The Burden of Isolation and Imprisonment
Each of the inmates inside Shawshank Prison is locked up metaphorically as well as literally, hiding from himself or unable to function in the unregulated world that extends beyond the prison walls. There are many levels of isolation inside Shawshank, from the large, enclosed recreation yard to the smaller work crews down to the cellblock, cells, and, finally, solitary confinement. The prison is thus a multilayered world, a microcosm of the world outside that the prisoners have been forcibly removed from. The bars, strict schedules, sadistic keepers, and predatory Sisters only add a sense of entrapment and suffocation to these layers of isolation.
Shawshank’s confines, however, also highlight the extent to which the prisoners have isolated themselves and compromised their sense of identity. Beneath the hardened criminals lie insecure, maladjusted outcasts, many of whom believe they can’t function outside the prison system. Elwood Blatch, for example, is a braggart and an egomaniac whose exaggerated accounts of his exploits fool none of his listeners into believing that he is the master criminal whom he makes himself out to be. Red, meanwhile, identifies Andy as the part of himself who never let go of the idea of freedom. Freedom is a frightening concept for Red, who dreams of being paroled but eventually struggles to find his place in society after almost forty years in prison. Recounting Andy’s escape, therefore, allows Red to face his fears and find the psychological freedom he seeks.
The Power of Hope
Hope, more than anything else, drives the inmates at Shawshank and gives them the will to live. Andy’s sheer determination to maintain his own sense of self-worth and escape keeps him from dying of frustration and anger in solitary confinement. Hope is an abstract, passive emotion, akin to the passive, immobile, and inert lives of the prisoners. Andy sets about making hope a reality in the form of the agonizing progress he makes each year tunneling his way through his concrete cell wall. Even Andy’s even-keeled and well-balanced temperament, however, eventually succumb to the bleakness of prison life. Red notes that Tommy Williams’s revelation that he could prove Andy’s innocence was like a key unlocking a cage in Andy’s mind, a cage that released a tiger called Hope. This hope reinvigorates Andy and spreads to many of the other inmates in the prison. In his letter addressed to Red, Andy writes that “hope is a good thing,” which in the end is all that Red has left. Red’s decision to go to Mexico to find Andy is the ultimate proof of Red’s own redemption, not from his life as a criminal but from his compromised state, bereft of hope and with no reason to embrace life or the future. Red’s closing words, as he embarks tentatively onto a new path, show that hope is a difficult concept to sustain both inside the prison and out.
More main ideas from Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
1994 ‧ Drama film/Thriller ‧ 2h 22m
Initial release: September 23, 1994 (USA)
Director: Frank Darabont
Screenplay: Frank Darabont
Story by: Stephen King
Narrated by: Morgan Freeman
The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money-laundering operation.
Although it was a box-office disappointment, the film received multiple award nominations (including seven Oscar nominations) and outstanding reviews from critics for its acting, story, and realism. It is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.
1. Go to the website Kahoot.it and try to complete the online quiz on The Shawshank Redemption.
2. Find the Ohio State Reformatory, 100 Reformatory Road, Mansfield, OH 44905, United States on Google Maps
3. Have a look at the article : On Location: Mansfield, Ohio’s ‘Shawshank’ Industry
4. Watch Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel reviewing The Shawshank Redemption.
redemption- (n) something given or to make up for a past error, regaining, to be saved from
evidence- (n) (legal term) proof, information or object to establish fact (e.g. legal investigation)
hot-blooded – (adj) strong often uncontrolled emotion or anger
vested in me – (v) (formal, legal) given to me by an authority (i.e. said by a judge)
life sentence – (legal) 20 years or more in prison as punishment for a person found guilty by a court
back to back – one following after the other
discipline – (n) ability to learn to obey rules or a code of conduct
fit right in – (v) (informal) to be very comfortable in a social situation (e.g. job, prison, college)
laid eyes on – (informal) saw
behind – (adv) (time) becoming late, “behind schedule” (e.g. in payments, studies etc.)
“I kid you not” – “I’m not joking. I’m very serious.”
come down to – (collocation) finally results in
5. Vocabulary in context:Use the words above to write 6-8 sentences about the Shawshank Redemption (Create sentences that describe characters, scenes, themes, motifs, etc.).
