A to Z of Films Meme (S) Winner

Do check out Kar­ma Calling’s new twist to this meme with her Com­pre­hen­sive Geek Guide to Movies.


The Shawshank Redemption

Fear can hold you pris­on­er, hope can set you free.

A movie described as a ‘prison dra­ma’ with a weird, dif­fi­cult-to-pro­nounce name, no action sequences, and run­ning for two and a half hours. Fur­ther: no romance or love sto­ry, no hero­ine, no spe­cial effects, and no celebri­ty stars. Such a movie can hard­ly be expect­ed to become pop­u­lar. Yet, The Shaw­shank Redemp­tion has more or less remained #1 on IMDB’s Top 250 films chart for over a decade. Why? Why have 400,000+ view­ers rat­ed it at the top and over 2000 users tak­en the time to write a review for it just at one web­site?

TheShawshankRedemptionNom­i­nat­ed for 7 Acad­e­my Awards but win­ning none, the movie was under­rat­ed by most self-pro­claimed crit­ics, many of whom still dis­miss it as a ‘pop­u­lar feel-good’ movie with an improb­a­ble sto­ry­line. Their crit­i­cal analy­sis focus­es on expos­ing flaws, see­ing the trees and miss­ing the for­est. Ulti­mate­ly, The Shaw­shank Redemp­tion works like music – the more times you watch and get famil­iar with it, the more you love it. Not many films share this unique trait.

This is the sto­ry of two impris­oned men, devel­op­ing a bond over years of friend­ship, find­ing sal­va­tion and redemp­tion. It is an inspir­ing sto­ry of hope and courage. The movie is an uplift­ing, spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence, and that is the for­est, and why this film has topped pop­u­lar­i­ty charts in these times of fear, ‘threat lev­els’ and despair lurk­ing beneath our every­day lives.

Frank Darabont, a first-time direc­tor, does not flinch from the nasty things that take place inside pris­ons. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Roger Deakins (a Cohen broth­ers favorite) builds the life­less life and drab exis­tence in the prison. Despite this, it is not a dark film, in fact, it has its emo­tion­al pay­off moments, humor, as well as a cathar­tic finale. From the qui­et dig­ni­ty exud­ed by Tim Rob­bins as the hero (Andy) and the beau­ti­ful nar­ra­tion and excel­lent per­for­mance by Mor­gan Free­man (‘Red’) as his bud­dy, to the entire sup­port­ing cast of Bob Gun­ton (the evil war­den), James Whit­more (the old-timer Brooks), Clan­cy Brown (the sadis­tic guard), Gil Bel­lows (the young pris­on­er) – the per­for­mances are all first-rate.

I have fol­low­ing obser­va­tions to add:

