“The Shawshank Redemption” was a dynamic film released in 1994, which retains its popularity and relevance to this day. It was an adaptation of the book, written by Stephen King in 1982, titled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. There are differences between the book and the film that alter the message to the observer significantly. For this reason, the film will be the primary focus, rather than the book. The film follows a banker, named Andy Dufrense, who is falsely accused of murdering his wife and her lover in 1947. He is sentenced to two life sentences of 25 years each, back-to-back, in Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy struggles to deal with being convicted of a crime he did not commit and plots to escape. He makes a bond with Red, a fellow inmate, which is able to smuggle items inside the penitentiary. In the end, Andy is able to escape from Shawshank Prison and enjoy the remaining years of his life. The film presents figurative and literal holes in the judicial systems. The premier issue being Andy’s false conviction, the literal aspect being his escape, and then the largest problem being the corruption by the Warden atop Shawshank. Andy, Red, and Warden Newton, represent crucial characters within the film and the system in general.
Aristotle laid the foundation of poetry that has been used since its inception, continues to be used today, and will remain at the base of theater for years to come. In this foundation, he discussed three primary types of poetry; tragedy, epic, and comedy, with tragedies being superior to the other forms. Although The Shawshank Redemption has a happy ending, it is immersed in tragedy. The years before Andy’s escape were plagued with murders, suicides, and various assaults of all forms. Aristotle also provides details about characteristics that the main character should have such as, being good, appropriate, and consistent. Andy embodies these characteristics.
One may argue that he is not a good man because he in turn commandeers the fake identity that the warden was using to launder money. There is a certain level of conflict in Andy’s choice to do this, because it was one of the reasons Andy conspired to expose the corruption. The judgement is played on the viewer to make the final call within those regards. However, it could also be argued that the amount of funds he secured for himself is insignificant in comparison to the amount of time and hardship he went through. It is also redeeming that he left some of the funds for Red so that he could join Andy on the outside.
Andy instantly stands out from the other inmates. Initially, because he is a good, innocent, man, that truly did not commit the murder he was convicted of. However, he mostly stands out due to his calm attitude and witty intelligence. Andy understands the game of chess very well and uses similar concepts to keep him one step ahead of anyone that may want to do him harm. He utilizes reasoning with inmates and guards that allow him to demand a certain level of respect. Eventually, he is able to use this sway to benefit some of his comrades. Although he does not appear to be a man of great strength, he is no stranger to working hard, and maintains his dignity within the minds of the other inmates. Considering Andy is a banker as well as proficient at chess, it is obvious that he is an intelligent man. Due to his above average intelligence, it is appropriate that Andy was able to conceptualize and execute the escape plan. He realizes that he cannot escape the prison system by convincing someone he was falsely convicted when another inmate, with new evidence regarding Andy’s case, is killed. Once he realizes he cannot escape traditionally, he believes that he may be able to escape physically by applying his intelligence and wits correctly. Andy’s good character does not waiver throughout the film.
Red plays a huge part in the mo by not only being Andy’s friend, but he also narrates the movie. This is interesting as narration is typically found in epic poetry rather than tragic poetry. Red is regarded highly with other inmates because he has the means and connections to smuggle anything inside or outside of the prison. He has been in prison long enough to understand what is necessary in order to keep himself alive. This falls in place with Aristotle’s concepts for supporting characters because his wisdom and knowledge about the penitentiary is appropriate due to the amount of time that he was there. Red noticed Andy’s uniqueness early on and is drawn to him for this reason. Andy asks red if he can obtain a mini rock carving tool, for him to sculpt chess pieces from stones he finds in the yard. Red is able to come through on this exchange, which turns out to be the tool that allows Andy to escape from Shawshank. Although the focus of the movie is on Andy for a great deal of time, Red plays an extremely crucial role. His skills within the prison make him an extremely valuable ally to have. If Andy had not connected with Red, it would have been much more difficult for him to escape, if even possible at all. The end of the movie follows Red, after he is finally released, on a journey to meet with Andy, at a location that they had spoken of while in prison together. Although Red did not have much to fall back on financially after he was released, Andy was able to secure himself enough money for both of them to live out the rest of their lives happily.
