my thoughts on The Shawshank Redemption

Quite a number of Say La Vee readers have contacted me to encourage me to see The Shawshank Redemption. I'm guessing that it is a powerful, good movie as so many people have felt inclined to stand up for it - but, first of all, I should mention that I am not unfamiliar with its plot. I worked at Viking Press when this Stephen King novella was published. I do realize that it was written at a time when Mr. King had put his nasty horror plots aside and was delving into relationships and emotions. I know that this is not a scary prison movie with ghouls and spirits, but that it is about deeds and actions.
In an attempt to move myself to rent it from the library I decided to take a peek at the plot synopses listed at IMDB. This is what I found. This is what I think.

Having been wrongly convicted of murdering both his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences, and is sent to the notoriously harsh Shawshank Prison.
Oh, good god, why would I watch this?
During his first night, the barbaric treatment by prison guards, most notably the chief guard Byron Hadley, leads to the death of a fellow new inmate.
Barbaric treatment? I don't want any part of seeing that. Someone gets killed, barbarically, by the prison guards? And this guy has TWO life sentences to serve?
About a month later, Dufresne becomes acquainted with Ellis Redding, also known as Red, and his friends. 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 pursue a hobby in rock collecting.
Okay, so Red is a glimmer of hope and light in a living hell. I'd be in the kitchen by now, loading the dishwasher.

Over the first few years of his imprisonment, Dufresne works in the prison laundry service, and is dogged by threats and harassment, and instances of rape by a group of sadistic homosexuals known as the "Sisters".
Charming. Right up my alley. I'm sure it's all interspersed with inspirational moments of human kindness. In prison.
Andy's former life as a banker and his knowledge of accounting and income taxes come to the attention of Hadley during an outdoor work detail, and after assisting the chief guard with an inheritance sum, Andy is moved to work with Brooks Hatlen in the library, where he shortly sets up a make-shift office to deal with finance related queries brought to him by various guards. His practice becomes so popular that even opposing guard teams in an inter-prison baseball match bring work to him.
Yes. I can imagine the inter-prison baseball match. And the foreshadowing.
While working within the library, Dufresne begins to canvas support for improving the library at a relentless pace. When Andy is brutally raped again,
There isn't enough Xanax in the world to help me watch Andy being brutally raped AGAIN.
the prison guards commit vigilante punishment against the offender, and it becomes clear that they are now protecting Dufresne from the mistreatment. When the rapist is permanently hospitalized, Andy's victimisation comes to a close.
One can only imagine the violence.

Warden Samuel Norton soon capitalises on Dufresne's ability and deduces a program to put prison inmates to work for local contracts in construction, road-building, and other labour intensive projects. Dufresne is corruptly employed to hide the embezzled funds for Norton, and he does this by 'creating' an alternate fraudulent identity through which all the paperwork is completed. In the same year, the prison library is extended and Dufresne begins educating inmates to pass high school diplomas. A young prisoner named Tommy enters Shawshank in 1965 who corroborates Andy's tale of innocence. Fearing the loss of the lucrative criminal funds that Andy administers, Norton has Tommy killed and Andy sent to solitary confinement.
So, after about an hour of plot involving decency and good fortune in intolerable conditions, Andy is screwed again.
Two months later, Andy returns to the main enclosures a seemingly broken man, giving abstract instructions to Red, and his friends are concerned that he may commit suicide. The following morning, he is missing from his cell and an investigation is launched.
By now, I suspect I would be in a heap on the floor.

Following the events that led to his departure, it becomes clear that Andy Dufresne escaped the prison having tunnelled through the walls with the rock hammer given to him shortly after his arrival. Having chronicled the corruption within the prison, he sends his notes to a local newspaper, and walks away with Norton's fortunes, dressed as the man 'with the bank accounts'. Refusing to be arrested, Norton commits suicide. When Red is finally released from prison, he follows the instructions given to him by Andy to find a further note hidden beneath a tree, which eventually leads him to meet Andy on the coast of Mexico.
All's well and our heroes triumph.
But the horrors they have endured would replay themselves in my head for about two days, and I'd have to rent Enchanted or some such to try to erase three murders, two prison rape scenes and the idea that Andy had been wrongly convicted in the first place.

