The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 drama film based on Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption; it stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.In 1947, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is found guilty of the murder of his wife and her lover; he is sentenced to life in prison, and his sentence is to be served at Maine's Shawshank penitentiary. The conditions are terrible, many of his fellow prisoners are sadistic, and many of the guards are even worse — but life begins to look up as Dufresne becomes acquainted with an old black con, Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman, the character also serves as the movie's narrator), commonly referred to as Red. A friendship begins after Red, "the man who knows how to get things", procures a rock hammer for Dufresne, an object he wishes to own in order to carve a soapstone chess set. The friendship will only strengthen over the coming years.Twenty years pass within the prison walls, showing the growth and strength of Andy and Red's friendship, Andy's various attempts to better the life of his fellow inmates through education (facilitated by the financial advice he gives the prison's corrupt warden and guards), the quest to prove his innocence, and the attempt to remain mentally free and hopeful even when surrounded by the crushing gray of prison walls.This movie exemplifies the potential gap between initial box office success and ultimate popularity. Back in 1994, it earned just over $28 million at the US box office; it was only the 52nd most successful film of its year. Despite the lukewarm box office reception (mainly due to its Word Salad Title and the distinct lack of female cast members), Shawshank received favorable reviews from critics and has since enjoyed a remarkable life on cable television and home video. Media magnate Ted Turner loved the film so much that he purchased the TV rights and showed it on one of his cable stations literally every weekend for years, which helped the film earn back its budget and give it the mainstream recognition it never received while in theaters. Shawshank continues to be hailed by critics and audiences alike even today — it is often ranked amongst the greatest films of all time, and it is often found leading the Internet Movie Database's poll of top 250 films (it also has the highest number of votes) — but this has lead to some Hype Aversion. The film is definitely worth seeing at least once, though (and it's on TNT practically every other weekend).Shawshank has since been adapted for the stage. The producers insist they adapted the novella and not the film, but this claim is doubtful, since the character of Red is a black man instead of the red-haired Irishman of the book.
Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: The trope-naming example is done for reasons the audience can sympathize with. Andy is secretly planning to escape from prison and "expose" the wardenas a crook. The warden would have him break the law anyway. He says he never broke the law before going to jail, and we see nothing to contradict him.
The film has examples of:
Ability Over Appearance: traditionally, guys called "Red" are redheads. Initial casting calls had that in mind. The role is played by Morgan Freeman, who would not pick up that nickname naturally but owns the role anyway. It's explained in the film (though not in the novella), that Red's nickname comes from his name, Ellis Redding.
In the novella, Andy sold off his assets before going into prison and invested them with the help of a friend on the outside. This subplot is eliminated in the movie, in which Andy simply steals all the money he'd laundered for Norton, making the revenge that much sweeter (both for him and the audience).
The scene where Andy plays "Sull'aria" from The Marriage of Figaro over the prison loudspeakers was not written into the novella by Stephen King. After seeing it for himself, King said he wished he had.
The movie adds further explanation as to where Andy hid his rock hammer while in prison Andy hides the hammer in his prison issue bible in the book of Exodus. As with most of Frank Darabont's adaptations to King's work this change is subtly brilliant.
Affably Evil: Norton initially comes across as stern and harsh, but well-meaning. Not for long, however..
Badass: Hadley. Though it's apparently subverted in the end, when Red says he heard he "cried like a little girl" when arrested.
Badass Bookworm: Andy Dufresne himself, of course, using his knowledge of biology to explain to one of The Sisters why he wouldn't be able to help it if he "bit" after they hit him in the head, and his knowledge of geology to figure out from the weakness of the wall that he could tunnel his way out.
Bogs: Where do you learn this shit? Andy: Read it. You know how to read? You ignorant fuck?
He's no slouch in hand-to-hand either, it's obvious that it's only superior numbers that let the Sisters get the better of him, and even then he manages to fight them off a number of times. In the novella, The Sisters leave Andy alone, the Sisters like easy prey and Andy fights like a badger.
