|Posted on September 30, 2009 at 8:50 PM|
In what I hope won’t be a trend, I title the section “quick reviews” for a completely logical and much needed reason, I feel as though I gave The Shawshank Redemption the short end the proverbial stick. It’s odd considering that, although I gave it a rare perfect score, that I feel the need to expand on why that is. It’s a great film, a personal favorite but only in the lower echelon, and there are other films that I’ve already reviewed that I liked more.
The Shawshank Redemption, however, has something that even some of my other personal favorites don’t have: profoundness. Now that’s a rarity in itself – to experience something profound. I feel that if the film is offering so much on that level, perhaps going into it a little more than a couple of paragraphs is a more fitting tribute to it.
It’s a beloved film by many. Truth is I have never met a person that wasn’t somehow moved by it. Perhaps not a teary or sobby way but in one of those ways where your hair sticks up and you get goosebumps. It can happen in numerous times in the film, hell I got them just writing and thinking of those various times where the film can stay with you. The first night in the prison for Andy, his first conversation with Redd, Brooks unable to take life outside of prison (and Redd nearing the same path), the narration and showing of how Andy finally got out of that prison – all those years and patience we had no clue of ourselves, and of course the ending where, somehow, you vicariously through a motion picture feel yourself meeting an old friend just as Redd finally does. He walks down the beach, his hat flies off and he doesn't care at all, he’s finally free and has met the one true friend he ever had during a time when they say you shouldn’t.
It’s a simple story about a man against all odds, Andy and Redd respectively. It’s not just about a prison escape and yearning to be free. No, it somehow eschews all that into something more meaningful. If you simply want a straight forward prison escape movie, there a many to choose from (and great films I might add) such as Grand Illusion, Stalag 17, The Great Escape, Cool Hand Luke and Escape From Alcatraz. All those films touch upon the same thematic elements and in many respects have the same story that Darabont and King’s film has. The Shawshank Redemption, though, simply touches on elements, as I noted early, more profoundly than those. It is able to be overly melodramatic and we absolutely buy into it. I have no idea why, usually I don’t like things too melodramatic for modern cinema; I see that more as a bygone trait of past film eras. Perhaps there’s enough subtlety there to balance it out. Perhaps its calling back to those older titles is what allows it to work. Perhaps I just want to believe so firmly in its message that I couldn’t care less what problems the film might have. I hope that’s the case and hope, as we learn, is a powerful thing.
I didn’t elaborate on that enough, I feel, although I noted the magnificent final lines of the film itself in my review. You can’t just go out and say “I want to make a film about hope.” You see, all those other prison movies I listed had hope as an element. Those men hoped to escape. Ah...but that’s it, isn’t it? Shawshank isn’t just about hoping to escape, it’s about hoping to live. That’s the element, and that’s where that profoundness that I noted speaks from. The prison is its own world and is meant to break a man. Every man in Shawshank Prison is like an antique that’s been dropped down a flight of stairs, glued back together and sold at one-third the regular price. They break you and make you subservient to where all you know are those gray facades, metal bars and gravel yards. They want to make you a proper citizen of society while sheltering you from everything society is, then throw you back in with the wolves. It’s no wonder prisoners always go back to their old ways. Prison’s don’t’ rehabilitate, they try and scare you to change rather than helping you change. They destroy your life and hope you can somehow pick it back up decades later. That’s the true hope of The Shawshank Redemption: to not lose that element of your own being. To hope that once you’ve redeemed yourself there’s still a few of those human elements left: happiness, love, friendship. To hope that, perhaps, you will regain those things on a white sandy beach, the pacific as blue as in your dreams, and your friend feeling your emotion on the same level as you, is the most profound and true hope of all.