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The Shawshank Redemption

December 6, 2006

Too often we see many a movie claiming to be a masterpiece or a classic, but on closer examination we find that it just falls short. There are some movies which never receive much hype or marketing, never get much media attention anyways. But one look at those movies, you know you are seeing a master class in movie making. These are movies which don’t have big stars, eye popping visual effects or big screen explosions or car chases. But they do have a story which touches your heart, a top class script, memorable characters and a deep message in them. One such movie is The Shawshank Redemption(1994). At the end of this movie, one can only stand up and applaud director Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

The movie starts off with the conviction of Andy Dufresne(Tim Robbins), for the murder of his wife and her lover. Though Andy claims he is innocent, the evidence is stacked against him and he is sentenced to serve a life term at Shawshank Prison in Maine. He makes friends with two other prisoners Red( Morgan Freeman) and Brooks( James Whitmore). Any initially suffers a lot of brutal treatment at the hands of the jailors, including rapes. Due to his banking background, he is used by the corrupt Capt Bryon Headley( Clancy Brown) and Warden Sam Norton( Bob Gunton), in their illegal money laundering operations. Brooks on release from prison finds himself a misfit in the normal world and hangs himself. The rest of the movie is about how Andy escapes from prison, and how his innocence is proved.

Anyway I really don’t want to go into too much detail about plot, as the movie is best to be seen. What fascinated me about the movie, was the deep philosophical undertones, and the characterization, one of the best I have seen in recent times.

Take the case of Andy, the lead character. He suffers a lot, from a false conviction, mistreatment in prison, being exploited by the corrupt Warden, and yet his spirit never breaks down. He never gives up, and he relentlessly pursues his quest for freedom. Small tasks make a big deed, as he chips away relentlessly from his prison wall to create his own tunnel for escape. Andy’s character is a man of integrity and a man who always hopes for tomorrow. He never loses hope in the midst of all suffering. As he says

Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.

And totally opposite to Andy is Red, his close friend. Red is a man of the world, or more specifically the prison world. He calls himself the “Sears and Roebuck” of Shawshank due to his ability to supply things at a price to the prisoners. He accepts the prison as it is, in fact he becomes so used to prison life as he himself admits

these walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s ’institutionalized’…They send you here for life and that’s exactly what they take, the part that counts anyway.

He is a man who has been through it all. And he has accepted the prison life as his own. He in fact is the narrator of the story. But for all his bravado, he can never accept that he could escape to freedom. Or maybe he was comfortable in prison, he would not like the real world? Or was it that the prison had already taken his life away? Red and Andy strike up a very close friendship, but both of them are totally unlike. And the irony is apparent, for all his bravado, Red is basically a coward inside. He is comfortable in prison, not outside it. Andy seems the eternal sufferer, but he is the one who never gives up his quest for freedom, nor hope at all.

And then there is Brooks, the tragic figure in the entire movie. He has spent 50 years in prison, and he doesn’t know life outside of prison. For him the prison is his only world, and his freedom actually sets him on the road to death. Set free, he is unable to adjust to the outer world, and he hangs himself in one of the most poignant scenes of the movie.

And the fourth important character is Warden Samuel Norton, a man whose job is to discipline the prisoners and teach them morals. The irony is that he is the person who is in dire need of a moral education, as he is much more crooked than the convicted felons, over whom he lords. He runs an illegal money laundering operation in jail, uses Andy for that purpose and when a fellow convict comes with proof of Andy’s innocence, he murders him.

Taken philosophically, Andy represents the man of integrity, who suffers humiliation and pain, but never gives up his ideals or hope. He fights against the world on his own term. Red is the man who is at ease with the world, but yet deep down inside, can’t force himself to break out from his circle. Brooks is the person who unable to adjust to a totally different life, gives up his own. And Norton is the hypocritical elite, who preach morality, but are totally crooked in their own life.

The bleak atmosphere of the movie, the slow pace, the underlying tragedy would suggest Shawshank Redemption as a dark movie. But that is to negate the wonderful message of hope, integrity and friendship which this movie offers. Beneath the bleakness and tragedy, the movie presents a wonderful inspiration of living for a better tomorrow and hoping for the best, through the character of Andy. In fact every frame in the movie is a wonderful message in itself, and this is a movie which needs to be seen by every movie lover to understand the value of life.

And of course the performances, Tim Robbins, is just top notch as Andy, conveying hope, fear, pain, suffering superbly. Just watch him in the scene where he learns of his conviction, and you see an ordinary person, totally helpless finding his world collapsing around him.

Veteran actor James Whitmore, puts in a wonderfully poignant performance as the tragic Brooks. His performance in the scene where he concludes that the real world has no place for him, and hangs himself, really moves you. Bob Gunton is suitably nasty as the crooked warden.

But the performance of the movie is given by Morgan Freeman as Red. For me he always remains one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, and one of the finest. As Red, he is simply brilliant. Whether it’s befriending Red, his confusion over the escape, his scene when he is refused parole, Morgan Freeman delivers a performance, that makes you stand up and applaud.

All in all, this is a movie that needs to be seen and analyzed by every one for it’s philosophical undertones, its unforgettable characters and top notch performances.

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