Andy finds a grub of some sort in his first prison meal. As he's examining it, he has the following conversation with a crusty old con who's been in prison 50 years and may or may not have a few screws loose:
Brooks: Are you going to eat that? Andy: Hadn't planned on it. Brooks:[holds his hand out] Do you mind? [Andy hands it over skeptically] Brooks:[with a satisfied smile] Ahh, that's nice and ripe. [He opens his jacket and feeds it to a baby raven in his pocket] Brooks: Jake says "Thank you."
Norton asking Tommy whether he'd be willing to testify that Andy is innocent leads to a result that some might find unexpected.
Black and Grey Morality: Nobody's perfectly morally upstanding in this story. The closest thing to a good guy is Andy; he didn't actually kill anyone but did seem to consider it, seeing as he stalked his wife with a loaded gun while drunk. Red, and Brooks are decent fellows who did something to warrant their life sentences in prison. It's known that Red committed murder, and it's quite likely Brooks did, too. Then you have how unbelievably cruel and remorseless the actual villains are.
Book Safe: Andy keeps his rock hammer in his Bible.
Brick Joke: The library sequence. Amusing when the joke is introduced, but hilarious in hindsight. See the Funny Moments section for the dialogue.
Brutal Honesty: Towards the end, once he's lost his best friend, Red has become so tired and bitter of the endless cycle of his parole hearings and so inured to prison life that he finally tells the parole board exactly what he thinks of both them and himself. It's implied this candor is what finally gets him paroled.
Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: A non-military example in the forms of Warden Norton and Captain Hadley, made most apparent during the dressing-down of the new inmates.
Tommy Williams. He once shared a cell with the man who really killed Andy's wife, and he finally makes it clear to the audience that Andy is innocent. When Warden Norton has him assassinated to keep him quiet, Andy's anger galvanizes him into finally making his escape.
Randall Stevens, the silent partner. The one with the bank account and the social security number.
Chekhov's Skill: Had Andy picked up any other hobby than rock-collecting, he might not have gotten too far. Chess is also used to set up the trope.
Chromosome Casting: The only female character to appear in the film is Andy's wife, who is never given a name and is killed within the first five minutes.
Cacophony Cover Up: Andy's largest escape-related noises are synchronized with thunderstorms during a heavy rain.
Captivity Harmonica: Both lampshaded AND subverted. Andy gets Red a harmonica as a gift, and he blows a little on it, but doesn't play - because he used to play it before he went to prison, and wants no reminders of his free days.
In the novella, the prison goes through several wardens and guard captains. To save time and improve story flow, they are combined into Norton and Hadley for the movie, though it does bring up some Fridge Logic when you realize they've both had their respective positions for fifteen years or so without apparently aging, aside from some slightly graying hair.
Brooks is also a composite of several characters mentioned in passing in the novella.
Compressed Adaptation: The novella took place over thirty years, compressed to twenty in the film. Other small examples pop up besides this: for example, Red spends several months hunting for the volcanic glass rock in the novella, but in the film appears to find it after only a few hours.
Chronic Villainy: Brooks and Red contemplate breaking their paroles by commiting a felony, not out of a criminal instinct -that they no longer have- but because it's a sure way to go back to jail, the only place they feel confortable. They both find an alternative.
Covers Always Lie: The back cover of the VHS tape for The Shawshank Redemption features an embrace between the sexy Mrs. Dufresne and her lover... two characters who are out of the picture within the film's first five minutes.
Death by Adaptation: Warden Norton and Tommy Elwood. In the book, Norton quits Shawshank a broken man instead of committing suicide (the bit where Andy exposes his crimes is absent), and Tommy is bribed with a transfer to a minimum security prison instead of being murdered. Also Brooks, who commits suicide when he gets out in the film, but goes to an old folks' home in the book.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: The prosecuting attorney admits that the killing of Dufresne's adulterous wife and her lover, could, if it had been a 'hot-blooded crime of passion' be 'understood if not condoned '.
The Sisters are a nasty prison gang with a particular love of raping new inmates. As Red puts it when Andy remarks to their gaze that he's not homosexual:
"Neither are they. You'd have to be human first. They don't qualify."
In the DVD commentary the director details how the Sisters are supposed to represent the depravity of rape in general rather than homosexuality being wrong, seeing as rape in prison is more about domination than physical attraction the Sisters are especially disgusting in this regard.