6. Watch the Shawshank Redemption trailer and pay attention to how the vocabulary fom the past exercise is used in context:
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard all the EVIDENCE. I submit to you this was not a HOT-BLOODED crime of passion. Consider this! A revolver holds six bullets, not eight. That means he fired the gun empty…and then
stopped to reload.” “By the power VESTED in me by the State of Maine, I HEREBY order you to serve two LIFE SENTENCES, BACK TO BACK, one for each of your victims. So be it.” ‘Send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take.” “I believe in two things, DISCIPLINE…” “Help! Please God!” “…and the Bible. Here, you’ll receive both.” “Andy came to Shawshank Prison in 1947.” ” Why’d you do it?” “I didn’t, since you ask.” “Hah! You’re going to FIT RIGHT IN.” “I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy first time I LAID EYES ON him. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here.” “There are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. There’s something inside that they can’t touch.” “What are you talking about?” “Hope.” “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing.” “Damn it Dufresne, you’re putting me BEHIND!” “Hope can drive a man insane.” “You better be sick or dead in there, I KID YOU NOT!” “Better get used to that idea.” “Oh my Holy God!” “I guess it COMES DOWN TO a simple choice – get busy living or get busy dying.” “Get busy living or get busy dying. That’s damn right!”
7. Fill in the blanks with the most correct word or words.
evidence back to back discipline behind comes down to
1 There is strong __________ that he is the thief.
2 What it __________ is that I must stop smoking or ruin my health.
3 Sunni’s getting __________ in her rent. She’s looking for a part-time job.
4 You can’t stay out late every night. You need some personal __________.
5 Oh no! I have to take two mid-term exams __________.
8. Symbolic Cuts
In the scene below, the Warden quotes the Gospel passage, “I am the light of the world. He that follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” Light becomes a reappearing motif in the movie.
Note the series of shots where the camera is positioned inside a dark space looking out:
(1) A shot that starts in darkness behind a wall as a hole is knocked through the wall to expand the prison library, bringing light into the frame. (Setup #1)
(2) A shot from inside a safe looking out as the door opens and shuts. A similar shot was previously used by Ernst Lubitsch in Ninotchka (1939). (Setup #2)
(3) Finally, a shot from inside Andy’s escape hole looking out at the bewildered Warden as he tears the poster away. (Payoff)
All three images are visually connected in familiar image. Remember, it’s Andy who brings “the light of life” into the darkness of the prison, just like the wall demolition. Meanwhile, the Warden’s safe and Andy’s escape hole both contribute to his escape and both are hidden by wall decor (by Andy’s poster and the Warden’s scripture sign). This connection makes the shots more than just a series of cool set-ups trying to put the camera in unique places. It elevates them to the level of symbolism and purpose.
There’s another meaningful cut later in the cafeteria scene. As Brooks talks about his pet bird Jake, saying, “I’m gonna look after him ’til he’s big enough to fly,” Darabont cuts to a shot of Andy, then to a shot of Red looking at Andy. In just two cuts, he has visually told us that Red is going to look after Andy until he, too, is big enough to leave the prison walls. After all, Andy is a “bird not meant to be caged.”
Darabont also dabbles in the directorial notion of power reversal. Note the overhead shot as Byron Hadley prepares to push Andy off the factory roof. On a most basic level, the shot provides nice composition and depth of field, with the roof’s edge serving as a diagonal divider between Hadley and Andy on the roof and two men appearing miniature on the ground. On a deeper level, Darabont uses his camera to visually express the exchange of power in the scene. Watch how he cranes down to an eye-level view over Hadley’s shoulder, then dollies around to a profile “two shot,” then further around over Andy’s shoulder — all as Andy gains the power in the conversation.
Darabont also makes effective use of slow disclosure (the action of making new or secret information known). Watch how the opening scene unfolds by gradually giving us pieces of the puzzle — first the Ink Spots’ “If I Didn’t Care” on the radio, then a mansion, then a car, then Andy in a car, then the fact that he is disheveled, then the fact that he has a gun, then the fact that he is drunk. The order of disclosures is really important, as the effect would be totally different if, for example, we saw that he was drunk before seeing the gun. That’s visual storytelling.
