Movie Analysis: “The Shawshank Redemption” — Themes
Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:
To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.
But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.
Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.
For this week’s movie, we go back in time to 1994: The Shawshank Redemption, screenplay by Frank Darabont, novella by Stephen King.
Our schedule for discussion this week:
Monday: General Comments
For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. But seriously, if you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it! If you have seen The Shawshank Redemption, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.
There’s Redemption right there in the movie’s title. Institutionalization as described by Red and the effects of which are lived out in the free world by he and Brooks. Justice and Injustice as inhabited by Andy and Red in contrast to Norton and Hadley. But the story’s central theme has to be: Hope.
Andy embraces it to survive.
Red warns against it: “What are you talking about? Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.”
Andy lays down a call to adventure to Red when he digs up the box under that tree: “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.”
And in the end, Red claims hope: “I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s 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.”
I hope. The last two words of the movie.
The famous side of dialogue — Get busy living or get busy dying — speaks to hope, the former forsaking it, the latter clinging close to it.
Andy holds tight to it to make it through his incarceration. Meanwhile he fans the flickering embers of hope within Red, barely keeping it alive. In the end, hope prevails as he and Andy are reunited.
What about you? Your thoughts on the themes in The Shawshank Redemption?
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
It’s right there in the title, after all. If you miss how The Shawshank Redemption is about the possibility for redemption, no matter the person and the no matter the sin, then you simply were not paying attention. The most important element of the movie’s theme of redemption may be easily be overlooked or not fully appreciated. It is not enough to suggest that Andy achieves redemption because, as indicated, that should be obvious. Keep in mind that Andy sin is not equitable with the crime for which he is convicted. Therefore, Andy does not enjoy mere judicial redemption like some other characters; his is truly spiritual in nature because penance required for expiation seems distinctly unfair and over-the-top to relate merely to criminal action. That tough stretch require to achieve redemption is significant as well; salvation usually does not and should not come easily.
Andy never gives up hope of attaining freedom. He hopes to achieve it through legal means, but is more than willing to attain freedom on his own terms should the system continue to fail him. The system does fail him and that failure is an easy place to lose something as precious and fragile as hope. Andy never allows this to happen. The film suggests that keeping hope alive means not merely sitting back as a participant who waiting for hope to arrive. In order to maintain hope in the face of overwhelmingly unlikely odds, one must become an active agent. Hope, in other words, should not take the shape of an implausible fantasy, but a conceivable goal.
The single most iconic image from The Shawshank Redemption shows Andy, having finally made his way through the tunnel he’s been working on for decades, sliding through the drain pipe into the stream below, running away from the immediate danger, ripping off his shirt and then standing there with arms outstretched and head tilted back looking toward the sky as the freedom literally rains down upon him. The threat of capture and re-imprisonment is still palpable and the possibility of a million different things undoing all that he’s worked so hard to achieve cannot help but be running through his mind. Despite this, Andy cannot help but stop to take the time to relish the first taste of unencumbered freedom he has enjoyed in decades. It is a reminder of how precious a gift the freedom most of us enjoy really is and how quickly and without any seeming justice or logic it could be taken away.
Brooks, when his parole is announced, is so desperate to stay in the prison that he almost cuts the throat of Heywood. The identity crisis that Brooks is about to face once he is out of THE prison is what forces him to do such an act in spite of him being a respectable and reasonable man. As Red says in the film, Brooks has spent 50 years of his life in the prison and he is an important man here. But outside he is nothing. He has no identity, no respect and no position. He just becomes one among the billions. The fear of being no one and losing the identity that he enjoyed in the prison are the reasons for Brooks’ strange act
Andy is a man of courage and this courage is what makes him capable of taking the biggest risk. In spite of having an idea about what would happen if gets caught, Andy finds the courage to make a tunnel through his prison wall. His courage and determination to take risk is what makes him unique from other prisoners who have simply accepted their fate. Andy’s courage is also expressed in a scene where he plays music through the loudspeaker which proves as an overwhelming experience for the prisoners.
Destiny plays an important part in man’s life. Andy is no different. Even though he did not commit any crime, circumstances unfold in such a way that he is found guilty. It is unfortunate that circumstantial evidences were against him and he could not save himself from imprisonment. Thus destiny has a big part in how Andy ended up in prison.
The relationship between Red and Andy is admirable and inspiring. Their friendship in the prison is special as prisons are usually notorious for rivalry, fights and violence. They develop a mutual respect and love for each other over the years they have spent together. They find a true companion in each other. Living a secluded life in prison, this companionship serves as the source of comfort and solace for both of them. Their conversations with each other become the most important parts of the film. Andy’s letter to Red shows the depth of their friendship. The two lonely men become the source of support and affection for each other
Death is a devastating theme in the film. We witness two deaths- suicide of Brooks and death of Tommy. Brooks out of loneliness and depression in this fast-paced world commits suicide. Tommy is killed by the Warden as he is willing to testify Andy’s innocence. Warden used Andy to manage his own fake accounts and losing Andy can be one of the worst things that can happen to him. In order to save his own money and reputation, Warden shoots the young and vibrant, Tommy.
Prison life is a life of routine. You are forced to do certain things at particular points of time. After years you become so used to the routine you followed that you become depended on them. When Andy comes out in parole and gets a job in a shop, he is shown as asking permission to go to the washroom. Owner asks him not to take permission every time he wants to go to the washroom. But this is what he used to. Andy says, “40 years I have been asking permission to piss. I can’t squeeze a drop without say-so.” He became so depended on the routine in prison that his mind and body functions according that routine
It is true that some people commit crime in that one moment of extreme anger or passion. The good side in them always regrets the crime they did. They find themselves caught in an extraordinary situation of complication and confusion. They become nostalgic about their good times and lament over the beautiful and happy life they missed. Red’s lines-“we sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of our own houses. We were the lord of all creation”- expresses this deep lament and regret.