In the book, Stephen King is careful to draw a distinction between heterosexuals who just 'come to an arrangement', actual homosexuals and the 'sisters' who are just depraved rapists.
Red: After six years, he (began to) wrote two letters a week instead of one. In 1959, the state senate finally clued in to the fact they couldn't buy him off with just a $200 check. Appropriations Committee voted an annual payment of $500 just to shut him up.
Disproportionate Retribution: After Warden Norton tells Andy that the man who actually killed Andy's wife and lover is probably gone from the penal system and isn't worth chasing, Andy makes the mistake of saying something about it, calling the warden "obtuse", and then bringing up the money laundering scheme:
Andy: Look, if it's the squeeze, don't worry. I'd never say what goes on in here. I'd be just as indictable as you for laundering the money. Norton: Don't you ever mention money to me again,you sorry son of a bitch! Not in this office! Not anywhere![Slaps intercom] Get in here! Now! Andy: I was just trying to set your mind at ease, that's all... [Guard enters] Norton: [To guard] Solitary! A month!
As if that's not enough, when Andy's unprecedented month-long stay in the hole is almost up, Norton shows up to tell him about Tommy's murder and how he will never let Andy leave the prison, and threaten to ruin the rest of his life if he doesn't keep working for him. Followed by the icing on the cake:
Norton: [To guard] Give him another month to think about it.
Tommy: So I'm backing out the door, right, and I got the TV, like this; it was a big old thing, I couldn't see shit; suddenly I hear this voice, "Police, kid, hands in the air." You know, I was standing there, holdin' on to that TV, so finally the voice says, "You hear what I said, boy?" And I say, "Yes sir, I sure did, but if I drop this fucking thing you got me on destruction of property too."
Captain Hadley might have just been an unusually harsh prison guard (a job that pretty much requires at least a little harshness) until he beats a prisoner to death for crying.
Against everyone's expectations, Andy makes it through his first night in prison without losing his cool. The next morning, he's the only one who bothers to ask the name of the inmate that Hadley beat to death.
When he first meets the new inmates, Warden Norton's sums up his philosophy as, "I believe in two things: discipline and The Bible." Soon after saying this, he snidely tells the inmates that they now belong to him, and he looks on with a straight face as Hadley beats a prisoner in front of him.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Hadley and Norton are married, Hadley has kids as mentioned in the rooftop scene, and Norton mentions his wife made the needlepoint used to conceal the safe. A shot of his wife's photo is visible as Norton loads his gun just before he shoots himself.
Even Evil Has Standards: Captain Hadley. After Andy tells him he can help with his money problems, Hadley returns the favor by letting both the guards and the tar crew (consisting of the inmates Andy and Red knows) drink beer on the rooftop of the building they were tarring. He even steps this further in the very moment Bogs stepped into his cell (after Bogs unleashes his No Holds Barred Beat Down on Andy), and Hadley unleashes his own no holds barred beat down on him.
Everybody Smokes: Played straight with most of the prison population, but makes sense given the time period.
Fish out of Water: Life in prison institutionalizes people, to the point where they can't adapt to life in freedom anymore. Played for drama with Brooks and mirrored by Red, but with a subverted outcome.
Happens when Norton shoots himself. He is shown placing the gun under his chin before the camera quickly cuts away to a shot of his blood splattering onto the window behind him (and the bullet breaking the glass). His corpse with the entry wound and some... stuff on the floor is shown afterwards, though. It's a particularly well-executed example of this trope. At no point do we see the bullet enter or exit the head, but Darabont has commented (in the publication of his shooting script) that just by using sound and general atmosphere, one could make the audience think they saw something they didn't.
The scene in which Hadley beats Fat-Ass to death is lit in such a way that both men appear as silhouettes, more or less amounting to this trope.
Hadley gets in his first few licks on Bogs onscreen, but the beating clearly continues long after the cutaway.
Hair-Trigger Temper/ Psycho for Hire: Capt. Byron Hadley. To be on the safe side, don't talk to Hadley about his wife. Or better yet, don't do ANYTHING near, with, or concerning Hadley, his wrath will fall upon you.
Have You Told Anyone Else?: Tommy's murder at the hands of Captain Hadley and Warden Norton. Even though the other prisoners know about Andy's innocence, they have no power to tell anyone outside of the prison.
