For the first two hours of the movie Shawshank Redemption, I was not sure which way the movie was going. I immediately knew that the warden was a hard and evil man. In my opinion, he is the worst kind of evil–the kind that totes the Bible and quotes scripture. That kind of evil slithers along.
But several sweet and decent things develop during the fist 2/3 of the movie. We come to know Morgan Freeman as a warm and trustworthy man. As the Tim Robbins character comes to befriend Morgan Freeman’s character, we also do. Morgan Freeman’s character is the movie’s spirit.
Some powerful truths surface during the movie Shawshank Redemption. When the old librarian is released after fifty years, he cannot survive on the outside. As Mogan Freeman [Red] says, it is because he had become institutionalized:
Red: These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.
Heywood: Shit. I could never get like that.
Ernie: Oh yeah? Say that when you been here as long as Brooks has.
Red: Goddamn right. They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.
Another profound thought about the importance of music is explored:
Red: I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
[Later, Andy says]: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you…
Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.
Andy: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.
Red: What’re you talking about?
Shawshank is a movie about hope. It is about that spark of hope that haunts you, when survival seems almost impossible:
Red: Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
And it’s a movie about hope, when there is a light at the end of the tunnel:
Red: I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
Shawshank Redemption is a study of true justice, as opposed to the flawed justice system, and it is also a reflection upon the miserable way that the prison system mishandles rehabilitation.
Andy: You know the funny thing is, on the outside I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.
We do not realize it until much later, but while Andy had been in prison, he [who was innocent when he came to prison] was forced to launder the money that the warden had skimmed off the top of prison funds. The innocent man processes the illegal monies made by the leader of the institution that was supposed to be rehabilitating him. Ultimately, however, as a result of what he had been forced to do in prison, the innocent Andy does become a crook. He diverts the illegal funds so that he can access them, once he escapes:
Red: Ever bother you?
Andy: I don’t run the scams Red, I just process the profits. Fine line, maybe, but I also built that library and used it to help a dozen guys get their high school diploma. Why do you think the warden lets me do all that?
Red: To keep you happy and doing the laundry. Money instead of sheets.
Later, at his final parole hearing Red is asked if he felt he was rehabilitated. Following i his response:
Parole Board Man: Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?
Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.
Parole Board Man: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…
Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me, it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
Parole Board Man: Well, are you?
Red: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.
Another theme of Shawshank has to do with pressure and time. Andy’s hobby was geology. Red said the following about geology:
“Red: In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man six hundred years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time. That, and a big goddamn poster. Like I said, in prison a man will do most anything to keep his mind occupied. Turns out Andy’s favorite hobby was totin’ his wall out into the exercise yard, a handful at a time. I guess after Tommy was killed, Andy decided he’d been here just about long enough. Andy did like he was told, buffed those shoes to a high mirror shine. The guards simply didn’t notice. Neither did I… I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a mans shoes? Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.”
For anyone who is dealing with adversity, the deciding factor has to do with pressure and time. Shawshank Redemption is the story of how intense pressure, over time, motivated Andy Dufresne to devise an ingenious plan to escape.
When Morgan Freemon says the following, he speaks both a physical and a symbolic truth.
Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit-smelling foulness…
On one level, Andy had crawled through one-half mile of sewage pipes to escape. On another level, he had crawled through twenty years of demoralizing insults wielded by the warden and his wicked sidekick.
Red: 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.
After having his parole rejected for years, Red is finally released from Shawshank and like his friend the old librarian who had been released before, he becomes depressed and he becomes afraid:
Red: There’s a harsh truth to face. No way I’m gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole, so maybe they’d send me back. Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won’t have to be afraid all the time. Only one thing stops me. A promise I made to Andy.
Then, he remembers what Andy had said about something that would be waiting for him, should he ever be released from prison:
Andy: Red. If you ever get out of here, do me a favor.
Red: Sure, Andy. Anything.
Andy: There’s a big hayfield up near Buxton. You know where Buxton is?
Red: Well, there’s… there’s a lot of hayfields up there.
Andy: One in particular. It’s got a long rock wall with a big oak tree at the north end. It’s like something out of a Robert Frost poem. It’s where I asked my wife to marry me. We went there for a picnic and made love under that oak and I asked and she said yes. Promise me, Red. If you ever get out… find that spot. At the base of that wall, you’ll find a rock that has no earthly business in a Maine hayfield. Piece of black, volcanic glass. There’s something buried under it I want you to have.
Red: What, Andy? What’s buried under there?
Andy: [turns to walk away] You’ll have to pry it up… to see.
In summary, for people who like to think, the movie Shawshank Redemption is a treasure. I had forgotten how many gems it contains. Quoting Andy Dufresne again, “You’ll have to pry it up…to see.”
©Jacki Kellum February 27, 2016