man, spending years plotting and working towards a plan, and once we get to know him, he exudes strength and hope. We can draw parallels between “Shawshank” and The Count of Monte Cristo, which gets a nice little nod in the film. Andy is an honest man who goes to prison and adapts to his surroundings out of necessity, morphing into a cunning crook for the sake of survival. My favorite aspect of Andy’s character is his bite is exponentially worse than his bark. His best resolutions are conjured up after years of planning and meticulous execution, and the results are complex and thrilling, much like Edmond Dantes.

The villains of the story are an interesting mix of brutes with nothing better to do than inflict pain. Warden Samuel Norton, played by Bob Gunton, is a merciless hypocrite who uses his guards to do his dirty bidding while he spews teachings of the Bible at his prison congregation. Clancy Brown plays Byron Hadley, the head prison guard at Shawshank, who is as ruthless as he is mean. Andy’s first experience with Hadley besides the humiliating ‘processing’ phase of entering Shawshank, is him beating a fellow freshman inmate to death with his prison-issued batton. We see him commit horrible acts of violence throughout the film, but he sparks the fuse that leads to Andy’s salvation; he is the catalyst that leads our stoic main-character to something better. In a downright creepy performance by Mark Rolston, Boggs, who is the leader of a prison gang called “The Sisters,” takes an immediate interest in the quiet Andy Dufresne, perceiving him as weak and vulnerable and ripe for the plucking. We see Andy experience dehumanization at the hands of sexual predators who subdue him for years before Andy’s worth to the prison guards becomes greater alive than dead.

The characters of Red and Andy represent the positivity that can be found within the darkest reaches of humanity, whether it be the inherent goodness that is present within Andy from the start or something that is developed fortuitously over time through the labors of self-reflection by Red. The characters have their flaws, but their friendship represents redemption and salvation coming from both sides of right and wrong.

This film is an inspiring example of the power of perseverance if the variables line up. The resulting redemption would not have been possible without a bit of luck on Andy’s side, and I would venture to say that is almost always the case in real life. Some of us are dealt better hands than others- that is obvious by just walking down the street- but we all have the power to make the most of our situations until we encounter an opportunity for change. In Andy’s case, it took twenty years, but he never gave up hope.


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