Hope Spot: Tommy's story about a cellmate who may have killed his wife and her lover suggests Andy can clear his name. Unfortunately, Warden Norton has other ideas...
It's direct and extremely brutal in the scene itself. Warden Norton's exchange with Tommy STRONGLY suggests that he's willing to move on Andy's innocence. As soon as Tommy makes Norton "sure", Hadley shoots and kills him from a guard tower. Right afterward, Norton visits Andy in solitary, in one incredibly nasty Kick the Dog scene.
Invented Individual: Andy creates "Randall Stevens" to be the fall guy in case his shady financial transactions for the Warden are detected by authorities. Andy becomes Randall Stevens after he breaks out, and takes all the warden's ill-gotten money.
Ironic Echo: After Andy claims he's innocent, this exchange happens:
Red: You're gonna fit right in. Everyone in here is innocent, you know that? Heywood, what you in here for?
Heywood: Didn't do it. Lawyer fucked me.
Later this exchange,
Tommy Williams: Yeah, well, what the hell do you know about it Capone? What are you in for?
Andy Dufresne: Me? My lawyer fucked me. Everybody's innocent in here. Didn't you know that? (Everybody else starts laughing).
A sort of almost-echo occurs a bit later, after Tommy has revealed what he knows.
Heywood: Wait, you mean Andy's innocent? Like, for-real innocent?
At one point, Norton hands Andy back his Bible, assuring him that "Salvation lies within". Just before escaping, Andy leaves the Bible in Norton's safe: when Norton opens the Bible, he finds a note from Andy assuring Norton that salvation did indeed lie within - Andy had hollowed out the Bible to hide his rock hammer.
The Boast here was twofold - the hollowed-out pages where the hammer was stored begin on the first page of the Book of Exodus.
It's All My Fault: Tommy blaming himself for Andy being placed in solitary confinement, and Andy blaming himself for his wife leaving him.
Andy: I killed her, Red. I didn't pull the trigger, but I drove her away. And that's why she died: because of me. The way I am.
I Want My Mommy: It precedes a serious case of Mood Whiplash, but one of the new inmates breaks down and begins crying for his mother. One of the veteran inmates calls back with "I've had your mother! She wasn't that great!"
The Warden clearly hindering Andy's appeal for Tommy to testify, and out of the blue ordered him to serve a month in solitary confinement.
Heywood did this earlier in the movie, as he taunted an emotionally-overwhelmed prisoner by reeling him in with what starts out sounding reassuring, only to go on to something that is practically the opposite of reassuring.
That emotionally-overwhelmed prisoner then broke down in tears, and Heywood laughed at this out loud.
You could clearly see in the aftermath that he didn't want the guy to get hurt, he just wanted to win the contest. Especially when he's told that he died.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Hadley, the leader of the guards, ambushes and severely beats Bogs, who screams and cries for help the whole time. Seeing as ambushing and severely beating people was what Bogs took sadistic pleasure in, one can't help but feel satisified when Red sums up the end result...
Red: Two things happened, The Sisters never bothered Andy again, and Bogs never walked again...To my knowledge, he lived out the rest of his life drinking his food through a straw.
Luxury Prison Suite: Andy's cell is no nicer than the rest, but he gets a private cell and some leeway as far as contraband goes. Norton later refers to it as his "one-bunk Hilton," so it's presumably a sweeter setup than most prisoners have.
Magical Negro: An unusual race inversion of this trope, as it is pure, angelic Andy that changes Red's life.
Make It Look Like An Accident: A variation: Norton sets up Tommy's murder to look not like an accident, but like a justified shooting during an escape attempt.
Storyboards talking about Bog's severe beating at the hands of Hadley mention that Bogs was supposed to have "accidently fallen" from the top floor of the cellblock, the same floor where his prison cell was.
Manly Tears: Averted. We don't see it but We are told that Hadley "Sobbed like a little girl when They took him away".
Also some of Andy's words to Red before the latter decides to go to Mexico.
Red also echoes Andy's earlier statement of "Get Busy Livin', or get busy dyin'" as a means to realize it is time to embrace hope.
