The Shawshank Redemption – 1994

shawshankArguably a modern classic, The Shawshank Redemption is a bold and accomplished debut film from Frank Darabont, a director who seems to specialise in prison narratives, directing The Green Mile only five years after this film.

If ever there was a film that proves the importance of narration The Shawshank Redemption is it. These days it’s a cliché, almost a joke, to have Morgan Freeman narrate anything, but The Shawshank Redemption uses his voice as the driving force of the screenplay. It would be a very different film, perhaps even a different story if narrated by anyone else. The film relies on the gap of ignorance between the protagonist and the narrator to deliver any of its plot twists or emotional punch. In a way, the whole mystique of the film comes from a very everyday human phenomenon, the inability to know another human being. Andy Dufresne is charismatic and magnanimous towards his fellow inmates prompting Red to become fascinated, almost obsessed with him. The story, told from Dufresne’s perspective would be one-dimensional and self-congratulatory. He knows his own past, his plans and his tricks whereas Red, the observer, can only marvel at the unfolding of events. This is the experience the audience gains from Red as narrator.

The Shawshank Redemption is regularly listed as one of the best films of all time. It’s a very well-made film, the cinematography brings across the claustrophobia of prison. The choreographed dehumanisation is chillingly reminiscent of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The problem with Shawshank comes in the form of the ending, or rather, the endings. The climax of the plot occurs about 30 minutes before the credits roll and this time gets filled up with predictable sentimentality. It becomes clear that the redemption of the title is for all the inmates with Dufresne as the redeemer. As he escapes the prison and throws his arms out wide it suddenly clicks that this man, the sinless among the sinners has, in some strange way saved them. The visual metaphor is incredibly powerful and my objection comes from how it is diluted by what follows. Just at the point when the viewer has understood the true beauty of the story, and of Dufresne as a character, it starts to be hammered home.. The last section of the film drags on and on in swells of music. It seems as if Darabont was just so proud of his creations that he couldn’t bear to leave them with anything less than a happy ending. Cutting the film off just after the reveal of Dufresne’s plot would leave the inmates with hope, but no definitive light at the end of the tunnel. It’s strange that a film which extolls the virtues of hope above all else refuses to let hope be the lasting message. Fulfilment is not quite so cheerful as hope, it makes Red a lucky survivor rather than the everyman he’s been set up to be. It undermines the foundations of the narrative and makes The Shawshank Redemption shockingly self-indulgent. It’s like the disappointment you feel watching the studio cut of Blade Runner after the beauty of the director’s cut.

  • Entertainment: 3/5
  • Artistic:              3/5
  • Intellectual:       3/5
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