The Shawshank Redemption


The tagline for today’s movie, “The Shawshank Redemption”, was “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” That seems to matter right now. Joe Biden is within a hair’s breadth of defeating the incumbent President, a man well known for wanting Americans to live in a constant state of fear. Everything from fear of Muslims and immigrants to anti-fascists and socialism has been used to divide and rule.

In the past, the Prison Warden in this film (a wonderfully sleazy Bob Gunton) has been compared to Nixon. He’s in charge of his population and uses his position to commit crimes and enrich himself with dodgy business deals. I’ll let you fill in the rest.

Sometimes truly awful things happen and they can almost destroy you (or a country). We’ve all been there to some extent, so always know you are not alone. It’s important to try to remember who you really are and what you can be again. When you are at your lowest point and the world doesn’t make any sense any more, you must try to hold on to any sliver of hope you still have and not let fear or misery twist you into something you are not.

The awfulness can last years but after you’ve taken all the beatings and crawled through a mile of shit, as long as you have managed to reclaim the real you there is the proverbial, and in this case literal, light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s why today this film seemed appropriate when looked at metaphorically, despite the fact that everyone’s probably already seen it. It’s why I think it resonates with so many people on an emotional, sub-conscious level.

Based on a novella by Stephen King, Andy Dufresne (a brilliantly understated Tim Robbins) is sent to the brutal Shawshank prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But it’s important, from a story-telling point of view, to remember that this isn’t the worst thing that has happened to him. We join him when he is at his lowest point, when he is so distressed, so miserable that he has completely lost himself and is incredibly close to murdering his cheating wife and her lover. Being sent to prison may seem to dump more awfulness and misery onto his life, and for a while it does but, as the title suggests, the prison is also where he finds his redemption.

This isn’t really about a man escaping from prison by chipping out a tunnel, tiny piece by tiny piece over many years. Just as the shark in “Jaws” is a metaphor, so is the prison in “The Shawshank Redemption”. The film is about a man rebuilding himself, tiny piece by tiny piece over many years. He finally escapes his torment when he has become the best version of himself and is content. He is born anew. As described after the escape, he is now “a man nobody had ever laid eyes on before … until that moment, he didn’t exist.”

It’s wonderfully written and directed by Frank Darabont and the cast are, across the board, superb. Of special note are the always reliable Morgan Freeman as Andy’s friend and mentor figure, and Clancy Brown as the horrifyingly brutal Captain of the Guards. It didn’t do well on release and everyone involved must have been disappointed. But over the years word-of-mouth has built it up, tiny piece by tiny piece, and made it a phenomenal hit which often appears on many top-ten movie lists. Remember, there is always hope.

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