THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: Essential Viewing

Shawshank Redemption

Banker Andy Dufresne is wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife and her lover. The film, based on the award-winning Stephen King novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, chronicles Andy’s time in prison and the unconventional friendship he forms with prison con man Red.

As a prison film, Shawshank Redemption follows some basic genre codes and conventions. It is set in a prison, near impossible for characters to escape from. There are scenes in the canteen, the laundry room, grand hall, and other places the prisoners are allowed to converse. Just like most films belonging to the prison genre, this film ends with a plan of escape, which (SPOILER!) proves to be successful. 

The Shawshank Redemption also includes set characters typically found in prison films. Andy Dufresne is the character that has been wrongfully accused of a crime they did not commit. Red is the character that has been incarcerated for such a long time that they don’t know any other way to live. Captain Hadley and Guard Mert are the brutal guards. Warden Norton is the corrupt warden. Bogs Diamond is the “prison bully”. 

Key themes from the Shawshank Redemption include freedom, self-identity, friendship, and hope. They are driving forces throughout the film, present in most scenes including the case study scene illustrated below.

In a scene from The Shawshank Redemption, protagonist Andy Dufresne is left alone in the main office and he takes the opportunity to play classical music on the public announcements radio.

Since Andy has gotten to prison, he has been using his knowledge of US law and skill with numbers to do the prisons taxes and a number of other admin jobs for them. Normally prisoners are not trusted enough to be in the office, but Andy has special privileges because he is so useful.

The office is unlike any other room in the prison. While the rooms the prisoners are allowed into are bare and lifeless, the office is bright and spacious and filled with luxuries that the prisoners do not have access to, such as music. In the scene, Andy’s bare, cheap uniform stand out from the officers, showing the difference in power between the two ‘classes’.

The scene shows Andy challenging the penal system. Before he was incarcerated, he enjoyed classical music, particularly Mozart. Andy understands that the penal system is meant to strip its occupants of their sense of identity, so he plays Mozart in the prison to show the guards that he will not let them break him. He is showing that he is holding onto his individuality. As he plays the music, he puts his hands behind his head and rests back, enjoying the music and amused by what he has done.

He also played the music on the loudspeaker because it symbolizes hope. As the narrator and fellow prisoner Red explains, it sounds like the voice of God reincarnated willing them to keep the faith. Andy, as a prisoner who won’t give in, is urging others to be hopeful, if only for a moment.

The scene is actually quite powerful because it shows how Andy’s faith has helped Red to be hopeful as well. He has been in prison for over thirty years and several failed parole hearings have caused him to give up on freedom. His friendship with Andy has restored his faith and taught him that freedom comes from within.

The themes mentioned are often present in prison films. Focusing on the themes of freedom, self-identity, friendship, and hope is meant to make the audience think and leave them with messages they can keep long after the movie has finished. In the case of The Shawshank Redemption, audiences are to reflect upon the justice system and whether it is fair. Also, audiences are to see the importance of friendship and hope, as well as our need for freedom.

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