Mood Whiplash: When we see Norton having a polite conversation with a young inmate who wants to testify on Andy's behalf, it seems like Norton might be willing to give the guy a chance after all. Then suddenly a guard shoots said young inmate dead, apparently on Norton's orders.
My God, What Have I Done?: A muted version. Heywood taunts Fatass until the poor man breaks down crying in pursuit of winning his bet, but he doesn't actually want Fatass hurt, and finding out the next morning that the man died takes a lot of the joy out of his victory.
Mythology Gag: In one scene, Andy asks Red (played by Morgan Freeman) how he got his nickname. He thinks for a moment and replies with an ironic grin, "Maybe it's because I'm Irish." In the novella, Red was indeed a red-haired Irishman.
No Animals Were Harmed: Darabont revealed on the DVD Commentary that in order to get this "rating" they couldn't even feed fish bait (read: worms that were already going to be skewered on a hook and fed to fish) to the baby crow. Instead, they had to find a worm that had already died of natural causes.
What Byron administers to the pudgy new immate that "wins" the New Fish Crying Lottery. He doesn't survive, and his death is Dufresne's first hard lesson about life in prison: it's pretty cheap.
The Sisters repeatedly administered these to Dufresne, driving him deeper and deeper into despair until he becomes useful to Byron and Norton as a tax accountant. The Sisters administer one more beatdown that nearly kills Andy, Byron administers a huge dose of Bogs' own medicine to him (see Laser-Guided Karma above), and the Sisters finally let him alone.
Played With the rest of the 8-man band bar Andy and Red were never introduced and we only see them as "those guys Andy and Red hang out with" (with the exception of Heywood, which serves as something of a comic relief). They actually do have names, though mentioned only in the credits and if you analyse the throwaway conversations. Ranked in order of relative importance after Andy, Red, and Heywood:
The big guy who looks like Tom Waits and speaks in an authoritative voice is Floyd.
The serious-looking one (who told Brooks to "calm the fuck down") is Jigger.
The calm-looking one usually sporting a denim jacket is Ernie. He's the one who wanted a pool table.
The big guy with vaguely Italian look is Snooze. He's the one who accused Heywood of soiling his trousers when confronted with Brooks.
And the one with the glasses is Skeet.
Played straight of course, as traditionally in films, with many others, including Mrs. Dufresne and her golfer boyfriend.
Ironically, "Fat Ass" (the one Hadley beat up to death) is never actually named. "What was his name?" Nobody knows, Andy. And one can argue that he's actually quite an important character. Surely more so than, say, Skeet above.
Oh Crap: Several in a row on warden Samuel Norton's part.
The way he looks out the window when hearing the sirens go off, likely realizing a prisoner is missing.
The way he looks at the tunnel he discovers by accident when throwing a rock at a poster.
The look on his face when he sees a newspaper saying "corruption, murder at Shawshank."
The Old Convict: Red, to an extent, but more certainly Brooks, an elderly man who finds he is unable to adjust to life outside prison walls. Brooks was in prison for so long, since 1905, that when he's released in the '50's, it's a world he can't recognize. For one thing Brooks remarks that when he went in, he'd only seen one car, when he was a boy.
Brooks: The world went and got itself in a big damned hurry.
Once More With Clarity: When Andy leaves the warden's office, it seems like he's given up hope and planning to kill himself. A few minutes later you see the same sequence of events with a few more details showing how he was putting his escape plan into action.
Pet the Dog: Hadley agreeing to Andy's request for the beers could be interpreted as such, Red going so far as to describe his behaviour as "magnanimous". It's made particularly explicit in the novella, where Red points out that there was nothing stopping Hadley from throwing Andy off the roof and accepting his advice anyway.
In the movie at least, Andy did point out that he could set up the tax-free gift for what presumably is cheaper than the "ball-washing bastard" lawyers would charge. So Hadley had a reason to keep him alive.
Race Lift: Red is Irish in the book (hence the nickname), but played by Morgan Freeman in the movie. See Mythology Gag, above.
Rape Discretion Shot: The camera shows "The Sisters" beating up Dufresne, but pans away from the actual rape.
Record Needle Scratch: Literally, when Hadley busts into Norton's office and puts an end to Andy's playing of Le Nozze di Figaro. "On your feet!"
