What better movie to start a new series on my all-time favourite movies other than probably the greatest movie of all time? Yes. You read it right. Favourites is going to be a series of blogs through which I’ll try to explore the movies that are close to my heart.

Spoilers ahead. 

The Shawshank Redemption. ‘What is the huge fuss that’s always been surrounding this movie? This ain’t a big deal. This is just another prison break drama, isn’t it?’, will be the reaction of many (or mine to say the least) before watching this movie. Yes. This is just a simple drama which deals with a prison break. Yet, this movie holds a special place in many a person’s heart. The honesty and the utmost sincerity of the movie in delivering what it needed to can be the foremost reason for this movie becoming a worldwide rage, albeit only after it ended its theatrical run.

The movie kicks off with a murder. Andy Dufresne (a terrific Tim Robbins, whose performance I’ll elicit later) , a banker, is accused of killing his wife and her lover. The Portland man is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at the Shawshank State Penitentiary. Now, we, along with Andy, are not sure whether he’s killed his wife or not. He’s not sure because he was drunk. But, his fate has already been sealed and the he is compelled to make the Shawshank prison his new home. He dwells in silence. Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman, with a breathtaking performance) a contraband smuggler, who has been serving his life sentence, is slowly befriended by Andy. Red, as he’s been called by everyone, acts as the supplier of different necessities for the Shawshank inmates. Andy and his character fascinates Red, which makes their bond stronger. Andy gets a rock hammer, as he says he wants to make chess pieces in his free time, along with a Rita Hayworth (a famous American actress of the 1940s) poster from Red.

The first night’s the toughest, no doubt about it. They march you in naked as the day you were born, skin burning and half blind from that delousing shit they throw on you, and when they put you in that cell, when those bars slam home, that’s when you know it’s for real. A whole life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it. Most new fish come close to madness the first night. Somebody always breaks down crying. Happens every time. The only question is, who’s it gonna be? It’s as good a thing to bet on as any, I guess. I had my money on Andy Dufresne. I remember my first night. Seems like a long time ago.

– Red’s voiceover when Andy is brought into the prison.

This part of the movie lets us read the characters and the director makes sure that the audience are fully drawn into the jail setup and the happenings inside it, since this is a period film which deals with a bygone era. Then, Andy slowly gets along with the prison life, and befriends a few other people, though he is constantly troubled and assaulted by “the Sisters” and their leaders Bogs. He then helps the captain Byron Hadley with his taxes and make sure that they are legally perfect. And later, when Andy is beaten badly by the Sisters, Hadley assaults Bogs badly and he gets transferred to another prison. Then, the warden Samuel Norton assigns Andy to the library to help Brooks Hatlen, an elderly inmate of the Shawshank. Andy slowly wins the confidence of the warden and is employed to deal with a variety of matters. Andy begins writing weekly letters to the State government for funds to develop the prison library. In 1954, Brooks is paroled, but he commits suicide because of his inability to adapt to the outside world.

These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyways.

Andy then receives a donation, which includes a recording of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. Andy plays an excerpt over the public address system, which results in him receiving solitary confinement. 

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.

-Red’s voiceover on Andy playing The Marriage of Figaro

It was in here…in here. That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?

-Andy Dufresene, while playing The Marriage of Figaro

Andy tells Red after his release that hope is what gets him through this time, which Red dismisses. In 1963, the warden starts using Andy to launder the money that he received through bribes and the profit through undercutting skilled labor costs, using an alias. Then, in 1966, Andy gets to know the shocking truth that he was not the one who murdered his wife and her lover through Tommy Williams, an inmate who Andy helps passing his GDE exam, who was an inmate of the murderer of Andy’s wife in a different prison. When Andy informs this to Norton, he refuses and sends Andy once again to the solitary confinement for a longer time, killing Tommy with the help of Hadley in the process. Andy reluctantly agrees to help Norton with laundering as he threatens to burn the library, and thus gets released after two months.