Comments

Jennifer said…
It's one of the best films I've ever watched. I've seen it more then once even.
Anonymous said…
... i like Enchanted. it's pretty good.
alice c said…
I have to warn you...Bambi is sad too...I just don't want you to get caught off guard.
Sharon said…
I respect your decision not to subject yourself to this, but I'm still holding out hope that someday you'll ACCIDENTALLY see it and at least like it.
daysgoby said…
And I think you should write more movie reviews.

Thanks, bb!
Keetha said…
It was a great novella, a great movie but so very, very, very disturbing. I read/saw it once and that was more than enough. Yes, it ends right but look at all the terrible, inhumane suffering between then and there! Not for me.
jenny said…
Well, I've never seen it either - never wanted to, really. And now? I totally don't have to. bb + imdb. I thank you both.
Deeg said…
hmmm...well, I guess I enjoy more then just sunshine, rainbows and roses. I enjoy watching movies about strength, patience, friendship, perseverance....movies that move you-which this one certainly does. I think your missing out by basing your decision based off of words written on a screen...something is certainly lost in that translation. But we all have different tastes and ways we move through life now don't we....say la vee lol
blackbird said…
We seem to, Deeg (I wish you'd register an email address) - and I completely respect your enjoying it for different reasons than I would or wouldn't.
Deeg said…
our differences are what make me infatuated with you my dear :) haha

and if you clicky on my cute lil purply face up there it should take ya on over to my profile...or my blog, one of the two...which in turn has my contact info ;)
Amy A. said…
I loved this movie, but when I read it written out like this, it looks like one I would never watch.

Maybe you should watch it on the family channel with some of the more offensive elements edited out.

And definitely, have something fluffy to watch afterwards.
Anonymous said…
I love your site but please don't base your decision on a lame imdb synopsis. roger ebert's review is a much more accurate portrayal of the film with no key spoilers.

The Shawshank Redemption
BY ROGER EBERT / September 23, 1994
"The Shawshank Redemption" is a movie about time, patience and loyalty -- not sexy qualities, perhaps, but they grow on you during the subterranean progress of this story, which is about how two men serving life sentences in prison become friends and find a way to fight off despair.

The story is narrated by "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), who has been inside the walls of Shawshank Prison for a very long time and is its leading entrepreneur. He can get you whatever you need: cigarettes, candy, even a little rock pick like an amateur geologist might use. One day he and his fellow inmates watch the latest busload of prisoners unload, and they make bets on who will cry during their first night in prison, and who will not. Red bets on a tall, lanky guy named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who looks like a babe in the woods.

But Andy does not cry, and Red loses the cigarettes he wagered. Andy turns out to be a surprise to everyone in Shawshank, because within him is such a powerful reservoir of determination and strength that nothing seems to break him. Andy was a banker on the outside, and he's in for murder. He's apparently innocent, and there are all sorts of details involving his case, but after a while they take on a kind of unreality; all that counts inside prison is its own society -- who is strong, who is not -- and the measured passage of time.

Red is also a lifer. From time to time, measuring the decades, he goes up in front of the parole board, and they measure the length of his term (20 years, 30 years) and ask him if he thinks he has been rehabilitated. Oh, most surely, yes, he replies; but the fire goes out of his assurances as the years march past, and there is the sense that he has been institutionalized -- that, like another old lifer who kills himself after being paroled, he can no longer really envision life on the outside.

Red's narration of the story allows him to speak for all of the prisoners, who sense a fortitude and integrity in Andy that survives the years. Andy will not kiss butt. He will not back down. But he is not violent, just formidably sure of himself. For the warden (Bob Gunton), he is both a challenge and a resource; Andy knows all about bookkeeping and tax preparation, and before long he's been moved out of his prison job in the library and assigned to the warden's office, where he sits behind an adding machine and keeps tabs on the warden's ill-gotten gains. His fame spreads, and eventually he's doing the taxes and pension plans for most of the officials of the local prison system.

