The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

"In its 25 years plus, The Shawshank Redemption has emerged as an unlikely entry in the contest for the most beloved movie of all time. It’s not quite at those other movies’ level, but it’s not quite not at their level, as it’s spent the last 11 years as the No. 1-rated movie on IMDb."


The Shawshank redemption theatrical demise is infamous, as it earned just $28 million domestically on a $25 million budget. It got seven Oscar nominations, losing to the likes of “Forrest Gump” and “Pulp Fiction,” but it  became the top-rented movie of 1995. Ted Turner started blasting it all over TNT and TBS, where it’s aired more than 100 times, says Michael Quigley, the networks’ executive vice president of content acquisitions and strategy, helping it become one of the few movies “made by cable.”

Frank Darabont wrote and directed the film, basing it on a story by Stephen King. His film grants itself a leisure that most films are afraid to risk. The movie is as deliberate, considered and thoughtful as Freeman's narration. There's a feeling in Hollywood that audiences have short attention spans and must be assaulted with fresh novelties. I think such movies are slower to sit through than a film like "Shawshank," which absorbs us and takes away the awareness that we are watching a film.

 Although the hero of the film is the convicted former banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), the action is never seen from his point of view. The film's opening scene shows him being given two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover, and then we move, permanently, to a point of view representing the prison population and particularly the lifer Ellis 'Red' Redding (Morgan Freeman). It is his voice remembering the first time he saw Andy ("looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over"), and predicting, wrongly, that he wouldn't make it in prison.

From Andy's arrival on the prison bus to the film's end, we see only how others see him - Red, who becomes his best friend, Brooks the old librarian, the corrupt Warden Norton, guards and prisoners. Red is our surrogate. He's the one we identify with, and the redemption, when it comes, is Red's. We've been shown by Andy's example that you have to keep true to yourself, not lose hope, bide your time, set a quiet example and look for your chance. "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really," he tells Red. "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

		That there are things in this world 
		not carved out of gray stone. That 
		there's a small place inside of us 
		they can never lock away, and that 
		place is called hope. 
		Hope is a dangerous thing. Drive a 
		man insane. It's got no place here. 
		Better get used to the idea.

Darabont constructs the film to observe the story, not to punch it up or upstage it. Upstaging, in fact, is unknown in this film; the actors are content to stay within their roles, the story moves in an orderly way, and the film itself reflects the slow passage of the decades. "When they put you in that cell," Red says, "when those bars slam home, that's when you know it's for real. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it." Watching the film again, I admired it even more than the first time I saw it. Affection for good films often grows with familiarity, as it does with music. Some have said life is a prison, we are Red, Andy is our redeemer. All good art is about something deeper than it admits.

		RED (V.O.) 
		I hope I can make it across the 
		border. I hope to see my friend 
		and shake his hand. I hope the 
		Pacific is as blue as it has been 
		in my dreams. 
		I hope.

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