“No Matter the Obstacle: The Shawshank Redemption”
By Ryder Rebibis
No matter how difficult a situation or obstacle may be, humans have the ability to persist and overcome even the most sinful tribulations. This can only be achieved from the most determining factor which is, hope. The gift of hope has the capability to push through adversity while maintaining an unshakable optimistic perspective. In the film The Shawshank Redemption, we see how the power of hope impacts those within the most misfortunate circumstances.
The Shawshank Redemption is a drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont which was based on Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” from 1982. The protagonist Andy Dufresne received two life sentences because of the murders of his wife and her secret lover. Andy is sentenced to Shawshank Penitentiary where he encounters Red, an inmate who has also received a life sentence for murder and has done 20 years before Andy’s arrival. Andy and Red and other close inmates experience the struggles and hardships when living in a hostile institution. Between the warden, guards, and certain inmates, their relationships were advantageous, amoral, and scandalous. But throughout their journey, they understood what it means to have hope by believing to achieve the best outcome despite how difficult their situation may be.
Throughout this essay, I will explore the film’s differences between moral and immoral actions of institutionalized characters, the power of reputation and status, and the discriminational ties between a prisoner’s past compared to those with authority. The punishment for a prisoner is to be stripped of their freedom, time, and dignity from society. How does status play a role when it is impractical within a prison? Does it depend on what you’re able to do for other inmates or how appalling a crime is committed? Is it morally wrong to take advantage of a murderer for personal gain? Or is it justifiable based on what they did in the past? The total institution theme is compelling because of how the prisoners are in the worst position of humanity by being weak and powerless and controlled by the guards and the warden. Innocences, empathy, and money are worthless for these convicts as they live day by day trying to create the best situation for themselves.
The awareness of difference is very subtle to recognize but is the main reason as to why the majority of viewers can relate to these characters. Change is the most important factor throughout the movie. We observe the changes between the protagonists from the beginning of the film and who they become at the end of the movie. The most defining point of difference we see is from the Red (Morgan Freeman). In the beginning of the film, before he meets Andy, Red is interrogated by five men who are in charge of a rehabilitation conference to release Red into society. Red has been asked if he feels like he has been rehabilitated and responds with a passive appeal stating he has been a changed man. The men don’t bat an eye and reject Red’s acceptance to be released. Red is demoralized as his rejection reinforces his own beliefs, which is to be in prison forever. Throughout the movie, we see how much of an impact Andy has made on Red by observing how determined Andy is to find a way to become free and not show any pessimism. They became good friends until eventually Andy escapes the prison. Red then reflects on who he is as a person and no longer looks forward to being a free man except for one reason. The only thing that keeps him hopeful is Andy’s escape to start his dream of opening a hotel on the coast of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, also known as, “The place of no memory”. He is hopeful that Andy is doing well himself and that they can reunite and make a purposeful living together. After Andy’s escape Red has another rehabilitation conference but gives a different answer. He says he wishes he could go back in time and talk some sense to his younger self. He knows that it’s impossible he has to live with that. He ends his speech by concluding they are wasting his time and that the word “rehabilitation” is a made-up word and truthfully doesn’t care if he gets released or not. Surprisingly the men accept his invocation to be released and Red begins his journey to find Andy. To tie this together, we see how Red refused the idea to have hope for Andy earlier addressed upon Red in the prison. But seeing how influential and determined Andy became paved the way for Red to believe the same.
Power within the film is the most undervalued element because it plays a crucial factor in the film’s storyline. The most noticeable representation of power is between the guards and warden’s power over the prisoners. We see the interactions between both sides and how having the authority to give orders is where we are able to compare the dissimilarities. But for this essay, there is a stronger and more significant representation of power within the film which involves Andy. Before Andy’s crime, he was a successful banker. When he entered the prison he had no motive to use his financing skills until he overheard the chief guard complain about taxes. This is where Andy stepped in to help give tax advice to the chief. That led to Andy finding a way to be a beneficial banker to all of the guards in the prison including the warden. The staff of the prison knew that it was illegal but still proceeded to let Andy take care of their finances. What makes this important is that the prison staff was unaware of Andy taking measured steps to create a fake person on paper with his own acts of money laundering. The connection between power and this theme is that even though Andy is a prisoner, he had the upper hand by using their illegal operation against them. He understands power is the ability to act upon knowledge which in this case is his mastery of financing. He can commit the prison staff for fraud meaning that he has leverage which is powerful for a man in his position. The ability to be a prisoner and be able to discreetly control and oversee those who had authority over him was a concealed power.
