My Favorite Movies #15 – The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption

1994

Directed by Frank Darabont

Quick synopsis… Framed for murder, upstanding banker Andy Dufresne begins a new life at Shawshank prison, where he comes to be admired by the other inmates — including an older prisoner named Red — for his integrity and unquenchable sense of hope.

  • Based on the Stephen King novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which can be found in the collection, Different Seasons.
  • Different Seasons also features The Body, which was adapted into the film Stand By Me.
  • But we’ll talk about that one on another day.
  • As we open the film in 1947, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is on trial for the murder of his wife and the man with whom she was having an affair.
  • He really gets railroaded in this thing.
  • I mean, I know we don’t see the entire trial, but a lot of the evidence that we do happen to see kind of seems circumstantial at best.
  • If I were on a jury, I’d have reasonable doubt.
  • But, we wouldn’t have a movie if Andy was acquitted.
  • He’s given two life sentences to be served back to back at Shawshank Prison.
  • Next, we meet Red (Morgan Freeman), who has already served 20 years of his own life sentence at this point.
  • He’s up for parole, but is routinely denied.
  • Which is also good, because then Andy wouldn’t eventually have a best friend inside of the prison.
  • Well, I’m sure someone else would’ve stepped up.
  • But it’s nice to have Morgan Freeman as narrator, wouldn’t you agree?
  • Andy arrives at Shawshank on a bus with a fresh group of prisoners.
  • Red and all his buddies take bets on which of these new men will break first.
  • Someone always breaks into sobs that first night…
  • Red thinks Andy will break first.
  • Sidebar: Did you know that Morgan Freeman’s son has a cameo in this movie?
  • Actually, two… He’s the picture of a young Red in his mug shot from 20 years prior, but he’s also among a group of prisoners giving the new guys a hard time as they are marched into the prison.
  • Before anyone has a chance to have an emotional breakdown, Andy meets Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) and the captain of the prison guard, Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown).
  • The warden makes himself out to be an extremely righteous man, but you can tell he’s a serious hypocrite.
  • Hadley’s the kind of guy whose mother probably never hugged him growing up.
  • Once it’s lights out, everyone starts “fishing” with the new guys… trying their hardest to get someone to break.
  • Andy doesn’t make a sound.
  • The next day, we learn that the guy who did break first was beaten to death by Hadley because he wouldn’t shut up.
  • Eventually, Andy approaches Red, since Red’s the kind of guy who knows how to get things.
  • He asks Red if he can smuggle in a rock hammer because he’s an amateur geologist.
  • Red worries that Andy could use this rock hammer as a weapon, but Andy insists he has no enemies here.
  • Red tells him to wait a while, warning him that “the sisters” have taken a liking to him.
  • Andy logically explains that he isn’t homosexual, but Red explains that “the sisters” aren’t either… “You’d have to be human first.”
  • He then warns Andy that Boggs takes what he wants by force, something Andy soon discovers first hand.
  • Red also expresses concern that Andy might try to tunnel his way out using the rock hammer, but Andy just laughs at that notion, a joke Red doesn’t get until he finally gets his hands on the hammer.
  • Two years into Andy’s sentence, he joins Red and his friends for special work detail re-tarring the roof.
  • During this job, Andy overhears Hadley complaining about inheriting some money, which he figures will mostly disappear thanks to taxes.
  • But Andy risks his life to offer to help Hadley find a way to keep the entire amount without paying a dime in taxes.
  • In return, Hadley provides the temporary roofers with cold beer on their last day of the job, even though Andy doesn’t drink a single beer.
  • When Heywood (William Sadler) offers Andy a cold one, he says he quit drinking.
  • Makes sense… last time he got drunk, he was falsely accused of killing his wife.
  • Andy has also earned a temporary friend in Hadley, which comes in handy later on.
  • One night, Andy notices the names of previous prisoners carved into the wall of his cell and decides to add his using the rock hammer.
  • The next day, he approaches Red during a showing of Gilda and asks him to smuggle in the film’s star, Rita Hayworth.
  • On his way out of the prison theater, he’s attacked once more by Boggs and his gang.
  • They beat him severely, leading to Andy spending a month in the infirmary while Boggs gets a week in solitary confinement.
  • And this is where Hadley’s friendship comes in handy…
