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The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - 10/10

Major spoilers throughout; a synopsis as well as a review.

Fear can hold you prisoner; hope can set you free. Such is the catchphrase of The Shawshank Redemption, an epic story of faith, kindness, and salvation in which a man is wrongfully accused of murdering his unfaithful wife and her lover, and for it is condemned forever to prison; the prison of Shawshank. This film adaption of the short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, written by Stephen King, was directed by Frank Darabont who also directed Stephen King’s The Green Mile. Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most magnificent, memorable stories ever told and is one of the greatest movies of all time because of its beautiful cinematography, gripping story, extraordinary performances, and deep underlying themes.

Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a seemingly quiet, timid but very successful banker whose life comes to a cataclysmic halt when the unthinkable occurs. Late one night Andy arrives home to find his beautiful wife cheating on him with a stranger. In total shock he staggers away, unseen, later that same night returning to his house drunk and packing a gun. He sits in his car in the driveway for a very long time, drinking and loading the small firearm, his face a contorted mess of anger and confusion. He stumbles out of the car, walking clumsily toward his home in which his wife is making love to another man, and then the scene ends, concluding the introduction to the antagonist of the film and setting the audience up for all that is to come.

We quickly learn that Andy is innocent of the crime he was imprisoned for through his elegant personality and refined interactions with the prison guards and other inmates. One inmate in particular finds Andy intriguing, unlike any new inmate—or “fish” as they’re called by long-time prisoners of Shawshank—to arrive at the prison. This inmate is Red, played by Morgan Freeman, who eventually befriends Andy, accepting him into his group of friends, a somewhat friendly faction of inmates including Heywood (William Sadler) and Bogs (Mark Rolston). Brooks, the prison librarian (who is also an inmate), is eventually introduced; a kind, seemingly remorseful old man that eventually befriends Andy as Red did. Andy is not without his enemies though, for a group of malicious men known as “the Sisters” torment and brutalize him throughout the film until an event takes place that decimates their leader.

Andy eventually finds himself in favor of the prison guards and even the powerful Warden for his vast knowledge of economics and “the system.” He eventually is granted an office in the prison of his very own within the prison library, and becomes Brooks’ first partner in the fifty years that the old man has been a convict. Within this office Andy helps the prison guards and the Warden with their complex financial business and inquisitions, such as with their taxes and W2’s.

The film comes to a cataclysmic turning point when a new fish joins Shawshank; a young hot-shot named Tommy (portrayed by Gil Bellows) who comes with a disquieting revelation: he knows that Andy did not kill his wife, and he can testify in open court to allow Andy a chance for freedom. With his great intelligence, Andy knows that now he has enough to request another trial and properly get it, so he meets with the Warden to discuss it. Naturally, the Warden is not happy; Andy is his go-to guy for help on taxes and with bank loans and such; he doesn’t want him leaving. An argument ensues and Andy finds himself in temporary solitary confinement and Tommy finds himself in a grave “accident.” These first stages of the film’s astounding climax are heart-racing, and what follows is an adrenaline rush until the credits begin to roll. In short, with the help of Rita Hayworth, Andy escapes the confines of the Shawshank prison using his keen intellect and prevailing determination and meets Red in Mexico as the screen fades to black. This beautiful conclusion takes place, of course, after the Warden found himself set up by Andy for the terrors he inflicted upon him which ultimately led to his (the Warden’s) death, and this is where Andy truly found his redemption.

Walt Whitman, one of the greatest poets of the 1800’s and of all time, once wrote: “For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and keep watch, It is I let out in the morning and barr’d at night.” (Song of Myself, 51) This can relate to Andy, as he “let out” (escaped) in the morning when he was “barr’d” (imprisoned within his cell) the previous night, all while the “keepers of convicts” (the prison guards) were keeping watch, but had no idea what was going on.

The underlying messages and symbolic metaphors sewn throughout The Shawshank Redemption are numerous and truly profound. Through acts of common decency while wrongfully imprisoned in a hell known as Shawshank, a man uses his keen intellect and wits to break free of the place and take down the men who have caused him so much anguish over the years. Not only escaping Shawshank was Andy’s act of redemption in itself, but bringing the prison down with him—setting the Warden and all the guards he’s ever helped up—was also his salvation, for now he is freed from their insidious grip. This central theme of the film is both powerful and universal, because at point in life, everyone desires redemption.

Technically, The Shawshank Redemption is as remarkable as it is on a philosophical level. The cinematography is flawless, Frank Darabont delivering excellent shots of everything depicted in the movie with smooth scene transitions and fantastic lighting. The acting is superb, the performances delivered by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman being the greatest among any performances ever delivered, and the plot and story of the film is nothing short of awe-inspiring, coming from the Master of Horror (who this time gave us something entirely different), Mr. Stephen King.

It is for all these reasons that The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most preeminent movies of all time and will remain a personal favorite forever. Writer Stephen King and director Frank Darabont gave the world something truly extraordinary, something ranked #1 on the Internet Movie Database’s (the largest movie web site on the Web) “Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time” list, and something that will likely never be forgotten in the vast, never-ending world of film and, moreover, storytelling.