Out of the three genre-defining classics that were released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption was the one that ended up bearing the maximum brunt. First commercially by even failing to recover its budget, thanks to Pulp Fiction which was a watershed moment in cinema and was released in theaters on the same day as this film. And then again at Academy Awards where it was nominated for seven Oscars but failed to win any, thanks to the sweeping show by the critics’ darling, Forrest Gump. But life ever since has been very kind to this film, and both critics & viewers have embraced its uplifting story of hope & friendship with remarkable amount of respect & kindness. Today, this film enjoys a position that’s even higher than the two classics which eclipsed it in 1994 and is now universally acknowledged as one of the greatest films of all time.
The Shawshank Redemption is a simple but profoundly moving tale of hope, friendship & redemption that connects deeply with each & every one of us in some way. The movie tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a successful banker, who is wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife & her illicit lover and is sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison. Arriving at Shawshank prison to do hard time, Andy finds it incredibly difficult to cope with the brutally merciless confines of prison life. But as time passes, his quiet strength slowly earns the respect of his fellow inmates & prison staffs, including the notorious inmate Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding in whom Andy finds a trusted ally after which the remainder of the film explores their friendship over the next two decades. And since Andy is innocent, his seemingly stoic acceptance of the unjust imprisonment hides a fierce determination for freedom, which eventually surfaces as the film nears its closing moments.
Just like the movie, its entire cast delivers a relatively simple but very sincere & touching performance. Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, the banker wrongfully convicted for the crime he didn’t commit. Robbins delves deep into his character amazingly well and evolves him beautifully as the movie progresses. The fear of the unknown, a seemingly deep frustration of wrong conviction, the difficulty in adjusting to prison life & a look of something always going inside Andy’s mind is flawlessly rendered on-screen. And if Tim Robbins was at his best, then Morgan Freeman is even better as Red, Andy’s friend who is also serving a life sentence and is notable amongst the inmates for smuggling goods into the prison. Freeman also narrates the story to us where he does an even better job. A job so grounded & done with such an exquisite subtlety that it can easily go unnoticed but on a deeper level, it’s the soul of this film. Their presence did overshadow the inputs of the rest of the cast but it’s never so extreme that viewers start rejecting the other characters’ lives outright.
Adapted from the Stephen King’s novel into a film screenplay written by Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption is also Darabont’s debut film as a director and he couldn’t have asked for a better start. All this film has is men in either prison or police uniforms talking to each other throughout its runtime and yet it never looked dull or seemed to be dragging for a single moment. Cinematography makes fluid use of camera to capture the spiritless & monotonous existence of life inside prison and provides enough depth & realism to the era this film is set in. Every moment of despair has a shadowy appearance to it while the moments of hope gleam with light. Editing is also very well done and the gradual progression of Andy’s life, his friendship with Red, and his determination to not give in to the confines of the prison never lingers on the screen to become too depressing for the viewers. And last but not the least, the score by Thomas Newman is pure poetry. It blends beautifully with the film’s tone & characters’ lives and whispers to the audience with enough gentleness to evoke an emotional response from them, except for the final act where it invades the screen in a majestic manner to signify the triumph of hope, which was as magical as the scene itself.
There is a reason why this film connects with so many people and why most of them have latched on to this film. There is a reason why even after two decades, this film’s legacy keeps flourishing & people keep returning to this film in spite of it having technical flaws as well as low entertainment value. The major reason is that although The Shawshank Redemption is a prison film, its story of imprisonment goes way beyond the bricks & steel rods of a jailhouse. The entire film is a reflection of our own imprisonment in the institutions of our daily lives; institutions like work, family, society etc & living up to the expectations of each one of them. It stresses that based on the outlook of life, there are two types of people: one who can be free even in prison while others who find themselves imprisoned even in freedom. The message that this film is trying to resonate is clear; Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free. And that everything that has a beginning has an end, even sorrow & misery. If we give ourselves some hope, there is nothing we can’t survive. And if life till now has been shallow or regretful or just unfair, we can still turn it around if we take charge with a sense of hope for a better future. Yes, the movie seems all preachy and everything, but then if there has ever been a movie that has earned this kind of right, it’s The Shawshank Redemption. Thoroughly Recommended.