The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Director: Frank Darabont
The Shawshank Redemption is the film that made Morgan Freeman’s classic reflective narration a household standard. The film is based on the Stephen King novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption published in 1982. Frank Darabont directed other Stephen King stories put to film, such as The Green Mile. The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards despite being a box-office disappointment.
The film is is hopeful in tone. It is set in Maine (though it was filed in Ohio), at an old men’s prison. It tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker who is wrongfully convicted for murdering his wife. The story is told through the eyes of “Red” (Morgan Freeman), a fellow prisoner. It is a coming of age story as Dufresne survives the horrors of prison, eventually winning favor with the guards and the warden for his knowledge of taxes and finance. He eventually takes over running the prison library. His rise in the prison coincides with the warden’s decision to launder money through the prison. At the end, Andy reaches his breaking point and asks his friend for a rope. The audience believes he will kill himself, however he has been developing a plan for years (he has been in Shawshank prison for nearly 20 years) in which he escapes through a hole behind his poster he has been carving. He ties his belongings together with the rope. As he escapes, he assumes the fake persona he had developed to launder the money and he takes all of the warden’s money and also notifies the press and the police anonymously. Just before they arrive, the warden shoots himself. Meanwhile, Andy escapes to Mexico. Eventually Red is released and he too escapes to Mexico thanks to a secret hiding place for a note and money from Andy. They embrace along the Pacific Ocean at the end.
One major theme in the film concerns redemption: even in the depths of despair, after being wrongly convicted and thrown in prison for twenty years where he is raped and beaten and taken for granted, Andy keeps a level head and sticks to his plan. Every man in prison must have a goal, a hope, or a dream.
This was Frank Darabont’s debut major motion picture, and his inexperience caused significant tensions behind the scenes. Darabont used Scorcese’s Goodfellas as inspiration. Darabont acquired the rights to the story from his friend, Stephen King, for $5,000 but King never cashed the check. He later mailed it back to Darabont telling him to use it if he ever needed to make bail.
The Shawshank Redemption is a wonderful film. It details a harrowing journey and is a bit melodramatic at times, but it is a terrific story, and Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman deliver excellent performances. In a way, it represents the rebirth of the tradition of great Hollywood prison movies.