When Brooks hangs himself, note the masterful slow disclosure of the act. We first see him carving and wonder what he’s doing. We then see only his feet twitching as a table kicks out from beneath him, and his body hangs limp in a mirror to the left. Darabont then cuts to a powerful axial break that reveals what Brooks was carving, “Brooks was here,” followed by the slow disclosure of his body hanging from a piece of ceiling trim that looks awfully similar to jail bars.
Darabont uses lighting to his directorial advantage. Note the shot of Brooks leaving the prison. While he’s technically a free man, Darabont composes the shot head on with the prison in the background. Brooks quite literally stands amidst the shadows of vertical jail bars around his feet. It’s a director’s way of saying this man has escaped the walls, yet has found himself in a new kind of prison — being alone in the real world.
The comparison to Red’s release is striking, as the camera now faces the outside world and there are no vertical jail bar shadows anywhere for Red to stand on.
Darabont and Deakins use a classic half-lit technique with the Warden, as the Warden speaks to Tommy in the courtyard at night. One lens of his glasses is in the light, and the other is in complete darkness, quite literally suggesting a dark side.
Later, Andy is also half-lit as he sits in his prison cell with a rope in his hands, deciding whether to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’. Fittingly, he turns and looks into the light.
The outcome of Andy’s decision is foreshadowed through the lighting in the preceeding scene between he and Red. Andy sits on the ground, leaning against a prison wall to the right of the frame as Red enters from the left. In wide shot, the prison wall casts a diagonal shadow line that divides the frame in half. Andy sits in the shadows.
As the scene unfolds, Andy’s dialogue suggests he may kill himself, as he says, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” However, as we cut back to the wide shot, viewers with a good eye will already know that Andy is choosing life. You’ll notice Andy walks out of the shadow side of the frame and into the light. Note that Red is left standing halfway between light and dark, as he has not yet made his choice.
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 1)
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
The Shawshank Redemption is about hope in a hopeless place. Three scenes in the movie explicitly focus on hope, revealing the film’s moral structure. The first scene comes after Andy endures two weeks of solitary confinement for locking himself in the warden’s office and playing Mozart over the prison loudspeakers. Andy explains to Red that music fuels hope: “You need it so we don’t forget … that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone, that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch—it’s yours.” Red rejects this emphatically, saying, “‘Hope!’ Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside.” Even when Andy gives Red a harmonica, Red can’t bring himself to play it, because he fears hope.
The next scene comes after Andy’s escape and Red’s parole. Red reads a letter from Andy, which says: “Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well.”
And, finally, the last scene dealing with hope is the end of the story, and the last words of Red’s narration: “I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. … I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
- What does a life without hope do to a person? Red survived 40 years of incarceration. How did Red change from the first time we see his parole rejection (at 20 years) to the last time (at 40 years)?
- Even after Red is released, he still has little or no hope. Why? If freedom from physical bondage doesn’t bring hope, how are freedom and hope related?
- When Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) is released on parole, the best he can do is hope that Jake, the bird he rescued in prison, is “doing okay and making new friends.” His letter reveals what burdens his heart: “I don’t like it here. I’m tired of being afraid all the time.” How does fear quench hope?
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 2):
” “It would take a man 600 years to tunnel through the wall … old Andy did it in less than 20.”
Prison drains endurance. When Brooks Hatlen was paroled he lacked the courage even to stay alive while free. In one sense, Hatlen endured prison—as a mere survivor—but in another sense his spirit was long broken and dead.
But through nearly 20 years of hardship, Andy doesn’t wither, falter, or merely survive. Repeatedly, prison tests Andy’s endurance: banished to “the hole,” battered by the sadistic “Sisters,” and used by a corrupt warden to launder dirty money, Andy keeps his spirit alive and gives of himself to his fellow prisoners. Further, we discover that Andy spent years patiently tunneling through solid-rock walls with a six-inch hammer.
- What do you think gave Andy the power to endure?
- How does having a long-term, big-picture vision relate to having endurance? What was Andy’s ultimate, long-term goal, and how did that impact his ability to endure?
