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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) was a banker. He was falsely accused and convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. Andy was sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences. Although Andy doesn’t seem like an “iron man” he doesn’t break on his first night in his new home: Shawshank prison.

“Red” (Morgan Freeman) is the prison “buyer.” He obtains items that are hard to come by in prison for those who are willing to pay a mark-up. “Red” is also the film’s narrator. Not long after arriving at Shawshank, Andy arranges with Red to obtain a “rock hammer” with which to pursue his hobby of rock collection. Brooks (James Whitmore) is the prison librarian, who also makes deliveries to Red’s customers as he brings books to their cells. He delivers Andy’s rock hammer.

After two years Andy gets an opening to help Captain Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) of the prison guards who has inherited money from his brother. The prisoners are working out of doors resurfacing a rooftop and Andy overhears Capt. Hadley describing how he expects to lose most of the inherited money in taxes. Andy tells him a way that he can keep the inheritance away from the taxman and offers to do the paperwork for him in exchange for some beers for those working on the roof.

Andy’s reputation as someone who will help with money matters spreads and he ends up doing the taxes of the prison guards, setting up college funds and eventually doing work for the warden himself. In parallel with his financial consulting he also is reassigned from the laundry to the library to be Brooks’ assistant. He makes development of the library a major project. Brooks is granted parole and although he doesn’t adjust to the outside, Andy takes his position as head librarian. Over time he builds the Shawshank prison library into a fair personal accomplishment. However, Andy doesn’t settle back and forget about what he really wants, outside.

This movie is based on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, (one of four novellas included in Different Seasons: a collection) which may be King’s best work. A poster of Rita Hayworth and a clip from the classic film Gilda (in which Hayworth plays the title role) appear prominently in this movie.

There are other good prison movies, e.g. Cool Hand Luke; Carbine Williams; I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and The Birdman of Alcatraz. Each has its fine qualities and each has its own special themes. All those mentioned here also point out the high value of individuality and the destructive nature of the individual’s most persistent opponent: the State. The Shawshank Redemption is no exception. However, it is also about perseverance, the effects of time, freedom, slavery and especially hope. Andy Dufresne never gives up hope for freedom. He never stops working toward that goal. He recognizes the worth of each individual in his interactions with others, but his own values of friendship, good will and pursuit of his own happiness never fade from prominence in his thought and actions. It is not an accident that this movie is one of the most popular of all time. Don’t miss it.

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