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Why It Works: The Shawshank Redemption

07.10.2015
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Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

Shawshank. A single word that instantly conjures up feelings and images in even the most casual movie fan. The movie that, no matter how many times it comes on TV, you always have to watch. But why are we so compelled by a movie about convicted criminals? What makes a 2.5 hour drama set almost entirely in one place so damn watchable? How did a film overshadowed in 1994 by PULP FICTION and FORREST GUMP become one of the most acclaimed films of all time? Well, I'm glad I asked. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

We get a glimpse of Andy Dufresne at the top of the film. We're not sure what to think of the accused murderer yet, but something tells us he's not a killer. Maybe it's because it's the adorable Tim Robbins, or maybe it's because he's not making much of an effort to convince the prosecution of his innocence, but we see someone defeated and heartbroken, not someone trying to weasel his way out of a conviction. From here, we cut to Red, nervously asserting his reformation before the parole board. We have in Morgan Freeman another insanely likable actor (and soothing narrator), but it's the casual, everyman, and almost paternal qualities of the character which make us immediately identify with him rather than see him as a criminal. Once Andy (the tall drink of water with a silver spoon up his ass), gets to Shawshank, we still only see a blank slate for the first handful of scenes. Once he manipulates Captain Hadley into turning tarring the roof into a relaxing day of beer and sunshine, though (and doesn't even take any beer for himself), we finally see in him a witty, rebellious good guy and want nothing but success for him.

How do you not love this smug bastard?

WHY WE CARE:

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION spends roughly two hours without any set changes or serious plot development. The idea of Andy either escaping or clearing his name isn't even on the table for most of the film. At first, we're treated to a series of short stories based around the same characters: "Andy on the Rooftop," "Sisterly Love", "Rita Hayworth and the Rock Hammer," "Brooks Was Here," "Mozart and the Hole," and "Tommy Comes to Town." It's not until Tommy divulges information which might prove Andy's innocence that we have a goal to latch onto, but these other stories keep us rapt in the meantime. In fact, while most movies bash one primary goal into your head for two hours, sometimes to the point of tedium, SHAWSHANK confidently (and riskily) relies on the characters and subplots to carry the audience until freedom becomes a possibility.

Only three women have speaking roles in this film... if you include Rita Hayworth.

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

Unfortunately, Tommy's attempt to clear Andy does not go as planned (pour one out for the greaser). Seemingly accepting defeat, we see Andy as cold and distant as in the beginning of the film, finally delivering what sounds like a goodbye speech to Red. Instead of a grisly suicide, however, we are treated to one of the most satisfying and memorable conclusions of any film to date. The rock hammer, the pin-ups, the warden's shoes, the length of rope, Andy's alternate on-paper identity... all the little clues and setups peppered throughout the film are paid off in Andy's glorious shit-covered escape. Not only do we revel in Andy's master plan and the fate of Warden Norton, but we see Red granted parole, truly a changed man. As the two friends embrace on the sands of Zihuatanejo and the credits roll, we can't help but feel liberated, moved, and thrilled by a story which delivers everything we could have asked for.

This reminds me- I should do one of these on BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.

WHY WE REMEMBER:

I know this word gets thrown around a lot, but Frank Darabont's THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is a masterpiece. Perfectly cast, impeccably written and directed (shout out to Stephen King for penning the original novella), it's a story of choosing life over not just physical imprisonment, but mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity as well. Red's final monologue to the parole board is a result of 19 years of friendship with Andy Dufresne and a realization that we are responsible for our own actions and in control of our own destiny. It's easy to become institutionalized by any lifestyle, and it's on us to escape that crushing complacency. Get busy living, or get busy dying. That's goddamn right.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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5:47PM on 07/10/2015

Love this flick

Still the single greatest musical score in a movie imo.
Still the single greatest musical score in a movie imo.
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1:02PM on 07/10/2015
What's more amazing is how they pulled this story out of the source material. I picked up the Stephen King short story one day at half price books for the hell of it. It was beyond terrible compared to the movie.
What's more amazing is how they pulled this story out of the source material. I picked up the Stephen King short story one day at half price books for the hell of it. It was beyond terrible compared to the movie.
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11:15AM on 07/10/2015

A true masterpiece!

I still get teary eyed during the final moments.
I still get teary eyed during the final moments.
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8:05AM on 07/10/2015
I don't know how to put it but this movie just simply works. It has a lot going against it but it miraculously works. And it stands the test of time very well. Maybe it's the time setting of the movie but I'd give my reward to the entire cast. They make this movie works.
I don't know how to put it but this movie just simply works. It has a lot going against it but it miraculously works. And it stands the test of time very well. Maybe it's the time setting of the movie but I'd give my reward to the entire cast. They make this movie works.
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7:20AM on 07/10/2015

Why it works ? Simple...

... cause it's a modern ver sion of Alexandre Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Heywood: The Count of Monte Crisco...
Floyd: That's "Cristo" you dumb shit.
Heywood: ...by Alexandree Dumb-ass. Dumb-ass.
Andy Dufresne: Dumb-ass? "Dumas". You know what it's about? You'll like it, it's about a prison break.
Red: We oughta file that under "Educational" too, oughten we?
... cause it's a modern ver sion of Alexandre Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Heywood: The Count of Monte Crisco...
Floyd: That's "Cristo" you dumb shit.
Heywood: ...by Alexandree Dumb-ass. Dumb-ass.
Andy Dufresne: Dumb-ass? "Dumas". You know what it's about? You'll like it, it's about a prison break.
Red: We oughta file that under "Educational" too, oughten we?
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8:29PM on 07/10/2015
I'll say yes and no to this. Yes, it has comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo in that it's about a man wrongly imprisoned and he escapes. No because COMC is about the how the character enacts the perfect revenge on those who wrongfully sent him to prison to where he misses out living the good life of a ship's captain, marrying the perfect girl, and spending time with his father - who dies alone. Instead he slowly crafts ways of ruining those who ruined him.
Shawshank tells the tale of a
I'll say yes and no to this. Yes, it has comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo in that it's about a man wrongly imprisoned and he escapes. No because COMC is about the how the character enacts the perfect revenge on those who wrongfully sent him to prison to where he misses out living the good life of a ship's captain, marrying the perfect girl, and spending time with his father - who dies alone. Instead he slowly crafts ways of ruining those who ruined him.
Shawshank tells the tale of a man who's wrongfully imprisoned, but doesn't let that fact change who he is. He gets payback on the warden and chief of the guards, but they didn't put him in prison . . . just kept him there so they could use him. Some similarities, but not that many.
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