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The Shawshank Redemption: Friendship in Adversity

Updated on June 19, 2013

The Film

“The Shawshank Redemption”, a Castle Rock Entertainment film, was directed by Frank Darabont and starred Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, Mark Rolston, and James Whitmore. It is based on a short story written by Stephen King entitled “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”. A young banking executive finds himself wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. During his incarceration, he is befriended by an entrepreneurial inmate who inadvertently provides him with the means to overcome much of the adversity of his prison life. After having served decades, the existence of viable evidence of his innocence comes to his attention. After having his hopes dashed by the warden who is exploiting him, he decides enough is enough.

The Experience

The film is set, starting off, in 1947 and begins at Andy Dufresne’s murder trial. At this point in the film, the scene that stands out to me is the look on Andy’s face when the judge sentences him to two consecutive life terms. For me, that is the scene that marks the beginning of his journey through the adversity of his prison life. The person who would become Andy’s best friend narrated most of the film from the time Andy arrived at Shawshank prison. So, everything that happens comes across as being from “Red’s” point of view. Red was the guy you found in just about every prison who could get just about anything “within reason”. Red’s narration provided something of a veteran view of the things that happened to Andy in prison. It kept at the forefront the understanding of how dark prison life was.

When Andy arrived at Shawshank, he and the prisoners arriving with him were addressed by the warden. The warden was a corrupt, Bible toting, psychotic, hypocrite. I hated him immediately. The head guard, Captain Hadley, served as the perfect henchman for this guy. Captain Hadley was the perfect bully. Treated everybody like crap. The first night that Andy Dufresne spent in prison, the inmates hazed the newcomers until one of them broke down. As the new inmate sobbed loudly calling for his mother, the other inmates taunted him. The noise brought the guards headed up by Captain Hadley. When the sobbing inmate wouldn’t stop crying, Hadley pulled him out of his cell and beat him into unconsciousness. It was revealed later that he died. This painted a good picture of what to expect from the guards. The next day, in the mess hall, Andy catches the attention of the leader of a prison gang known among the inmates as “the sisters”. There, he also makes the acquaintance of Brooks Hatlen, prison librarian. It wasn’t until a month later, however, that he actually spoke to Red for the first time. He introduced himself and solicited his help in getting hold of a rock hammer.

Now, the thing about all these seemingly unrelated events is that each of them is the beginning of a separate story played out through the course of the film. The fact that there were so many stories to follow was what made this as engrossing a film as it was. Especially, as these stories were well told. I know this is probably a typical storytelling technique, but, in this movie in particular, it was actually well done enough for me, not only to notice, but to enjoy. (Things like that usually get past me.)

The Stories

The story that stands out the most is the friendship forged between Andy and Red. The growth of their friendship intersects with just about all of the other stories in the movie and reaches all the way to the end. In fact, it was through their friendship that Andy was provided an opportunity that would gain him favor with the guards and relieve him of a problem he was having with “the sisters”. Consequently, Andy’s new found favor with the guards (and the reason for it) comes to the attention of the warden, who finds a way to exploit Andy for his own gain. But, Andy finds a way to take advantage of the situation for the benefit of everyone in the prison. What Andy was able to accomplish and how he went about it was inspiring.

Alongside the triumph there is sadness. One of Andy’s friends gets paroled and becomes violent at the news of his impending release. After he’s released, he writes a letter to Andy that reveals he’s been overcome by fear and loneliness. Red had explained why Brooks became violent at the news of his parole. He explained how having been in prison for 50 years had taken away his ability to function in society. He was incarcerated as a young man but was being released as a senior citizen. In that explanation was an understanding of exactly what Brooks was facing. And, Brooks’ letter made that explanation that much more real. The sadness at the end of Brooks’ story is profound.

When a new inmate is brought into the prison, he is immediately accepted into Andy’s circle of friends. After soliciting help from Andy, he becomes Andy’s personal project. With Andy’s help he learns to read and passes a high school equivalency exam. You can almost feel the pride and accomplishment you see on Andy’s face.

Sadness and despair rear their heads again when what could be viable evidence of Andy’s innocence turns up as was witnessed by the new inmate. When Andy tells the warden, his hopes are dashed and his protest is cruelly punished. (This just makes you hate the warden even more.) After that Andy asks Red to do him a favor if he finds himself being released. It is at this point that Andy’s behavior begins to concern his friends, and they begin to fear the worst. The very next day everyone receives the shock of their lives. And Andy gets revenge.

The proverbial “cherry on top” is where the friendship of Andy and Red leads. The story of these two prison inmates is at the center of everything in this film. And at the end, I was left with a good feeling in spite of (or perhaps because of) all the adversity and mistreatment that Andy faced throughout the film. The movie began in the shadow of prison walls and ended on a bright shining beach.

Recommendation

I would recommend this movie for everyone. The stories are well told and well blended. All of the parts are well played. I was caught up from the moment the movie started. While it may be something of a slow moving film, the stories are more than engaging enough to make up for it. While there are a lot of spoilers in this blog, I didn't reveal everything. There's more than enough to make this a great movie experience. What many might call a "must see".

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