Kloipy’s Stephen King Series: The Shawshank Redemption
I’ve always been a horror fan. As long as I can remember I’ve been intrigued by the genre. I grew up starting on the Universal Monsters and then on the more modern classics (by modern I mean 70’s and 80’s). It was only a matter of time before I found out about Stephen King. My parents used to take me to yard sales most weekends in the spring and summer and being an avid reader I would always case the boxes of books. I’ll never forget seeing the cover of my first SK book. The frothing muzzle of a dog with the name CUJO in deep red letters. I was hooked from there. I was only in 3rd grade at the time but as soon as I finished I went looking for more. It’s been 18 years since that first book and my love of all things King hasn’t changed. With this series I’ll primarily focus on the adapted film works but I am also throwing in a few book reviews as well. I’ll be harsh on the ones that deserve it (and yes, there are more than a few). So with that out of the way, let’s start with The Shawshank Redemption
I’m going to assume that everyone here has seen the movie so I don’t feel the need to reitirate the plot I’d like to focus more on the lasting effects and meaning of the film. In a way this movie has had it’s own redemption. It came into theaters with obscurity and was quickly rushed out even against critical acclaim and oscar nominations. However, once the film found it’s way to rental it became an almost instant classic. Ask most film fans or just general audiences alike to name some of their favorite films and it’s almost assured that Shawshank will fall somewhere on that list. What is it about this quiet film that touches people so deeply?
I think the answer to that is; freedom of the spirit. Watching a wrongly accused man break free from the confines of prison is a joy to watch, but it’s not what I mean. It’s the fact that the years spent in jail he was always free in his soul. I think that we can all relate to some type of prison. Be it work, family trouble, illness, we all have at one time felt trapped. It’s our attitude that can control whether will thrive or wither. Shawshank finds a way to bring a complex emotion into the hearts of people from all different walks of life. We are all Andy and we are all Red. Each of us a sinner and a saint. How we choose to cope in each situation defines us. Are we not at our most true form in the worst times than we are in our best?
There are a few scenes in the film that I feel illustrate that point. The first is the scene in which Andy gets his friends a job working on the roof. Using his outside life experience he is able to get perks for his friends in the form of cold beer. The fact that Andy does this not for his own favor but just to feel alive again can be met with nothing but joy. It’s just the shot of him smiling and sitting by himself that says more than anything. You see a man not held by anyone.
The second scene is the famous ‘opera’ scene, which I find to be one of the most beautiful scenes in cinema. Andy knows ahead of time that he will be punished severly for playing this music over the loudspeakers but he just doesn’t care. He does it because he wants it and damn the rest of the world. I’m convinced he would be willing to die for just a moment of that song. The way Darabont shows the prisoners halt in their tracks and stare up as if they were looking the face of God is absolutely perfect. And like Red says that it’s just right they didn’t know the words because to recognize them would only take away from the beauty. Music is an achievement of humanity, something of which we are capable of creating from only ourselves. It’s a freedom that can’t be taken.
Throughout all the trouble and pain that comes upon Andy we still see his spirit is alive. When we finally get the payoff in the end, seeing him standing underneath the rain, triumphant, we are him in that moment. One of this films major sucesses is the fact that it’s able to truly make us feel for these characters. We hurt with them and rejoice all in a 2 hour span. We understand these characters because the represent all that we want to be inside. There isn’t a forced upon sympathy in this film. Each emotion is earned and understood not by the music telling us or the sweeping camera, it’s the characters themselves. We feel so much for Andy because he is the best that we all strive to be. A man daunted by woe but able to bring himself back up to the light.
But along with Andy we are also Red. A man who is guilty and trying to prove he is good enough. Red, in the society of the prison, is well looked upon, even popular to some degree. But on the inside he is still yearning to just be accepted no matter where he is. He feels shame for what he did and is trying to prove to not only the parole board but to himself that he is good enough. Even through his suspicions of Andy’s sense of hope, Red is inspired by him, and believes in himself. Red allows himself to hope and that is what frees him. It’s interesting that when Red first meets Andy he thinks that he’s weak and will be eaten alive and yet it turns out that Red is speaking almost of himself without hope. I’ve read people complain of the ending feeling tacked on with them meeting on the beach together, but I feel it is most rightfully deserved. After the runtime of gray and cold, the deep blue of the ocean and the bright sun are more than welcome. Seeing the look on Red’s face as he sees Andy for the first time in years is the payoff. It’s two friends getting to see each other in the full light of their freedom.
If we strip ourselves of all the modern conveneinces and comforts, each of us is just another person looking to figure out a meaning to this life. Sure there are many times of happiness but we all have to experience hurt. The hard times are what builds us, what helps us grow. When you see a patient with cancer smile, a person rushing to help out when his or her life is in danger, or anything of that kind you see the strength of the human spirit. That force that drives us to go on even when we are lost. And when we see those people it makes us want to be better. We only hope that we can share in that strength if it were us in that situation. Shawshank captures that idea and some level in us is moved.
My thanks go to King, Darabont, Robbins, and Freeman for this. They have all helped to construct what I consider a perfect film. It’s a film that I feel will live on for a very long time and still continue to inspire first time and repeat viewers. I hope each of us will know someone like Andy. Someone who makes us want to be a better person, someone who gives us permission to dream again. I’ll close this one with the quote from the film that sums that up. One of the greatests speeches I’ve ever had the privilidge to have free my spirit.
“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 that they’re gone”
I’ll be back soon with the next installment