Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
– A line that Andy Dufresne says in the movie
There is never a wrong time to watch the right movie. And I am not just saying this because I saw the movie The Shawshank Redemption a decade and a half after it was made, I am saying it because its a movie that everyone should see. On hindsight, I feel that its a good thing that I saw the movie at a time when I would be able to absorb more of it than I would have been able to, had I seen it when I was 13 yrs old. But at that age, I did read a story by Count Leo Tolstoy, as a part of our ICSE syllabus, called God Sees The Truth But Waits. Although the gist of the story by Tolstoy, Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption story by Stephen King notwithstanding, is the same; but the movie achieves what the story does not. The movie is the ultimate example of hope against reason, happiness against murkiness and victory of the human spirit against all odds.
The movie starts with a double murder and the ensuing court case, but that’s not what the movie is about. That’s just the catalyst which brings Andy Dufresne, the murder accused, and Ellis Boyd Redding, a term serving prisoner who has been in jail for 20 years and still counting. No two people could have been as different as these two were; different race, different socio-economic background, different crimes, different outlook towards life – what a leveller the prison is! Its an unlikely friendship that they have, which starts off as Red being the person who can get things into the prison for his inmates and Andy contacting him because he needs a few articles from the outside world; and this acquaintance takes the shape of friendship as time passes and as they begin sharing their innermost thoughts and confide in each other.
When Andy enters the Shawshank prison, he is your typical blue-collared banker who keeps to himself and is taken to be a snob. But the realization soon dawns upon him that he has to spend two back-to-back life terms amidst these very people. Just as water takes the shape of the container in which its poured, so also Andy learns to adapt. He brings his banking experience to play doling out tax advice to the warden and other keepers of the prison; he starts filing their taxes and advices them on loans and insurance. He wins them over with his smartness, but annoys them once in a while with his obstinacy.
Andy is a very unassuming character; he never chides at anyone, never complains out of frustration, never blames God or destiny for his current status in prison. He takes things as it comes, very calmly. Life moves on, Andy continues impressing the warden with his accountancy skills, running a small scam, making big bucks for the warden. Andy also gets himself involved in trying to get funds from the Govt for the prison library. He manages to get $200 sanctioned after writing to them a-letter-a-week for 6 years on the trot.
In the meantime, an old prisoner, Heywood, who had spent 50 years in jail, gets a parole and release. When an eagle is raised among ostriches, it never learns how to fly. Heywood suffered from the same problem when he was asked to leave the prison, he just wanted to stay-on because he knew no other way of living. He did go out, but it was not very long before which he gave up his life because he could not come to terms with it. I guess he desired for a greater form of liberty, not just from the prison!
Here’s where it makes the most sense. 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, there’s somethin’ inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. It’s yours.
I do believe that books and music are two things which nobody can snatch from us. Even if we are taken captive, the offenders can take our freedom but not the soul, they can brutalise our bodies but not bend the spirit. And thats the code Andy lives by. The immense pleasure he derives out of listening to Mozart on the gramophone, in the face of open rebellion, signifies that. He later pays for it by spending one-week-in-the-hole but he finds that totally worth it. Red, as a narrator, is among the prisoners who enjoyed those few minutes of Italian music, although he understood nothing of it.
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
Red has two parole-seeking interviews, one when he had completed 20 yrs in prison and the other when he completed 30. And he is disillusioned about ever getting out of the jail. On the other hand, Andy is a man of hope and will power. Hope is like the candle in the wind, it can guide us home if we have it or it can dessert us if we don’t. Hope is what drives the world, what makes us open our eyes each morning in search of better tomorrow. Hope is what pushes an egyptologist in search of Tutankhamen, what forces a scientist to continue his endeavour in string theory and hope is what makes a geologist excavate a 500 yard tunnel in search of a newer world. But hope can be a dangerous thing, as Red warns Andy. Hope can drive a man crazy, looking for neanderthal in the artic. That’s the reason Red does not want hope, he believes hope has no place in Shawshank.
