One would think there’s not much hope to be had after receiving two back-to-back life sentences in prison, but that’s just what Andy Dufresne has plenty of. On the 22nd anniversary of the release of The Shawshank Redemption, hope still resonates in the hearts of its viewers.
We meet Tim Robbins’s Andy Dufresne as he stands accused of murdering his wife and her lover. He is mysterious, and the flashbacks do not confirm his guilt. He doesn’t have the look of a criminal; in fact, he has the look of a man who cannot comprehend how or why he arrived at this juncture in his life. Not only does Andy have the look of an innocent man, but he has the persona of a man we’d like to have in our lives.
As the camera flies over Shawshank the first time we see it, the music evokes a melancholy feeling that would typically attend looking back on a fond yet sad memory. Red, played by Morgan Freeman, carries this nostalgic feeling in his voice as the narrator of the film. The second Andy Dufresne steps into Shawshank, we are like a bird perched on Red’s shoulder, seeing everything from his perspective. He walks around Shawshank like the respected mayor of a small town, a man who can get things done and a man who knows everything. Both his presence in Shawshank and his role as narrator are comforting to us. He becomes friends with Andy, a friendship that would last decades.
Andy is an innocent man making the best of the lot he has drawn, tragic as it may be. Throughout his time in the prison, he strives to make the lives of others better. He earns his fellow prisoners some nice cold beers, plays them some music on the loud speakers, and improves the prison library. Red is the one who can find a way to get items from outside the prison delivered to your cell, but Andy delivers the gift that is most essential in prison: hope.
Red thinks hope is a dangerous thing to hold onto in a prison. His view of life in Shawshank is very grim: “They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.” Andy, on the other hand, believes hope is the only thing worth holding onto in a prison. His famous words: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Andy didn’t physically help Red escape, but he led him emotionally to freedom. He changed Red’s outlook and that new mindset is what led Red’s to his release.
Shawshank plays on audience assumptions. The viewer is kept in the dark about Andy’s escape, making it all the more powerful when we discover he has achieved just that. The film is misleading in all the best ways. Andy gets rope we assume will be used to hang himself but is used for his escape. Even his fellow prisoners become concerned when they discover he has gotten rope and has been acting unusual.
This is an adaptation of the novel “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King. Typically, adaptations are not so widely accepted and fail to emerge from the shadow of the original work. However, this adaptation is hardly ever mentioned in comparison to the novel. The film is its own being and is appreciated as such, and rightfully so. This film still stands at the top of best-movies-of-all-time lists after 22 years. The film may be from the 1990s and set in the 1940s to 1960s, but the lessons it teaches are timeless.
Stephen King is known for his horror and thriller novels that are prone to causing nightmares. Movies about prison in general are very dark and emotionally tiresome to watch. In Shawshank, there is rape, corruption, and murder. These may be troubling to witness, but are not gratuitous and do not overpower the greater message of the film.
It has been said that the mark of a good movie is that you think about it for a long while after you’ve seen it. Well, it has been over two decades and the world is still thinking about Andy, Red, and Shawshank. As Andy says, “No good thing ever dies.”
Twenty-two years later, we look back at The Shawshank Redemption as fondly as Red looks back on the people he met at Shawshank. Revisiting the film after all these years, we soar on the wings of the camera as it greets Shawshank. We feel like we are returning home.