  • When Boggs returns to his cell, the captain of the guard is waiting for him.
  • “Two things never happened again after that: The Sisters never laid a finger on Andy again and Boggs never walked again.”
  • By the time Andy got back to his cell, Rita Hayworth was waiting for him.
  • Not the actress… but a life size poster of her that Andy could hang on his wall.
  • Under the guise of “tossing cells,” the warden stops by Andy’s cell to size him up.
  • Norton is pleased to see Andy reading his Bible and almost leaves with it.
  • At the last second, he hands it back through the bars and tells Andy, “Salvation is found within.”
  • He has no idea.
  • This leads to Andy being transferred from working in the laundry to the prison library.
  • Andy can’t figure this out, though, as Brooks has been running the library on his own for decades.
  • Doesn’t take long before Hadley brings a guard down to meet with Andy about setting up a trust fund for his kids’ educations.
  • So Andy becomes the prison banker/accountant, helping prison staff with all sorts of financial services.
  • Andy wants to do some good as the assistant librarian though, insisting that he can ask for more funds to expand the library and get new books.
  • Warden Norton allows Andy to write a letter each week to the state senate requesting the funds.
  • After several years, Brooks seemingly goes around the bend and threatens to kill Heywood out of nowhere.
  • Turns out, he’s been granted parole… and he doesn’t want to leave prison.
  • Later, Red excuses Brooks’ behavior because he’s been institutionalized…
  • In prison, Brooks is an important, educated man… outside, he’s nobody.
  • “These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em.”
  • “They send you here for life. That’s exactly what they take… the part that counts, anyway.”
  • We follow Brooks out into the world where he does, indeed, have a difficult time adapting.
  • He writes a letter back to his friends on the inside… then he hangs himself.
  • Eventually, the senate gives in, sending tons of books to the prison, hoping it’ll stop Andy’s letters… but then he writes two letters per week to get even more.
  • In the shipment are records, one of which Andy decides to play over the prison’s PA system while he’s temporarily left alone.
  • That nets him two weeks in the hole.
  • Andy claims it was the easiest time he ever did.
  • No matter what they take away from you, music is something that can always be with you.
  • But this leads to an argument with Red… who used to play a mean harmonica.
  • He quit, figuring prison was the last place he’d need to play.
  • Andy argues that this is where it would be most important.
  • Red warns Andy that hope is a dangerous thing…
  • It’s been 10 years since Andy arrived at Shawshank and Red is once again up for parole.
  • And he is, once again, routinely denied.
  • Andy gives Red a harmonica as a parole rejection gift.
  • That night, Red plays one soft note.
  • Andy was true to his word regarding the letters he wrote to the state and they eventually decided to allocate a regular stipend, allowing for the library to expand in size.
  • About this time, Warden Norton instituted a prison work program, which basically meant the prisoners would be working basic construction jobs with slave labor.
  • This leads to the warden receiving bribes from other parties asking that Norton not take certain contracts.
  • Behind every shady deal, there was Andy Dufresne, working the books.
  • Andy tells Red that there’s a river of dirty money running through Shawshank.
  • Andy launders it for Norton… by the time the warden retires, he’ll be a millionaire.
  • Red asks about the paper trail… Andy explains that the trail will lead to Randall Stevens, the man who does not exist.
  • “The funny thing is, on the outside I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.”
  • Red later asks Andy if it bothers him…
  • Andy says he’s not running the scams, just getting the money taken care of, which may be a fine line, but it’s also allowed him to run the library and help dozens of convicts earn their high school diplomas.
  • In 1965, the gang meets Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows), who’s doing time for breaking and entering.
  • Andy takes a liking to the kid and decides to help him earn his diploma, too.
  • It should be noted that, by this point, in 1966, Raquel Welch had replaced Rita Hayworth on Andy’s wall.
  • Tommy takes his equivalency exam and finishes extremely frustrated, assuming he did terribly.
  • He later goes and talks with Red, feeling bad about how he acted.
  • While talking about Andy, Red tells him why Andy’s in prison…
  • And Tommy figures out that an old cellmate of his is the guy who really killed Andy’s wife and her lover.
  • Elmo Blatch, the cellmate, bragged about the double homicide, saying the best part was that they pinned in on the woman’s husband, some hot shot banker.