He then tells Red of his dream of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican coastal town, which makes Red think Andy is unrealistic. But, he promises Andy that he’ll visit a hayfield in Buxton, Maine that Andy tells him if at all he gets released, to retrieve a package Andy buried there. He starts worrying about Andy. This increases when he learns that Andy had asked for a 6 feet rope from another inmate.

The next day, the guards find Andy’s cell empty. Norton then finds out a huge tunnel behind the poster of Raquel Welch (which replaced the Rita Hayworth poster) , which Andy has dug with his rock hammer for all the 19 years. Andy escapes with the ledger containing all the money laundering details and he reveals everything after withdrawing the money by posing as Norton’s alias, Randall Stephens. Norton commits suicide before the FBI could catch him and they take Hadley into custody.

[Scrawled in a Bible he hollowed out to make space for the rock hammer he used to tunnel through his cell wall, and placed in the Warden’s safe the night before his escape]

“Dear Warden; You were right. Salvation lay within. Andy”

-Andy’s statement to the warden.

 

In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man SIX hundred years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. 

Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really. Pressure, and time. That and a big goddamn poster. Like I said, in prison, a man will do almost anything to keep his mind occupied. Turns out Andy’s favorite hobby was totin’ his wall out into the exercise yard, a handful at a time. I guess after Tommy was killed, Andy decided he’d been here just about long enough. 

Andy did like he was told; buffed those shoes to a high mirror shine. The guards simply didn’t notice. Neither did I… I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes? Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine- or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields; just shy of half a mile. 

Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. Andy Dufresne, headed for the Pacific. Those of us who knew him best talk about him often. I swear, the stuff he pulled… Sometimes it makes me sad, though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty now that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.

-Red’s voiceovers on the aftermath of Andy’s escape.

Red is finally paroled after serving forty years in the prison. He finds it difficult to adapt to life outside prison. Then, he visits Buxton, remembering his promise to Andy. There, he finds a cache with money and a letter asking him to come to Zihuatanejo. Red violates his parole and travel across the border to Mexico, admitting he finally feels hope. On a beach in Mexico, Red finds Andy and the happily embrace each other.

Dear Red, If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you? I could use a good man to help me get my project on wheels. I’ll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready. Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well. Your friend, Andy.
-Andy’s letter to Red, which is buried with a cage at a hayfield in Buxton, Maine.
I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. 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.
-Red’s voiceover, on his excitement after finding Andy’s letter and on his travel to begin a new chapter of his life.

The complete plot has been put forth rather than a bit part presentation is a conscious effort to make people get into the groove of the plot before my analysis. The first and the biggest positive of the movie is the use of voiceovers and monologues. This movie stands as one of the classic examples of how to effectively use monologues to carry forward a narrative (used to a really good effect by Gautham Vasudev Menon in Yennai Arindhaal, which, as an extended fare, was the first of its kind in Tamil Cinema). The move to cast Morgan Freeman as Red stands testament to the ability of Frank Darabont, the director. He lived as Red all along, and his role forms the most important building block of the plot, which he delivered to perfection with such ease, that everyone will seem to forget the fact that he’s acting. His voice was another added armoury to his arsenal, as it had the power to penetrate through a soul and speak with all kinds of emotions in the same tone, which made the lines written on paper all the more powerful on-screen. 

This movie is based on the novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, and the director has to be applauded for making an adaptation that stays true to its original as well as becoming an enthralling experience to the viewer. The problem is that all the scenes stand out which makes it difficult to pick the best among them. In the scene when Andy is brought to the prison, the look on his face changes from a normal one to that of a petrified one as soon as he steps foot onto the prison. The emotions of distraught, fear, bewilderment (whether he killed his wife or not) are all brought into life by a single look from Tim Robbins’ face, when a close-up shot slowly pans onto his face. After finding that he lost his bet on Andy, Red realises that he’s no ordinary person. The single expression in that scene spoke volumes, which can be done only by an actor of Morgan Freeman’s calibre.