  • Though set in prison, the film does not focus on the vio­lence and hope­less­ness of life behind prison bars, but the oppo­site.
  • The film is not seen from the hero’s point of view. This is pure genius and works sub­con­scious­ly like a charm, because the hero con­tin­ues to remain an enig­mat­ic won­der to us.
  • The char­ac­ter of the hero is con­ven­tion­al­ly estab­lished in films by a hero­ic or dra­mat­ic act or entry. Here, the hero is estab­lished ‘dra­mat­i­cal­ly’ by the way he strolls in a care­free fash­ion inside prison.
  • Our hero does not express any intense emo­tions for the most part of the film, but Tim Rob­bins is not under-act­ing. It is the char­ac­ter of Andy, beau­ti­ful­ly built up by Rob­bins. ShawshankRedemption
  • The vio­lent abuse and suf­fer­ing of Andy is not shown close­ly, but from a dis­tance. There is no pre­ten­tious or clichéd attempt to dwell on phys­i­cal bruis­es or psy­cho­log­i­cal wounds. Instead, Darabont makes us give space to Andy, like his fel­low-inmates, thus build­ing the char­ac­ter. This is remark­able sto­ry-telling.
  • Metic­u­lous atten­tion to each sub-plot. Darabont is delib­er­ate and thought­ful. This leisure­ly pace of the film is essen­tial to the sto­ry, but was a great risk from a Hol­ly­wood box-office per­spec­tive.
  • Sim­ple, pro­found lines. “Sal­va­tion lies with­in.” “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Wel­come to Shaw­shank!” “Get busy liv­ing or get busy dying.”
  • The grand­est, most crowd-pleas­ing, hero­ic act per­formed by Andy is play­ing a Mozart aria to the pris­on­ers in defi­ance of the author­i­ties. The point is – this is no grand epic, no great action-adven­ture, but a sim­ple dra­ma that evokes epic emo­tions because it has con­nect­ed the hero with our hearts deeply.
  • To the crit­ics who decry the drawn-out end­ing, I’d like to point out that the film was actu­al­ly sup­posed to end with the shot of ‘Red’ going away in the bus. It was the stu­dio that insist­ed on a more emo­tion­al­ly grat­i­fy­ing clos­ing sequence lead­ing to the mag­nif­i­cent ocean scene. The result is there to see in the IMDB rank!
  • This is a beau­ti­ful exam­ple of adapt­ing a nov­el to a film. Note the sub­tle ways in which the sto­ry in Stephen King’s novel­la was adapt­ed for the movie.
  • Red’s parole hear­ing three times in the movie beau­ti­ful­ly seg­ments the film into three parts.
  • The prison walls are felt all through­out the movie. Yet their impos­ing pres­ence is shown in only two shots at the begin­ning – the mag­nif­i­cent open­ing heli­copter shot and the walls loom­ing over­head.
  • The movie did not win any Oscars and was a fail­ure at the box office. This movie did not make it big because of big-bud­get mar­ket­ing. Instead, 5 years after it released, it became a phe­nom­e­non via the home video mar­ket and word of mouth. This is how social net­work­ing works.
  • It usu­al­ly takes mul­ti­ple view­ings to real­ize that the film, at its core, is more about Red than Andy.

Well, this is again exam­in­ing the trees, if any­one is so inclined. For me, I enjoy the for­est.

This entry was posted in Arts, cinema and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Dev

    Excel­lent write up again!! I learnt some new things about the film from your analy­sis. The film is so beau­ti­ful­ly exe­cut­ed from the start that there is not a sin­gle moment which looks drawn. Very very opti­mistic film with­out ever becom­ing ser­mon­ic.

  • I am sim­ply amazed at your cri­tique. How do you remem­ber such detail? I sim­ply can’t, which is why your cri­tiques are far more infor­ma­tive and enjoy­able. So, yes, I enjoyed the movie too!

  • and thanks for link­ing to my meme 🙂

  • wow enjoyed ur write­up

    i was expect­ing a shinchin but hey, for me it would be too dif­fi­cult to take a call on which one is bet­ter
    both are superb and have seen them more than a half dozen times

    saw ikiru and am impressed… thanks for the tip

  • shaw­shank reminds me of roja, and how it picked up
    even Tim Rob­bins gt the role acci­den­tal­ly and boy he did act bril­liant­ly

  • Anand

    Hi Mahen­dra,

    When I read the S pref­ace, I didn’t real­ize that the win­ners were not includ­ed in that post. I thought that you were going to choose the win­ners from the movies men­tioned in that post. So real­ly sor­ry for jump­ing the gun with all the rec­om­men­da­tions.

    Your reviews and obser­va­tions show how deeply you have stud­ied the movies. Real­ly impres­sive.

    You will love ‘The Shin­ing’. The use of cam­era angles and the music make even sim­ple scenes very thrilling.


  • Jay­alak­sh­mi

    I don’t know how I came to this wirte -up, but I enjoyed it . Thanks.
    You have put the film in a beau­ti­ful light . This is one of the best films ever.

  • This remains my favorite movie till date. The end still give me goose­bumps. 🙂
    Very well writ­ten review. The more I read about this movie, the more I want to read. 🙂

  • vig­neshjvn

    Fab­u­lous post! Enjoyed read­ing your post as much as I did watch­ing the movie again and again and again.