But Andy, with hope in his eyes and will in his heart, continues biding his time. His hopes suddenly gain new hooves when Tommy enters the prison for a two year term. Having got bored of his current responsibilities, Andy finds a new way of killing time. He takes Tommy under his wings and begins teaching him as Tommy wishes to complete his education. But again, Tommy is not merely a timepass, he is a messenger of God. What he reveals to Andy is almost incredible and it gives wings to Andy’s flights of fantasy. Andy begins dreaming of a life outside of prison, sooner or later.
Andy : Tell you where I’d go. Zihuatanejo!
Red : Zihuatanejo?
Andy : Mexico. Little place right on the Pacific. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I’d like to finish out my life, Red. A warm place with no memory. Open a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up like new. Take my guests out charter fishing. You know, a place like that, I’d need a man who can get things.
What transpires next is a mere formality because I always knew it all along. It was just a matter of time, and the time had come. Destiny beckoned Andy and he did not look back, ever again. As Red narrates in his inimitable voice:
Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.
The movie is also about great friendships, as I had mentioned earlier. The bonding and the feeling of camaraderie is for real. While Andy is still in prison, in his astral projection he has already been to the hayfields of Buxton in Maine, and near the oak tree, under a rock, he has placed a little something for Red, if he were ever to get out of prison. Andy gives the best thing that any friend can ever give – that little something is more than hope, its a reason to live. And that’s what great friendship is all about, having and sharing.
Its a new day in Shawshank, and a new officer who comes to interview Red for his parole approval. In a very uncharacteristic manner, Red tries to be as undiplomatic as possible. He has had enough of this farce and in his third appearance at the hearing he no longer cares whether they accept or reject his nomination. He has no faith in God and no hope as well. But God works in strange ways. Sometimes we toil and toil to the best of our abilities but have no outcome; whereas sometimes a little nudge, a small push just moves a mountain; it probably works on law of averages. Anyways, God did not answer Red’s prayers because Red never prayed; but he did listen to Andy’s hopes and dreams.
Rehabilitated? Well now, let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means…I know what you think it means. To me, it’s just a made-up word, a politician’s word so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?…There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. And not because I’m in here or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then. A young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him. Tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone. This old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that. ‘Rehabilitated?’ That’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.
Red, finally, gets the the approval for parole this time; much against his own expectations. He lands up in the same shanty quarter where Heywood had resided for a while. But that was the only coincidence, because fate had different things planned. Red recalls what Andy had once told him about the volcanic glass and the rock under which something awaits him. Yes, Red is now filled with as much anxiety as Archimedes was filled with when he cracked the floatation theory, and wanted to get there in a hurry. He does so, and as promised by Andy, there lies a box filled with hope, fufillment of a promise, a testimony of friendship and the freedom of a seagull.
Redemption, hope, friendship and undying faith in God’s actions, is what differentiates the Leo Tolstoy story from this movie. The movie is an absolute delight as we see Red setting off on a journey to begin life all over again.
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.
Morgan Freeman as Red is fabulous. His narration is filled with poignancy, enthusiasm, emotion and chirpiness. And his performance is among the best that I have seen of him; pausing at the right moments, speaking when required, emoting when necessary and breathing life into the role. Tim Robbins, as Andy Dufresne, on the other hand has given a well restrained performance. I had earlier seen him in Mystic River, another grave movie. He excels in the portrayal of the never-say-die spirit. Its all credit to the script which gives him enough scope to bring out the best in him. And finally, Frank Darabont as the director, has done a wonderful job. This actually is the first full length directorial venture of his, but that never shows in the movie. That in itself is the victory of the director. He steered the ship of the movie so well that it earned 7 Oscar nominations, no wins though.
Ending the post on a happier note, I think its one of the best that I have seen. The movie has a lot to offer, it just does not end there. It gives us a thought to take home and churn. Ultimately, there are only two ways to lead life, it just boils down to a simple choice … Get busy living, or get busy dying …