Reviews: The Shawshank Redemption

After years of Hype Aversion....

I saw the DVD lying around in a friend's house and borrowed it on a boring day. It matches the hype. Since I'd avoided the film and its hype all these years I didn't know the ending, so it had the intended effect.

The film tells the story of Andy Dufrense, who is framed for the murder of his wife and her lover, and is sent to prison. There he meets fellow Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and the two of them develop a close friendship over the years. The story focuses on prison life in general, and Andy's attempts to keep his hope and personality through an entire life sentence of Despair Event Horizons. Has some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming scenes this troper has ever seen.

The bromance gets a little too gay for my taste towards the end, but other than that it totally deserves its place at imdb #1.

The story relies heavily on the narration and dialogue, so watch it with a clear head, on a nice day when it's not too hot.

Superbly Polished

There is an idea: a good film, unless perhaps a comedy, will usually make their purpose plain and visible. We may not quite know what message does it convey but we know it is there. (Some managed to push the envelope—I have no idea what Pulp Fiction is about, but it seems that its purpose is precisely the lack of one.)

The Shawshank Redemption is allegedly a tale about holding tight to a sense of self-worth even under harsh circumstances. It is about dignity, and how it rewards and redeems. When Andrew Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a New England-based "hotshot banker", was sentenced to prison, he fell from grace and was condemned to a fate where he will be reduced to a miserable existence. Dufresne didn't give in, and Shawshank is essentially about his slow rise to "redemption", viewed from the eyes of Red (Morgan Freeman), a fellow inmate who professed his disbelief in the brand of hope Dufresne is clinging to.

When one looks at it in that light, this would appear to be Shawshank's "purpose". However, when we strip it bare this view loses all its prowess: it is a vague and perhaps overly fantastic lesson, made possible only by extraordinary turns of events and a great deal of crookedness and deceit, not unlike some sugary Christmas story when penned by a morbid artist. Good, perhaps, but certainly not exceptional.

But the film is exceptional, and so its appeal must come from elsewhere. And indeed, it came from how the Shawshank Prison is splendidly evoked, with its thick mid-20th century air and a faintly adventurous prison atmosphere—this here is an alien world, it works differently from ours. It also came from how magnificently the characters come alive, how they quietly regret their crimes and get painfully assimilated to the monster that is Shawshank. Again, this is an alien world. They cannot walk out of it at will, and will probably refuse to. Theirs is a kind of quiet decline, losing fragments of their humanity a day at a time. It is this sort of subtleties (and Thomas Newman's beautiful score) that makes Shawshank well worth watching; and certainly not only once.

That and the final moments are pants-soilingly rewarding.