There are key moments in the film, as when Andy uses his clout to get some cold beers for his friends who are working on a roofing job. Or when he befriends the old prison librarian (James Whitmore). Or when he oversteps his boundaries and is thrown into solitary confinement. What quietly amazes everyone in the prison -- and us, too -- is the way he accepts the good and the bad as all part of some larger pattern than only he can fully see.

The partnership between the characters played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman is crucial to the way the story unfolds. This is not a "prison drama" in any conventional sense of the word. It is not about violence, riots or melodrama. The word "redemption" is in the title for a reason. The movie is based on a story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King, which is quite unlike most of King's work. The horror here is not of the supernatural kind, but of the sort that flows from the realization than 10, 20, 30 years of a man's life have unreeled in the same unchanging daily prison routine.

The director, Frank Darabont, paints the prison in drab grays and shadows, so that when key events do occur, they seem to have a life of their own.

Andy, as played by Robbins, keeps his thoughts to himself. Red, as Freeman plays him, is therefore a crucial element in the story: His close observation of this man, down through the years, provides the way we monitor changes and track the measure of his influence on those around him. And all the time there is something else happening, hidden and secret, which is revealed only at the end.

"The Shawshank Redemption" is not a depressing story, although I may have made it sound that way. There is a lot of life and humor in it, and warmth in the friendship that builds up between Andy and Red. There is even excitement and suspense, although not when we expect it. But mostly the film is an allegory about holding onto a sense of personal worth, despite everything. If the film is perhaps a little slow in its middle passages, maybe that is part of the idea, too, to give us a sense of the leaden passage of time, before the glory of the final redemption.
Wendy said…
Just a little tidbit of info for you about your dear Basia. She LOVES prison movies and was addicted to Oz on HBO.
Miz S said…
I have a rule about never watching prison movies for all the reasons that you mentioned. Josh talked me into watching this one, and I have to say that it's an amazing movie and I'm glad I saw it. I squinched my eyes shut during a couple of scenes but I didn't feel scarred for life afterwards. In fact, it was kind of uplifting. Which is strange, really. But you might be more sensitive than me.
Donna said…
Morgan Freeman is awesome in this movie. I have seen it several times just because of his performance.
Suzanne said…
I love that you have readers who feel so passionately about wanting you to see this.

While I, too, liked the movie and performances, I totally understand and respect your choice not to see it. There is so much about the world which is unbearable, and we each have our own set of filters for what we can deal with or not.

I don't watch the news for that very reason. I do read headlines (and articles of interest), so I am up on what's happening in the world around me. But, I also protect myself from exposure to things I find too upsetting.

Sometimes, I joke about living in a world of my own creation, but in no way does that mean I limit myself to sunshine and rainbows and ponies. I just know what I can and cannot handle, as do you, even though we are each able to tolerate very different things.

I watch Tarantino movies, for instance, while I know you're just not into the violence. I still cannot believe you saw Clockwork Orange all the way through. Scarred for life, indeed!

It's nice that people don't want you to miss out on something from which they derived meaning and value. But, it's somewhat unfortunate that some aren't able to accept your own self-knowledge.

No one else has to live your life, but you. And K, I guess.
Anonymous said…
Clockwork Orange AND The Exorcist! I too respect your decision. Reading your post made me recall that in my younger years, I read horror novels all the time, and loved them. After I became a mother, I could not, for many years. There seemed to suddenly be enough horror in the real world to terrify me. I'm reading the Dark Tower series now. Mr. King has mellowed, too.
ErinH
Stomper Girl said…
Yep, I'm with you, this does not sound like a movie I need to put myself through. And now I know what happens anyway, so even curiousity won't drive me there!

I'd be much more comfortable seeing Enchanted again. Just loved that red-headed girl.
Kim said…
Whoa - is that someone's own review further up there that I'm too lazy to read?

My original comment was:

I have nothing to say.
I merely bow in front of the GODDESS of blogging goodness.
Kim said…
This may reflect badly on me, but I don't remember any of the rape scenes or the violence.

Just keeping the story alive.