By Garrick Hoffman
Take a look at the IMDb Top 250 list on its eponymous website – a list dictated by users, not just critics or hierarchal IMDb staff – and at the #1 position is not The Godfather, Citizen Kane, or Titanic. Situated at this spot is, instead, The Shawshank Redemption.
Twenty years have now passed since its release. It initially landed on the market to very tepid reception – that is, in numbers. Its revenue didn’t hit the desired target, especially in accordance to its budget, and the theater turnout was less than spectacular. Fast forward to 2014 and its #1 position on the IMDb list still seems to be unrivaled. It has occupied this spot since the 1990s.
The highly-acclaimed film, adapted from Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” in his book Different Seasons, centers around the tale of Andy Dufresne, a banker from Portland, Maine who is accused of murdering his adulterous wife and her lover. Andy, played by Tim Robbins, is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary where he befriends a man named Red, an inmate played by Morgan Freeman who was imprisoned for murder and who serves as the go-to guy for myriad contraband.
Red, upon Andy’s arrival as a “fresh fish,” is certain Andy would be an easy target – he appears fragile, soft. And indeed, Andy is initially bullied, beaten, and tested. But Andy remains oddly composed and level-headed, somehow finding serenity in a place where there should be none. From nearly the beginning, Andy is assimilated into Red’s band of friends, and he goes through the motions of prison life over the years, but in a considerably unconventional way. He creates a prison library, cultivates reverence from the otherwise diabolical guards and inmates alike, and even begins to handle the warden’s taxes and financial accounts.
But he also isn’t innocent as he’s perceived to be. Andy surreptitiously handles contraband, conducts mutinous acts with undisguised avidity, and under the iron fist of the nefarious warden, he finds himself in solitary confinement more than once, despite their ostensible friendship. From the beginning and throughout, Andy’s enigmatic temperament leaves us curious and hungry for more. We are enthralled by his mystery and the story itself, always wondering whether Andy’s guilty or not, always wondering what will unfold next.
Shawshank is a movie that harbors so many wonderful qualities that it takes no fool to see why it went on to garner a plethora of awards and nominations, an abundance of admiration, and seemingly infinite replay on cable television. It’s a film that doesn’t just tell a story about its hero. It’s a film that can’t be described as just some “run of the mill” prison flick. It’s a film that conveys a grand multitude of emotions: hope and hopelessness, humor and sorrow, sympathy and contempt, the macabre and the tender. We watch with poignancy the intimacy of Andy and Red’s relationship in the haunting institution that it rests in. We feel this vicarious pain, exasperation, and sometimes elation through the characters; we share their emotions throughout their many trials. And in the end, we deduce that the movie is a testament to one thing in particular: patience.
King himself notes his love for the movie, and some of the movie’s cast, including both Robbins and Freeman, have remarked that it had the best screenplay they had ever read. Now people regard it as being tantamount to a spiritual experience. As an arguably infallible movie that provokes a sense of introspection in its audience, The Shawshank Redemption has earned its “#1” title.
So if you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor. Or, as Andy says, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Categories: Arts & Culture