Very few films are as universally beloved as The Shawshank Redemption. It has remained unchallenged for years as number one rated film on IMDB and I’ve yet to meet anyone who has seen it and didn’t think it was, at the very least, a great film. I read a blog post once trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about this film that has led to so many people adoring it and they can up with an interesting theory by comparing it to 1994’s other big films, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. The writer said that Forrest Gump is very much Oscar bait, an inspiration story that warms the hearts of most but is looked down upon by film snobs who would define it as sentimental crap (though I love the Gump to death, I can understand this veiwpoint), while Pulp Fiction is edgy and dangerous, so while film kids eat up the expletive filled dialogue and the graphic violence/drug use, the masses find it too extreme and shy away from it. However, Shawshank courts both teams by being a really well-crafted piece of art that doesn’t challenge the general public. In the world of Shawshank bad guys are punished and good guys are rewarded eventually so middle America is happy, but the good guys are the prisoners and the bad guys are those in charge and the script, direction, and performances are so high quality the snobs enjoy it as well. Another person said it’s the pepperoni pizza of film, it’s not too unusual for pickier eaters, but it still has a zing for the foodies.
When Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is falsely convicted with the murder of his wife and her lover, he refuses to allow prison to change him or allow him to lose hope. He befriends fellow inmate, Red (Morgan Freeman) who is known throughout the prison as a man who can get things.
Two scenes in this film really stand out to me every time I want it. The first being Andy’s first night at Shawshank. The inmates have all places bet on which of the new meat will be the first to crack. While Red’s money is on Andy, another prisoner breaks down, begging to be released because he doesn’t belong there. The guards respond by beating him, but things go too far and he dies as a result of his injuries. At breakfast, as the inmates share the juicy gossip, Andy asks what the man’s name was. This is Andy’s first instant of standing out, of not letting his setting turn him into a monster. But I also have question about this man. What did he do to be imprisoned? Were his cries that he didn’t belong there the truth, or the whining of white collar criminal that thought himself above the law and better than the thieves and murderers he was surrounded with.
I am also fascinated by the story of Brooks, Shawshank’s seemingly oldest prisoner who is lost without the structure of prison life once released. While we know him as a sweet old man who runs the library and keeps a pet bird in his coat, one does get a seventy year sentence without doing something atrocious. The internet rumor is he killed his wife and daughter after a losing streak in poker, a monstrous act you can’t imagine sweet old Brooks committing. It demonstrates the point Red makes to the parole board that he isn’t the person that committed his crimes, and you end up an old man wasting in his life because of the actions of a kid.
The films was a box office flop when released and while it was nominated for several Academy Awards, the filmmakers when home empty handed on Oscar night. However, it became a beloved classic after it was released on video. It became the biggest rental of 1995 and is not in heavy rotation on various cable networks. Not a week goes by that I don’t run into The Shawshank Redemption while channel surfing. It always cracks me up because when I think of movies one always catch on cable “Oscar nominated prison drama” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Shawshank’s success is much like Andy’s journey, slow and steady.