Rated R for a lot of reasons. I'm going to bury this one, because I don't want it to show up in the preview, but the movie deals with prison rape. It all happens off camera, but that doesn't mean that it isn't part of the story. There's a solid bit of brutality and death. The language can be pretty foul and there's a fair share of smoking. Also, it depicts Christians as the worst. R.
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
Oh man, this blog has gotten basic. It's the Ugg boots and pumpkin spice lattes of blogs. When I find myself writing about The Shawshank Redemption, I must have jumped at least one shark. This is every bro's favorite movie. I firmly believe that, at any one moment, The Shawshank Redemption is playing on basic cable. Double or nothing, it's going to be on TNT. I have a confession to make: while I have seen this movie, I haven't seen it in one sitting. Because it was always on cable, I have seen the majority of this film. But that film was edited and it often started a few minutes in. I have one of those posters of Must See movies and I just couldn't justify scratching it off without watching it the way this was meant to be seen.
Again, my OG blog got deleted, so there's going to be some aggro writing happening. I need to stop writing in areas of bad Internet. I would also like to confess that I have been on a Stephen King kick as of late. In high school, I thought that reading Stephen King made me such a rebel. Now, it is my joyful, mindless reading. I still think that Stephen King is a better writer than people make him out to be, with the exception of funny characters and endings. Part of this context, I also just finished the CBS All Access version of The Stand, so I'm really into him right now.
But I can see why people are really into The Shawshank Redemption. I mean, I don't deny that it is a bit sappier than most. But I give it the most points because it is a story that doesn't allow King to hide behind his old tricks. We all know King as a horror writer. Even when something isn't overtly horror, there are elements of the supernatural or fantasy running through his stories. Even in The Green Mile, which feels like a spiritual sequel to The Shawshank Redemption, there is magic. I don't want to downplay the value of fantasy. I love genre fiction, which is probably why I really like Stephen King to this day. But I can't deny that it is really easy to have that "cool" moment in genre storytelling. But with The Shawshank Redemption, King is at his most vulnerable. There is a cool moment in The Shawshank Redemption. (Safely, there are two cool moments.) I'm talking about the opera sequence. A cool moment in a drama is tough because it has to be earned. The entire story up to that point allowed Andy to be in that situation that made him the hero of this story. It's kind of great.
But a lot of the credit kind of goes to Frank Darabont. Darabont has so much of my respect. Yeah, I don't know if I'll ever go to town for Darabont. It's not like he's made any of my favorites out there. But Darabont knows how to tell a story and tell it well. Darabont gives a certain seriousness to the tone of his movies and TV shows. I honestly don't think The Walking Dead would be the insane hit it is today. He knows how to make a story about character that is rich and cinematic. Yeah, there is a story to The Shawshank Redemption. I think a lesser writer / director would have focused on the crime that Andy was framed for as the lynch pin of the entire story. However, as important as that revelation is to the film as a whole, it honestly takes a backseat to the characterization of Andy and Red throughout the narrative.
Because not much really happens in The Shawshank Redemption. Instead, it is a look at prison life. It's fascinating, but I do have to comment that there's something almost a little sanitary to the prison life. I know, I've been broken by Oz and Orange is the New Black. While The Shawshank Redemption definitely gets pretty bleak throughout the story, the narrative really stresses that prisoners are good people. I know that is not an absolute because there are some monsters in this story, including people in Andy's inner circle. But Darabont is really good at creating the emotional sob-story, and to do that, the prison has to look like a community. I also don't like stating that prison communities can't be healthy and that prisoners can't be good people. But Andy's twenty years in prison kind of feels like a cakewalk after a certain amount of time. He never really feels the need to sacrifice his moral code to survive in this place. Instead, Andy makes his way though his sentence fundamentally the same person as how he left. Red is the character that makes the giant change, but much of that change happens before the story starts.
But the genius of The Shawshank Redemption isn't about Andy or Red. I know that's kind of a gutsy statement to make. Andy and Red's story is interesting, but Darabont and King use Andy and Red to almost tell an anthology tale about an experience. Before The Shawshank Redemption, we didn't really have a criticism of the prison experience. Like what Darabont would do with The Walking Dead, this is a story about setting and how it affects people. The prison for these characters establishes a set of rules that cannot be escaped. As part of that, The Shawshank Redemption almost acts an anthology series, highlighting the stories of the prisoners and guards, tied only by the walls they are enclosed by and how they are remotely tied to Andy or Red. Sure, there's a culmination to all this mythology storytelling, the downfall of the Warden and the head guard. But that is almost a story in itself. It plays both sides and works well with both.
Is it odd that I don't really bond with Andy? I know that makes me a monster. He has this insanely tragic arc, especially considering his innocence in the entire film is what causes him to sacrifice his life. But I really get along with Red, who isn't the best human being in the world. Okay, the film has the word Redemption in the title. It is about Red's redemption. But is bizarre to think that Red starts off the film betting who will be the first one to crack in prison. There is no moment of regret in this moment. There is a moment when Andy vocalizes that no one knows the Fish's name, but that's as far as that goes. And Darabont kind of takes the easy way out of this moment. If Red and his friends regularly bet on ways that the new fish will crack, we never really have this moment again. Does Red continue with these bets? I mean, Heywood straight up gets the new Fish killed. He talks him into completely snapping. For all intents and purposes, New Fish was Andy. They came in together. They became friends with Andy. They could have been friends with the Fish. Red could have killed Andy just as easily.
But then I have to stop being so cynical. This is a story of friendship. And the movie is really quite touching. I get why so many people like it. Part of me wonders if it is just my snobbishness that has stopped me from adoring this film. It is very good. It's just a bit too sappy for me, I guess. I am a broken person. But I can't deny that the film is very, very impressive.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.