THE 28: #9, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Tim Robbins: Andy Dufresne
Morgan Freeman: Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding
Bob Gunton: Warden Norton
William Sadler: Heywood
Clancy Brown: Captain Hadley
Gil Bellows: Tommy
James Whitmore: Brooks Hatlen
Screenplay by Frank Darabont (based on the short story "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King)
Directed by Frank Darabont
IMDB users have long ranked THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION as the #1 film on the site's Top 250. The user rating is 9.3, sometimes 9.2. Nearly 2 million users have rated it as the Best Movie Ever. Is it? Is Frank Darabont's adaptation of a Stephen King story about life in a rough prison the greatest film of all time? I don't think a such a distinction could be universally and objectively lauded on one movie unless we want to implement a set of stringent rules akin to the French Neoclassical movement.
And people said my graduate degree in theatre would be useless...
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is a flawed film about the endurance of friendship, the perseverance of hope, and the pursuit of freedom. It tells the story of a young accountant named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a man wrongly convicted of his wife's murder and sentenced to life in the brutal Shawshank prison. While there, he is beaten and raped, but he remains steadfast in his innocence and learns to navigate life in this world. He befriends Red Redding (Morgan Freeman) and the two form a bond that grows with each passing year in Shawshank. Red teaches Andy the way to work the system on the inside. Andy helps the captain of the prison guards with a tax issue and in return scores some cold beers for his friends. This leads to a deal with the warden where Andy learns about the warden's financial indiscretions. All of this leads to the slow reveal of a glorious revelation that Andy and the story have been building to all along: an elaborate, prolonged plan to escape.
Andy's escape, if deeply analyzed in detail, is unlikely to work 99.99% of the time. But, that .01% is the hope Andy clings to and his escape is the victory we love seeing in films. We want to see the triumph of the oppressed. We cheer for the underdog. We cry at the reunion of dear friends. When Andy crawls through that not-metaphorical-at-all sewage pipe and emerges into freedom, he reaches toward the heavens as a torrential rain washes over him. We celebrate with him. His hope saw him through. Thus, we know we shouldn't give up our hope.
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION did poorly at the box office when it was released in 1994, despite garnering numerous Oscar nominations. It went up against a couple of innovative productions in PULP FICTION and FORREST GUMP. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION didn't change the way movies were made, nor did it employ clever filming techniques to tell its story. Yet, it conveys universal truths about human nature that resonate with most of us.
It's not a perfect movie. I think the warden is a little too broadly painted and I don't know how plausible Andy's escape is. I don't care much about that, though. I remember the warmth the film exudes. It wears its heart on its sleeve and never manages to seem insincere. I remember how the impact some of its key moments had on me. The men drinking their beers. Andy locking himself in the warden's office and blaring an opera record for the prison yard. Red trying desperately to integrate into society after a lifetime behind bars, unaware he didn't have to ask permission to use the restroom. Red and Andy's reunion on the beach in Mexico. Brooks. I remember poor Brooks.
Naming THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION or any other movie as the greatest ever is a futile effort. It's fun to talk about, but the end result is mostly a lot of debate about how a movie impacts someone personally. Someone once shared with me that WHO'S YOUR CADDY?, a film routinely listed in IMDB's Bottom 100, was their favorite movie of all time. So, you see, these things can be highly personal and subjective. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION endures because Andy and Red endured.