Red Herring: At the climax, we're led to believe that Andy is planning suicide. He gives Red a dramatic speech about the choice between living and dying, he buys a length of rope from Heywood, and he fails to line up for role-call the morning after, with a Discretion Shot of said guard's stunned face taking up the screen when he investigates his cell. Surprise! Andy actually escaped in the night. That big Rita Hayworth poster was covering up his escape tunnel the whole time, and he needed the rope to drag a bag of supplies behind him.
Smug Snake: Blatch, the only criminal in the movie to gloat to others about killing people. In his conversation with Tommy, Blatch mentions the very murders that get pinned on Andy.You'd think this would be the kind of thing that wouldbackfire, and yet because of the warden's desire to keep this secret, Blatch gets away with this in spite of said gloating. For contrast, most inmates claim innocence, Red claims guilt but also remorse, and even Norton himself, though obviously remorseless, doesn't go as far as to actually GLOAT about murder.
Suspicious Spending: Averted — Norton runs his scams for years, but has a separate identity set up to receive the proceeds of his crimes. Judging by the amount that's there by the end of the movie, it appears he hasn't spent much.
Sweetand Sour Grapes: Played straight when Red goes for his parole hearing and is rejected when he says he's been rehabilitated, and when he all but tells them to piss off the third time around they let him go.
This Is Gonna Suck: Red hears that Captain Hadley "sobbed like a little girl" when they sent him to Shawshank as an inmate, and considering the way he treated the prisoners under his care, he had every reason to.
Token Minority: A possible reason for Red's Race Lift. There are literally two other non-white characters with speaking parts. It's particularly noticeable given the setting, as American prisons have had disproportionately large black populations for much of the twentieth century (although Maine, the state in which the film is set, does have a black population well below the national average).
Triumphant Reprise: The same melody played when Andy is led through the prison doors is played again later when Red finds out that Andy managed to get past the border.
Villainous Breakdown: Warden Norton gets a severe one before even being busted on his crimes. He freaks out at the fact that Andy was missing from his cell, going into an intense rant about how it's a conspiracy that everyone's in on. After THAT, word gets out about Norton's corruption. Then, instead of going into another rant or anything like that, he just shoots himself before the police can get into his office door.
The warden keeps his safe and all the damning evidence therein under a needlepoint that reads "His judgment cometh and that Right Soon..."
Andy keeps the rock hammer that facilitates his escape hidden in the Bible, in the book of Exodus.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Elmo Blatch, the man who really murdered Andy's wife and her lover, is never spoken of again after Tommy's story.
Word Salad Title: One of the main reasons the movie had poor box office. To even vaguely understand it, you have to know that Shawshank is a prison... but it's a fictional one, so the only way you'd know that is by seeing the movie or reading the book in the first place.
That's why it's averted in Russian translation, where both the original book and the movie were titled Escape from Shawshank
The same goes for the Latin American versions, since the movie was named Sue˝os de Fuga (Dreams about Escaping) in Spanish and Um Sonho de Liberdade (A Dream of Freedom) in Brazil.
In Italy it was titled Le ali della libertÓ (The Wings of Freedom).
In Sweden it was Nyckeln till frihet (The key to freedom).
In Poland it's Skazani na Shawshank (Sentenced to Shawshank).
Working on the Chain Gang: Happens offscreen, the corrupt Warden Norton uses the fact that a chain gang is essentially cheap slave labor to undercut local businesses, and then starts taking bribes from those businesses to keep his chain gangs at the prison rather than out working. Given that Norton tries to appear socially progressive, the physical chains are probably not used.
You Got Spunk: In the film, Sister Bogs is encouraged by Andy's spurn and resistance; "Good, you fight. It's better that way.". This is an inversion of the novella, where Andy does get assaulted sometimes, but Red notes that the Sisters prefer easier prey and Andy fights like a badger every single time.
Your Mom: After the inmates go fishing in the beginning of the movie:
New inmate: I want my momma
Other inmate: I had your momma, she wasn't that good!
Xanatos Roulette: An embarrassingly large passage in the novella just consists of Red enumerating all of the things that might have gone wrong with Andy's plan, but somehow did not. The movie, to its credit, at least tries to explain some of these problems (such as where Andy hid the rock hammer, or how he secured a change of clothes).