An interesting topic about discrimination is how inmates can be categorized as forever bad people especially after their release back into civilization. Typically the biggest challenges for those that are newly released are not knowing where to begin, family support, finding employment, and mental health issues. In this film, we see the development of these characters and how they perceive themself as not what they were once before but to watch them grow into good men for society. The integrity and uprightness that they show in this movie portray that everyone can change because The warden and guards treat the prisoners in unlawful ways which show how immoral they are themselves, in some cases more immoral than the prisoners.
The way we view the prisoners in this film is different compared to how we view them in society. Understanding the psychographics of certain prisoners in this movie shows how not all prisoners have future intentions of committing what they have done in the past. In this case, we see Red and Andy wanting to cause no harm to society and live peaceful lives that they curate for themselves. But compared to the views of public perception we make these people feel alienated based on their past. Society becomes fearful that they will repeat their same crimes that got them in confinement in the first place. Although that may be true, it shouldn’t be the central stereotype that all prisoners can never change and become better for society.
A review of the film that I thought was interesting was interpreting The Shawshank Redemption through the theme of its underlying Chrisitianity. The review gives crucial points that showcase how the process of rebirth of Andy when he finally escapes the prison. He is shown as a changed man as if he was reborn becoming cleansed from being isolated for the wrong reasons. That is supported by the entrance into prison and the way he escapes. The review also portrays the warden as the devil because of how manipulative and scheming he is. The warden preaches God but does acts that go against his principles of believing in discipline and the bible. He kills the only man that can prove Andy as innocent and locks Andy in the hole for months at end because he is afraid he will expose his money laundering fraud. What I also find interesting is how the warden says the quote “salvation lies within” which refers to how he thinks that his inmates should act accordingly too. The review discussed Andy as the messiah having his other friendly inmates supporting him based on what he was able to provide for them with no intentions of receiving anything back (Briggs). Taking this film with a religious interpretation, it portrays how leading through forgiveness can result in finding absolution.
The reason I selected this film was because of my interest in psychological thrillers and stoicism. Even though The Shawshank Redemption is more of a crime fiction, it has its psychological elements with ties to stoicism. The ability to push through adversity and persevere is how I try to execute everything throughout my day. Much like Andy, with his ability to persist and be optimistic even in the most difficult part of his life he still managed to find his purpose of a higher calling. Red is the majority of people that we see in reality. People blindly go along their life trying to find a purpose. But with the help of Andy, he is able to follow his path much like a disciple would. Once he finds something to live for he is able to come at peace with himself. My interpretation of the film is the idea to keep moving forward no matter how discouraging and demoralizing the obstacles may be. It’s a very motivational film and changes the perspective of my own life by taking mine for granted by thinking my situation could be worse like Andy’s or Red’s. I would also include the idea of never judging a book by its cover. The reason being is that we see Andy as a guilty man who murdered his wife and her secret admirer. But only he and the film’s audience know that he is actually innocent and always trying to change himself and others around him for the better.
The Shawshank Redemption has both its depressing and triumphant moments that put the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions. From seeing the character development with Red, the rise of power with Andy, and how we can feel sympathy for even the most disgraceful people, we resonate with Shawshank Redemption because of how we can reflect it upon our own lives. As people, we take for granted how great our lives actually are by complaining about things others could never possess and to be able to live the lifestyle and have the people around us that only others could dream of. I recommend this film to those who want to be inspired by those that find themselves to never give up through the worst times of their lives. By reflecting upon your life from an outside perspective, it is easier to go about how you treat yourself and the others around you.
Briggs, Tim. “‘Shawshank’ Still Preaches, 25 Years Later.” The Gospel Coalition. 30 October 2019. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/shawshank-still-preaches-25-years-later/