‘To this day, I have no idea what those two Italian ladies were singing about. … I tell you, those voices soared. … It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away. For the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.”
To watch 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption, a beautiful film about hope and freedom, and to hear Morgan Freeman’s voice-over speak those words is like being there yourself.
I don’t know what it is I like so much about prison movies — maybe it’s the intimacy or the soul-searching that go hand-in-hand with a story restricted by walls — but, whatever it is, I haven’t found one that touches me more than this one.
The Shawshank Redemption is a long movie, with a three-act arc that plays out more beautifully with each viewing. More than that, it’s about hope, even when there’s no reason to have any.
Freeman and Tim Robbins play convicted murderers — one guilty, the other innocent — who grow together in their life on the inside.
Through their friendship, we see flawed men desperately trying to grasp something that’s out of their reach: freedom.
While one of them eventually gives up the search and retreats to considering himself “institutionalized,” the other manages to escape, and as Foreman’s character, Red, says, “I guess some birds’ feathers are too bright to be caged.”
The film doesn’t make social commentary on the prison system – other than to say it’s corrupt from the top down. Robbins’ character, Andy, a former banker who helps the warden skimp the IRS, says in an aside: “You know, it’s funny. On the outside, I was clean as a whistle. I had to come to prison to become a con.” Rather, the film presents a story that makes you think.
As time goes by — the story line spans 19 years — you’re left pondering what Andy’s doing, what he’s really up to. The pauses and the times when Freeman’s soothing voice doesn’t guide you along allow for further escapism into the breathtaking narrative.
Director Frank Darabont used this material as his freshman outing into mainstream film, and it took him five years to follow up on it.
The result was The Green Mile – another prison drama inspired by a short story by Steven King. But while The Green Mile deals with death, The Shawshank Redemption revels in the lure of life.
After 19 years serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, Andy is ready to break. Both men are presented as heroes here, and while there are a few shady characters along the way, the real enemy is within our protagonists.
It’s a masterfully told story about life, love, hope and freedom.
It touches me every time I see it, and while I hope to never see the inside of a prison from Andy’s point of view, I can only hope to achieve the same level of happiness he is able to have after years of suffering.
Contact Will Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org