My just-for-fun, unofficial stay in the clink is going to be barely 12 hours, but another innocent man, Andy Dufresne, served 20 years behind bars without committing the crime. OK, so The Shawshank Redemption is only a movie, but since I’m in an unjustly imprisoned kind of mood and it’s one of my all-time favorite movies, we’re going to take another look at it:
The only reason Shawshank didn’t win the 1994 Best Picture Award was that it was up against two other of the best movies of the decade, Forest Gump and Pulp Fiction. While it didn’t have the scope and star power of Gump or the flair of Pulp Fiction, this is a quietly wonderful and moving movie. (At the box office, it didn’t help that it has a strange-sounding title. Roger Ebert observed that: “People like excitement at the movies, and titles that provide it do well. Films about “redemption” are approached with great wariness; a lot of people are not thrilled by the prospect of a great film – it sounds like work. But there’s a hunger for messages of hope, and when a film offers one, it’s likely to have staying power even if it doesn’t grab an immediate audience.”) There are a few gunshots here and there, but this is no Michael Bay ‘Splosion-Fest. Throughout each and every one of its 142 minutes, every beat, every pause and every glance has a meaning. There is plot (an extremely well-thought out and well-paced plot) but Shawshank is about more than being locked up and then breaking free. The movie passes through time, hope, friendship, brotherly love, loyalty, betrayal and murder, but the greatest of these is – to mangle scripture – hope, just like Ebert said..
Based on a fantastic novella by Stephen King, Shawshank is a movie all about the hope. About keeping that hope alive even when the circumstances around you are dark as night. About not giving up the hope even when the truth is obscured. Also, it’s about a poster of Rita Hayworth and fighting off unwanted romantic advances by your cellmates in the prison laundry, but yeah, mostly it’s the hope thing.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is falsely accused of his wife murder, earning him two life sentences in Maine’s (fictional) Shawshank Prison. His fellow prisoners see him as soft and ready to crack, but his quiet confidence, intelligence and hope set him apart in the eyes of the cons and the prison staff. “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'” he tells his friend, Red, after 20 years behind bars. After prison beatings, corrupt guards, lying wardens and all other manner sufferings, Andy stands tall, maintains his hope, and “get’s busy living.”
Red, played by Morgan Freeman, who also narrates the film. A Morgan Freeman or Freeman-style narration has become somewhat of a cinematic joke, but this was before all that. His voice work is calm, warm and perfect.
In one of my favorite scenes, he risks a month in solitary confinment for the simple pure joy of playing the Marriage of Figaro over the prison’s PA system. Check out that look on Andy’s face at around the 3:22 mark. At the end of his stay in the hole, he explains that it was worth it because he had the music in his mind to keep him company, just as he carries hope in his heart. Red, Andy’s best friend heard the music and though he didn’t understand the lyrics, he heard hope: “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”