The screenplay is leisurely paced, but the director has intentionally done it to make sure that we get into the mood of the movie. The prison setup has been beautifully brought out to life with long shots panning the outside and the inside of the prison, to make us realise just by visualising how hard a prisoner’s life can be. There isn’t much explanation for the depth inside each and every visual, and the director lets the viewer decipher from what he sees. There is no melodrama. The movie never goes over the top. It just floats along the same level, which makes Frank Darabont’s style of filmmaking in this movie stand out from the rest. The cinematography is simply world-class. The best example is the scene when Andy sits on the shade, with a smile on his face. The camera slowly panning into Tim Robbins’ face with the sun setting down is a lovely way to express a varied set of complex emotions.

Tim Robbins delivered the performance of his lifetime as the silent, introverted banker Andy Dufresne. He rocked each and every scene and brought the emotions out with his expressive eyes in a knockout performance. He made sure that no person can think of anyone other than him as Andy Dufresne. Another scene where he proves his mettle is the one where Andy escapes from the prison. He escapes and then comes out to the free world at last, and the expression given by Tim in that scene is the one of the highest order. Not every actor can pull that off. Tim and Morgan’s performances never let us sense the staging throughout the movie. Due credit has to go to the writer Stephen King, whose wonderful story set the basis for the movie. The meticulous craftsmanship made the adaptation completely worthwhile. 

Another plus point is the space given for all the actors to perform. It is a fact that the movie predominantly focuses on Andy and Red. But, it gives ample space and scope for almost all the supporting actors. James Whitmore gave the emotional hook that was required off Brooks and Bob Hunting and Clancy Brown gave the smart, at the same time evil characters life through their memorable performances. The characters have been very well-defined and their arcs have been properly rounded out, so that there is no discomfort for the viewer in understanding the characters. Even the bird Jake, grown up by Brooks has a well-defined character arc. This is rare in modern-day movies where the fast pacing and the entertainment factor hold more importance than creating proper cinema. Another scene which can be quoted as an example for Frank’s meticulous nature of directing a movie is the penultimate scene where Red speaks to the officials before getting his parole. That can make even a disinterested person sit and listen. Such is the audacity of the scene which brought out more than what was desired from it.

Music always forms an integral part of the movie, and this movie is no exception. Thomas Newman produced a stunning background score, which gave that most required connect between the audience and the movie. He very well knew about the effect of silence and let a few important places in silence, which doubled the effect up in those scenes. This is one rare movie, which oozes positivity throughout its running time. Any person can get motivated on watching this movie. The dialogues form the major part of this potency, as they have the power to make anyone and everyone brim with confidence. I can’t recall any better movie that has told the power of friendship, the hardships that one has to suffer to achieve one’s goal, the art of never giving up, the power of hope, the toughness of life, the effects of being patient and smart, the profound changes that adaptability can bring in such a visually enchanting, musically pleasing, heart-warming, meticulous, positive way.

The only thing that Frank Darabont must’ve believed in was hope. That was the thing that kept pushing him to the limits to expand them , so that he can produce the best ever product possible at such a young age for a Hollywood director (he was 35 when this movie released). The amount of detailing that has gone into the screenplay is unimaginable. The movie travels for 20 years, spawning from 1947 to 1967, and though he had the help of Stephen King’s book, it is always difficult to make sure that all the details are correct. The library, Norton’s locker, the jail rooms were designed to perfection. He even made the tree act in the movie. The capability of the director can be weighed by means of how he ushers the other departments and how the actors perform on-screen. Frank Darabont showed that he possesses that quality in abundance and his directorial skills are second to none. A high-class filmmaker, in deed.

Probably the best ever narration of any story in cinema, this movie was ironically met with a below par response from the general public initially. But, great things can’t be kept out for a longer time. It has gathered a huge following post its theatrical run and is set as the benchmark for any movie that’s been made or any story that’s been told. Such is the power of hope, that’s propelled this movie on its way to become a cult classic, which is to be spoken about for centuries to come.

If you feel down and out,  Watch ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

If you feel worthless in life, Watch ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

If you are in a dire need of motivation,  Watch ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

If you are hopeless, Watch ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

If you wat to watch good cinema, Watch ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

Let me finish by quoting one of the famous dialogues from the movie: ‘Hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’ 

The Shawshank Redemption- G. O. A. T !!!

 

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