  • There it is… proof that Andy can have his sentence overturned.
  • Norton, of course, won’t have any of it.
  • Andy’s mistake is mentioning the money laundering… which really sets Norton off.
  • Norton gives him a month in the hole.
  • Meanwhile, Tommy gets his test results… he passed.
  • Soon after, Tommy is called out for a clandestine meeting with Norton.
  • He tells the warden that he would testify on Andy’s behalf in a heartbeat.
  • Then Norton has Hadley shoot him from the guard tower, making it look like he was trying to escape.
  • Norton visits Andy in solitary confinement.
  • In retaliation, Andy threatens to stop laundering the money for Norton.
  • But Norton holds all the cards… nothing stops.
  • The warden gives Andy a second month in solitary to think about it.
  • When he gets back out, Andy decides he’s had enough of prison life.
  • He and Red talk about what they would do if they ever got out.
  • Andy tells Red about a little place on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
  • “I guess it comes down to a simple choice: get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”
  • He gives Red a cryptic instruction for if he ever gets out of Shawshank… to go to a certain place and find a certain tree and dig up a certain rock…
  • He talks as if it’s the last time he and Red are going to have a conversation.
  • Red’s worried about his friend’s state of mind.
  • Especially when he finds out that Andy went and requested a length of rope earlier in the day.
  • But Andy’s as sane as he’s ever been.
  • As usual, Andy cooks the books for Norton before returning to his cell for the night.
  • The next morning, he’s nowhere to be found.
  • Norton, of course, is pissed.
  • He brings Red to Andy’s cell and questions him, but Red knows nothing.
  • Then he starts throwing rocks at Raquel… and pokes a hole in the poster.
  • And that’s how they discover the big friggin’ hole in Andy’s wall.
  • Red tells us that all they found of Andy Dufresne was a set of old, muddy prison clothes, a bar of soap, and a rock hammer worn down to the nub.
  • Over the course of 20 years, Andy used Rita Hayworth and Raquel Welch to hide the hole he was poking in his wall.
  • On his last night, Andy switched out all the warden’s paperwork and put on the warden’s black dress shoes.
  • After getting through his wall, Andy cracked open a sewage pipe, crawling through that foulness before coming out in a creek near the prison.
  • Andy, under the guise of Randall Stevens, closed all his accounts with the local banks.
  • He also sent all the evidence he had against Norton and Hadley to the proper authorities.
  • As the police converge on Shawshank, Norton discovers that his ledger has been replaced by Andy’s prison issue Bible, which has a perfect cut out for his rock hammer.
  • Remember how Norton said, “Salvation is found within”?
  • Hadley is arrested… Norton doesn’t give the police the chance, shooting himself.
  • Soon after, Red gets a blank postcard with the postmark from Fort Hancock, Texas.
  • He figures out that’s where Andy crossed the border into Mexico.
  • Red’s next parole opportunity comes along and, by this time, he’s so jaded that he’s stopped giving them the speech he thinks they want to hear.
  • Instead, gives them a brutal dose of honesty that only 40 years in prison can provide.
  • And he’s approved.
  • Red follows through on the promise he made to Andy, finding that field and that tree and that rock, under which lies a letter addressed to him.
  • Andy asks Red to meet him in Mexico… he needs a guy who knows how to get things.
  • So Red decides to break his parole and buys a bus ticket to Fort Hancock, Texas.
  • Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.

That was a long one… And if you made it this far, thanks for putting up with it. This is really a great movie and is absolutely worth all two hours and 22 minutes. If you’ve never seen it, what are you waiting for?

The hills are alive in next week’s movie. Is that enough of a hint? It’s a musical, if that helps…

7 thoughts on “My Favorite Movies #15 – The Shawshank Redemption

  1. Ok so you know how a little while ago you had an award on your blog asking what was your favourite Stephen King piece and I was all “no thank you” because I just associate him with horror and evil clowns and nightmares? I didn’t know he wrote this!!!! I haven’t read it BUT at least now I know that I do like at least one of his things lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah… I think a lot of people hear Stephen King and their minds automatically jump to It, Carrie, Cujo, Pet Sematary, etc. But he also did this, The Green Mile, Stand By Me (based on The Body)… He’s got a lot of scary stuff in his bibliography, but there’s a lot of other really great stories in there, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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