- Andy suffered greatly while being unfairly imprisoned. How did his suffering change him from the man he was before? How does our suffering change us?
- Andy used a tiny hammer to dig through stone prison walls. What issues in your life require that kind of long-term effort?
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 3)
“Some birds aren’t meant to be caged.”
When Red reflects on Andy’s absence, he believes that Andy simply didn’t belong in a prison—not just because of Andy’s innocence, but because Andy was, by nature, a person created for freedom. In a sense, that is true of all of us, Red and Andy included Near the end of the movie, Andy recognizes that he is guilty, not because he pulled the trigger on the gun that killed his wife, but because he drove her away by not loving her, by being cold, and being hard to know.
- The word “redemption” implies freedom bought with a price. What is the price Andy and Red pay to obtain their freedom?
- As Andy emerges from the sewer outside Shawshank, he exultantly lifts his hands up in joy. Later, as Red reflects on Andy’s note, Red begins to feel joy: “I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel.” Can this be seen as a metaphor for a natural response to being set free from the bondage of sin and death? Explain.
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 4)
“An invisible coat that would shield him from this place.”
Early in the film, Red reflects on something that sets Andy apart from the other inmates: “I could see why some of the boys took him for snobby. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place.”
- What do you think made Andy so peaceful?
- How was Andy’s mental life different from the other inmates? What kinds of lifestyle habits did he exhibit that contributed to his mental outlook?
- When Andy received his first shipment of books and vinyl records for his library, he spontaneously locked himself in the warden’s office and played a selection from Mozart. He relaxed with a peaceful look on his face, reveling in the beauty of the opera. How does beauty cultivate inner peace?
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 5)
- Near the end of the movie, Andy tells Red, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: get busy living, or get busy dying.” What do you think about that sentiment?
- After Andy escapes, he pilfers the warden’s stash of laundered money before heading south to live in paradise. Red refers to Andy’s theft of more than $370,000 as “severance pay for 19 years.” Do you think Andy was justified in stealing this money?
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 6)
Identify the theme or central message expressed by the film. Is this theme also present in the short story? Or did the film skew the central message?
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 7)
- Consider the film’s literary elements: character development, symbols, use of imagery, tone, setting, irony, conflict, etc. Based on these principles, identify one specific similarity between the short story and the film. Discuss how this concept contributes to the story’s central message.
- Consider the film’s literary elements once more. Based on these principles identify two elements from the story that are not present in the film or two elements from the film not present in the story. What is the effect of the missing elements or additional elements in the story? Show how these elements help to develop the central message in the film.
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 8)
“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is presented in the form of a monologue, a written narrative that Red prepares to come to terms with his life in prison and the aftermath of his incarceration. Although Red spends much of his time recounting Andy’s story, he admits that the narrative is as much about himself as it is about his friend. Red merely uses Andy’s story as a parable to convey his own sense of frustration, despair, and, ultimately, hope. Why do you think Stephen King used the first-person narrative in his story? What effect did it have?
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 9)
Look at the plot overview above and decide when the events occur in Shawshank Redemption.
The Ordinary World:The hero’s life is established in his ordinary world.
Call to Adventure: Something changes in the hero’s life to cause him to take action.
Refusal of the Call: The hero refuses to take action hoping his life with go back to normal. Which it will not. Crossing the First Threshold: The hero is pushed to a point of no return where he must answer the call and begin his journey.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies:The journey through the special world is full of tests and obstacles that challenge the hero emotionally and/or physically.
Mid-Point: The energy of the story shifts dramatically. New information is discovered (for positive or negative) that commits the hero to his journey.
Approaching Inmost Cave: The hero gets closer to reaching his goal and must prepare for the upcoming battle (emotional or physical).
Final Push:The hero makes a new plan to achieve his goal.
Seizing the Sword: The hero faces his foe in a final climactic battle. The information learned during the crisis is essential to beating this foe.
Return with the Elixir: The hero returns home with the fruits of his adventure. He begins his life as a changed person, now living in the “new ordinary world”.
The Shawshank Redemption (Station 10)
Review the main film genres and their definitions (https://www.filmsite.org/genres.html) and argue which genre The Shawshank Redemption should be put into and why.