A Humanist Approach to the Shawshank Redemption

A Humanist Approach to Shawshank Without a doubt, The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite movie of all time. The Oscar and Golden Globe nominated film based on Stephen King’s classic short story is one of the first films that come to mind when I think of film that was meaningful and moving. For the duration of the film the story is told from Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding’s point of view, played by critically acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman. Red is a veteran of Shawshank Prison who has established himself as “the guy who knows how to get things. It is through him that we learn of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), the character who in which the story is about. Andy was a Vice-President of a bank and has been convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, a golf pro from the local country club. During the trial Andy claims he is innocent but his cool and calm demeanor leads the jury to think otherwise. When Andy arrives at Shawshank the inmates place bets on which one they think will “break” first, Red places his bet on Andy. Andy proves Red wrong though as he actually goes a couple months before saying anything to anyone, that first person would be Red.

Andy approaches Red asking him to get a rock hammer for him. Red is a little hesitant at first but Andy convinces him to smuggle in the hammer. This is the start of the friendship we witness throughout the movie. However prison isn’t necessarily an easy place for Andy Dufresne. He suffers through countless encounters with the corrupt guards and warden of Shawshank Prison. There are several incidents where Andy falls victim to homosexual rape by a group of inmates known as “The Sisters. ” And then there’s the hard manual labor Andy is forced to do in his starting years at “ the shank. But as years go on Andy’s power at Shawshank grows when he starts doing financial work such as tax returns for the guards and Warden Norton himself. Because of his work in the finances of Shawshank’s employees Andy lands himself a cushiony job working in the prison’s library. Eventually Andy learns, from another inmate, of proof of his innocence. Andy goes to the warden asking him to look into it and see if he can be freed. The warden, unwilling to lose his free financial assistant, orders the guards to kill the young inmate who knows the details behind Andy’s case. This is when Andy realizes he must escape Shawshank Prison.

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He does so by using the rock hammer Red got him early on in the film to dig a tunnel through Shawshank’s walls and into a sewer pipe leading to the fields that surround it. When he is free he moves to a town in Mexico called Zihuatanejo. When Red is released he tries living in the real world but realizes he cant. So he becomes determined to meet Andy in the small Mexican town where he found happiness, and that is when the movie comes to an end. I really wanted to keep the synopsis of the story really short but I found that extremely hard to do with The Shawshank Redemption.

The Shawshank Redemption focuses on an innocent man’s inability to live inside walls for the rest of his life. While he tries the best he could to cope with the prison life in the end he can’t do it and the way the story is told really helps prove that point. Throughout the first half of the movie, when the viewer is lead to believe Andy is guilty, we are inclined to believe that Andy may actually be happy with his life in Shawshank. He had a job in the library, which he loved. Friends that he had made throughout his twenty-some years in prison surrounded him. He was even a friend to most of the guards making his life relatively easy.

But when Andy discovers he is innocent we soon see a change in his behavior. Suddenly he longs for the freedom he deserves, the freedom he never should have lost, and as viewers we can’t help but root for the protagonist. Another aspect of the film is its characters. We don’t find the stereotypical prisoners we would expect to see in Shawshank. Granted there are several exceptions such as “The Sisters,” but for the most part we see well-rounded characters. We see Red, an older gentleman that from first glance would never be suspected of being a convicted murderer.

We see Brooks Hatlen, an even older man who works in the library and has a pet bird he nursed back to health after it had been injured. And then of course there’s Andy Dufresne, a quite banker from Maine. A man who spends his free time sculpting rocks, playing chess, and helps run the library until Brooks is released and Andy takes over officially. All characters that we wouldn’t expect to see in prison, but while its unexpected, it is believable. Its almost refreshing not to see a bunch of men covered in tattoos, doing nothing but working out all day.

And while this did take place in a different time we still expect to see the stereotypical prisoner. But for 142 minutes our ideas and assumptions of convicted felons change to these shockingly well-behaved criminals whom we feel have learned from their mistakes. When it comes down to whether or not the film provokes an emotional response I think the answer is clear. The moment we find out that Andy Dufresne is innocent is the moment hearts stop. All of the sudden we need to see Andy freed, we would almost hurt if we discovered he remains a Shawshank.

If he doesn’t solve his dramatic need we would personally feel for him, we would feel the same distress he had. Personally I don’t think you could ask for more emotional attachment, the man is fighting for his freedom. Another humanist concept is the personal relationships that occur in the movie. There are solid friendships such as Andy and Red, and then there are almost greedy relationships such as that of Warden Norton and Andy. Andy and Red’s relationship is a good old-fashioned friendship, they’re friends simply because they get along and see eye to eye.

It’s basically the definition of the perfect friendship. Then there’s the relationship that the warden and Andy share. It’s a “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of deal. If Andy takes care of all Warden Norton’s finances then the warden won’t make Andy’s life at Shawshank a living hell. He gets a less straining job in the library, he gets away with having contraband such as the posters he used to hide his escape tunnel, and most importantly he was allowed access to the warden’s safe which helped finance his escape to Zihuatanejo.

So while some of the relationships we see are good and some are bad the point is, we’ve all had those types of friendships, we’ve been there. That’s what helps to make this movie so relatable. Not relatable in the way of, “I’ve had to break out of prison before,” but in the way like, “I know how he feels right now, I know why he’s doing what he’s doing. Now I would like to turn to the director. Frank Darabont has directed several renditions of Stephen King novels and short stories. Along with The Shawshank redemption, he has also directed Stephen King’s The Mist and The Green Mile.

While The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption were both nominated for Oscars, in my personal opinion The Mist was a little less to be desired. However I look at that as a result of the writing and not as a fault of the director. I felt like the story itself had potential but the way the ending was written was just a giant let down. That being said I still look at Frank Darabont as an artist. Both Shawshank and the Green Mile were both very well done and to be honest I even thought The Mist, outside of the poor ending, was a well-made movie. I look forward to seeing more of his films in the future.

Turning back to the film itself, I would like to take a moment to look into the formal aspect of the movie. Mainly I would like to point out the music, and the role Thomas Newman played in the filmmaking process as the score composer. The music, I feel, really helped to put the movie over the top. I remember thinking to myself how powerful the music was. I was really disappointed to find out the soundtrack didn’t win the Oscar for best music. Along with the music there were several other aspects that really helped the movie flow even better than it already did.

The editing was superb, the kind of editing I hope to be able to do someday. To that the credit goes to Richard Francis-Bruce. Just overall, the film was very well made. In the end that’s how I feel about The Shawshank Redemption. I found it to be an exciting, emotional and moving tale of a man’s fight for his freedom. It’s a story of friendship, suffering, and hope. This wasn’t one of those cases where the book was way better than the movie; the film really did it justice. It was an extremely well made film, and above all I feel it shows us that we need to “get busy living or get busy dying. ”