Warden Newton embodies the typical image of corruption fueled by power. He attempts to maintain order within the prison through discipline and religion. Although he claims to be a main of high moral value, Andy discovers that the Warden is stealing money that was intended for the prison. The Warden, Andy, and Red, all share a mutual respect for each other as they are all men of fair intelligence in their own respects. The Warden utilizes Andy’s intelligence to assist him some seemingly minor accounting activities. This in turn, allowed Andy to discover what the warden was truly up to. A major turning point in the relationship between the Warden and Andy occurred after another inmate was killed that could’ve potentially given information to help with Andy’s case. After Andy escaped, he left clues for the Warden’s supervisors, which provided insight into how corrupt the Warden truly was. The Warden ended up taking his own life to avoid enduring the conviction that he would receive.
The levels of corruption and “holes in the system” are evident in every level of the film. First, Andy is falsely accused of the murder of his wife, and her lover, without sufficient evidence. Second, it appears that Red received a conviction that was much more severe than the crime he committed. Some of the guards use excessive force, some aid in the smuggling, and some aid in the assault of other inmates by turning their backs on the occurrence. At the top of it all, the Warden attempts to do whatever it takes to maintain his image of order and benefit himself. Although there is a great deal of corruption that is highly in the film, the entire system is not corrupt or broken. Even within the film, people above the warden, sought to punish him for his crimes.
Although the movie is set in the 1940’s, it had a great deal of relevance at the time of its release, due to the incident with Rodney King and the riots that followed. People across the country rioted when the decision was made that four police officers would not be charged with the assault of Rodney King. Regardless of any misconduct that Rodney King may have committed at the time, odds are it was not worthy of the brutal beating that he received from the officers. Although the destruction and theft committed by some rioters was not in-line with the voice of the mob, the message was loud and clear. The people were fed up of having to fear the people that are supposed to protect them and not receiving equal representation within the courts. It can be speculated that these events are what influenced Red’s racial background being converted from Irish in the book to African-American in the film. With justification being that it was intended to unite the Caucasian and African-American citizens against the levels of corruption within the judicial system.
The film continues to maintain relevance in today’s society because there are similar events taking place in Baltimore to this very day. The people of Baltimore are fighting for the voice of their peers that have experienced similar treatment, worse in some instance, as Rodney King over a decade ago. Videos are now being released displaying officers killing innocent citizens. It is also important to note that the majority of people that are receiving this unjust treat are African-Americans. It is unfortunate to see that obvious holes in the system back in the time frame of the film are still problems occurring almost 70 years later.
I have personally fallen victim to this crack in the judicial system. Although I know what I experienced is nothing in comparison to the hardships that many others have faced, I share their passion. It is disheartening to witness the very system that was supposedly designed to protect you, take the word of the officer without me being able to defend myself. All because I did not have surveillance to disprove the officer or enough money to afford a lawyer that was willing to fight the case. Paired with a “public defender” who simply told me to take the deal rather than fight, even though there were multiple reasons why there shouldn’t have been an arrest in the first place, and even more why the case should have been dropped. This experience is most likely the reason myself and others are so moved by this film.
The Shawshank Redemption is a film that creates catharsis, as Aristotle would say. The movie generates pity within the audience, while we watch a man locked away for a crime he never committed. It also makes fear resonate within us; the fear that he may never escape. Fear that this could happen to me or you, or perhaps someone you know. Throughout Shawshank Redemption, although there is no apparent riot, Andy is fighting for his cause. In his mind, he does not deserve to be in Shawshank Prison, and therefore, he will fight for a way to escape the injustice. When he finally escapes prison, justice is redeemed. This movie is a testament to the fact that with enough persistence and dedication, seemingly small tools can allow us to do the impossible, and break free.