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Saturday, April 30, 2011

G.F.E.M. - The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

If I had to pick one film from the last twenty-five years that could be considered the perfect cinematic achievement, I would probably pick the Shawshank Redemption.  While Pulp Fiction and Schindler’s List are truly great films, there is an ideology of hope and justice in the Shawshank Redemption that makes it stand out as the great cinematic experience of my generation.  Is it better than the other two aforementioned titles?  I don’t know.  That is subjective.  Still, one cannot deny accolade to director Frank Darabont’s wonderful use of imagery and metaphor to represent the underlying theme of the Stephen King short story: freedom from oppression; or just simply… freedom.

One man enters the worn and wretched prison of Shawshank.  His name is Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), and he carries with him the recent love for the world outside, a respect for life that is lost on the time-worn residents of the soul-crushing penitentiary.  Upon entering, he begins to captivate his fellow inmates with his unique perspectives, and his sheer and fearless honesty.  This becomes the bases of how he spends his time in Shawshank inspiring the inmates and sharing his love for life with all of those he considers his friends.

The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of a lifer named Red (Morgan Freeman) who, like most of the other prisoners, have given up on hope; given up on freedom.  They have allowed Shawshank to become part of their lives and have allowed the darkness of their surroundings to destroy their spirits.  However, during the years, Red begins to see the hope that Andy sees, and this hope ultimately redeems him as well as his friend.

From Andy’s initial incarceration to his triumphant escape, the Shawshank Redemption is filled with metephor.  Some are obvious: the bird “Jake” representing a connection to the outside, and the prison itself being lifeless and cold; some are a little deeper: the messianic ideas of Andy’s arrival and his effect on the men around him and his power over authority, and the way the men are child-like at times (take when Brooks carves his name into the beam as a young man would; right before his suicide).  We are faced with a reality in Shawshank.  It’s hateful, it’s ugly and it’s lacking any feeling.  The colorless, soulless building that houses the inmates seems to drain them.  The prison itself could be death, Andy: life (so to speak).  Or, there could be the equally complex ideas of oppressive authority and the ones who are passive to its powers, and how a single person can bring freedom to the people. 

There is a lot of imagery in the Shawshank Redemption but what is arguably the most striking moment in the film is when Andy bars himself in the warden’s office and broadcasts Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro over the loudspeaker system.  This act of defiance captures the attentions of all the men in the prison and frees their spirits, if only for a few fleeting moments.  This brings consequences upon Andy, but his smile shows that he is willing to sacrifice himself to share just a little bit of his love for life with his fellow man.  However, it is the warden who finds that Andy’s clever nature has another side, as he, the oppressive master over his evil palace is crushed and driven to his end by his own greed, and by some handy accounting by Mr. Dufresne. 

There are many subplots in the film as well, so many that I will not go into great detail as I’m sure most who are reading this have seen the film and are more than familiar with its complexity.  It is a masterfully-told epic representing life and death, the struggle to be one’s self against the force to conform and of the simple idea that men are individuals, and any attempt at forced equalization leads to a tragic end for those who would impose such an adjustment to oppose man’s free will.

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