The Shawshank Redemption

Every time I think of this movie, I think about how hard I worked to avoid seeing it. I heard about this movie for what seemed like years. Everyone always named it as their "most favortist" movie, which always makes me doubtful. Directed in 1994 by Frank Darabont, who seems on only directed Stephen King adaptions (and most recently and strangely he produced The Walking Dead TV Show). I always feel like I'll just be disappointed when I see movie that people talk about in such glowing terms. I don't doubt their taste, I just tend to become more critical and surly. I'm not alone in this feeling. I worked on a short film for DePaul my senior year, working on production design and creating a set for a drug addict to live in. During shooting in the apartment, I became tired of the sheer cattiness of production design and resigned myself to just PA. I sulked in the cockroach-infested hallway with my friend Rick. Between our bouts of whining and confirming into the walkie-talkie that we had "this shit locked down", we complained about movies. Specifically, ones we had never seen. We both immediately named The Shawshank Redemption. It was so talked about that we both felt it couldn't possibly be that good when we watched it. I'm not going to say I wasn't right, because this is by no means my favorite movie. But it was for sure a great movie, and an exceptional movie. The story was sort of contrite, but it felt really good to watch it. It did a lot of cool things with pacing and tone and cinematography. There were some parts that felt meh to be, but overall, I was really impressed with the movie, and I understand (to some extent) why everyone loves it so much. I can see why people name it as a favorite. My favorite movies that I tend to actually declare "my favoritst" are the ones that sort of opened my mind to something new. A movie that I saw something different in, or I have a really strong, good, memory about. I often name my favorite movie as being the first movie I saw where I "got" film analysis, and I was like, "Oh, movies can mean things!" Anyway, on to the actual film at hand.


Since apparently everyone except me has seen this movie, I'll keep the plot short. Andrew "Andy" Dufresne is convicted of shooting his wife and her boyfriend, and will serve two life sentences for this crime. He claims he is innocent, and it becomes clear over the course of the film that he probably is, despite that fact that everyone in jail pleads innocent, of course. He befriends Red, who is a master at smuggling in goods. Andy asks for a little rock tool so he can make sculptures and chess pieces. He gets grants for the library, he gets sexually assaulted, yunno, prison life. No matter what vaguely good or vaguely bad things happen to him (I say vaguely since the film reacts to each event with only apathy), he has, we learn, only been focused on one goal - escaping. He digs himself a tunnel with his little rock tool, and the rest is history. An innocent man goes free, and Red, a man we are endeared to, gets paroled, and the friends are reunited. It sound heartwarming, and it is, although much of the movie is laced with ideas of monotony and depression.

It is the monotony and depression that are incredible in this film. The pacing is drool-worthy, and I am envious of how perfect it is. We all know first-hand how quickly our lives become monotonous and dull. How is it that we just sleep and work and eat and sleep and work and eat? Years fly by quickly, we all know. Here, the monotony of prison is condensed - Andy spends so many years there, and we get a huge sense of how tortuously boring that it is. However, there is never any part of the movie that is boring. The pacing stays interesting and quick, even though nothing in the film is. We only see the events through the eyes of Red, and his objectivism and...acceptance of prison life seem to keep things flowing quickly. I hope that makes some sort of sense. I'm certainly running on no sleep here - I have that kind of insomnia where I take an over-the-counter sleeping pill and I still lay awake the whole night. Ugh.

At first I was sort of upset that some of the more serious issues that happen in the movie seem to be glossed over. Isn't prison rape a serious issue? Shouldn't we understand more of the systematic abuse and suffering? My friend Barry mentioned something genius when I brought this up. "It's like everyone has Stockholm Syndrome," he told me. This is a great way to explain the apathy to these horrible events. There is so much monotony and so little of anything else that the prisoners have accepted their fate. Bad things, good things, they are just a blur of acceptance. There is not room to get angry at injustice when everything is just a blur of meh. Ebert mentions in his essay something to this extent, writing, "The moments of violence (as when Andy is sexually assaulted) are seen objectively, not exploited. The movie avoids lingering on Andy's suffering; after beatings, he's seen in medium and long shot, tactfully. The camera doesn't focus on Andy's wounds or bruises, but, like his fellow prisoners, gives him his space" (The Great Movies, 413). It somehow completely encompasses what it is like to be a victim without being depressing just for the sake of being depressing. When something traumatic happens to us, we kick into survival mode. We ignore what is wrong - we do not linger over our bruises or pain. We try to function and keep going, since our bodies and minds know this is the only way we can survive. Here, this film is able to create that reaction, that feeling, and it is really stunning to watch it.

I feel like I could keep writing about this, but at some point I need to go to bed early. Two days of being a zombie at work would not be good. If you haven't see The Shawshank Redemption, you should check it out. It's sort of long and it sounds sort of depressing, but it is still somehow is a very uplifting movie. Here is a man who stayed focused and driven even though others around him were not. As Red narrates at the end, "Andy Dufresne...crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side." It might sound depressing, but to think of someone having hope through something so difficult is inspiring, and it does make us feel good. If you've been through something tramautic you can relate to the film, and even if you haven't, you can appreciate the sense of hope that permeats the film.

Have any of you seen The Shawshank Redemption? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Shawshank Redemption
Trailer

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